The Practice Notebook

flutist Zara Lawler shares tips on learning music



People occasionally ask if I practice what I preach here in the blog.  The answer is that, yes, I really do practice this way, and that my tips and suggestions are born of many years of experience and effort to find the most efficient and effective ways to learn music.

There is one exception, however:  taking breaks.

You may remember an article on What to do on Breaks in which I suggested that the only thing to do on breaks is nothing.  Of all the things I suggest on my blog, this is the one that I have had the most trouble actually implementing.  I manage it when I am really under a lot of time pressure, but when I am doing more routine daily practicing, I have found it almost impossible to resist the urge to read a magazine or check my email on breaks.

That is, until recently when I had a cool experience with this blog that has changed my approach.

Remember that game, Operator? (also known in some regions as Telephone?) You whisper something in your friend’s ear, and they whisper it to the next person, and at then end it has become gibberish.  It was sort of like that, only better.

A percussionist friend, Greg Jukes, recently mentioned to me that he has really enjoyed reading my blog.  I asked him if there was anything that he found particularly helpful, and he said, “That thing about taking breaks—where you set a timer for 5 minutes, lie on the floor and let your mind go blank.”

Now, that’s not quite what I suggested in my post about breaks.  I suggested just not doing anything. But Greg had heard it in his own way — just like in the game Operator– and added the timer and “let your mind go blank.”

At the time, I just nodded and smiled and accepted it as a compliment, but what I was thinking was, “Hmm, that sounds like a good idea.  Maybe I should try that!”

So, his re-transmission of my original message has made a huge difference in how I take breaks.  I tried Greg’s method, and it’s awesome!  Now I look forward to my breaks as a delightful vacation from the pressures of work. I set my timer for five minutes, and then pretend to take a nap, only I don’t fall asleep.*

Give it a try.  Allow yourself five minutes of blank time, and see if it helps keep your active practice time engaged and effective.

[Regular readers may think I have some fixation with time limits, but I find that using them is a singularly powerful tool for enabling the self-discipline necessary to practice effectively.]

*FYI:  Pretending to take a nap is actually an “official” meditation technique from Meditation Made Easy by Lorin Roche.

Credit where credit is due:  Phone photo is by aussiegall, timer photo is by pasukaru

Greg Jukes also has a cool ensemble:  The Fourth Wall

posted under Techniques & Tricks
3 Comments to


  1. On November 5th, 2010 at 1:50 pm Peg in South Carolina Says:

    I started doing the same thing Greg did after I read that post. I set the timer for 5 minutes. I don’t lie down but I do sit in a comfortable position and just let my mind kind of wander. What that means is that what I have just been working on sometimes spins in my head and either what I accomplished gets mentally reinforced or the solution for a problem begins to emerge. Sometimes I just sit there……………….

  2. On November 11th, 2010 at 8:08 am S. Says:

    I do this too. I often walk to the window and just stare outside for 5 – 10 minutes. It really works.

  3. On June 21st, 2011 at 12:12 am mary ellen Says:

    oooh, I can hardly wait to put the whip down and try lying down for 5 minutes! I bet this’ll make me rarin’ to get back to stuff…
    Thanks, “Zara”!

Email will not be published

Website example

Your Comment: