I had the fortune of shaking the hand of Yo-Yo Ma when I was in second grade.  I was a beginning cellist and had the opportunity to see his dress rehearsal with the Hartford Symphony on my birthday along with my grandparents and a few (older) musicians.  (He even signed my copy of the Bach Suites!  Talk about a great birthday.)  What I remember him saying to some college-aged musicians who had started talking to him after the rehearsal has stuck with me to this day.

They were asking him questions about how long he practices, how much time and effort he puts into his playing, etc. (inquiries along the lines of practice, work, and perseverance).  His response to those questions was striking.  While he said that you do have to practice and work, he emphasized that you have to “live life”, gather experiences, take breaks, and be active in life outside of music.  Those words have proven true every time I have burnt myself out by working too much in composing, practicing, or doing musical activities.  He’s smart, and I’m glad I heard those words early in my life (even though I struggle to implement them).

Music is essentially everything to me, and I’m guessing it is to many of you who read this.  I’m also betting that others who read this have a passion for something else, and that “something else” is nearly their entire world.  What I’m saying now is that 1.) It’s okay for it to be nearly everything, but 2.) Take breaks to enjoy life.  Not only will your muse return stronger after a break, but your work ethic, perspective on life, and quality of living will increase greatly.  I’m speaking purely from experience–I have no scientific studies to back this up (although I bet there are some out there); nor do I have a logical explanation for this, because if you could find something that sustained you, it should sustain you for life… right?

Whatever the reason is, it simply works.  Gain perspective on life through non-musical activities.  Exercise such as biking, rollerblading, and hiking is a good escape for me.  Socializing helps relieve stress too.  Caring for any animals you may have may be another.  Reading is an excellent way to spend a break, as is preparing a meal of you don’t often get to eat well.  The breaks can be as simple as sitting down for 15 minutes and doing nothing (no TV, radio, magazine, or smartphone), or taking a walk in the snow (there’s snow on the ground where I am, but any weather will do).

I’m confident this can work for anyone.  If you have any preferred ways to take breaks, feel free to comment!

Thanks for reading,

Dan