I did, however, discover some interesting connections and correlations I would never have thought of otherwise.
I had the same experience when looking at my total minutes played for the entire day. Between two daily practice sessions, teaching lessons and the occasional rehearsal, I was playing much more than it seemed.
Before this project, if you had asked me how often I skipped a day of playing I would have told you “oh, once a month or so.” Yeah, it turns out it was closer to once a week.
On one hand, I’m officially an amateur player right now - that is, I’m not in school and I’m not playing for a living. Still, my goal is to get back into professional-level shape, and taking a day off once a week is not going to get me there. This was a big kick in the pants.
However, given what we know about how muscles work, I don’t think it’s much of a surprise that two of the big factors that seemed to influence my playing each day were how much sleep I got and how much I had played the day before.
Interestingly, I often felt and sounded better than usual two days after a heavy day or 1-2 days after a day off.
This is something I’ve noticed in my playing before: if I play too much on Monday, I’ll pay for it on Tuesday, but on Wednesday I’ll feel great. This jibes with what we know about muscle recovery and strength building in general, of course. A heavy workload breaks down the muscle fibers, and they are rebuilt slightly stronger than before.
Days off were more complicated. As I mentioned, I discovered I was taking way more of them than I thought, and this was affecting my consistency. I did notice an interesting “bounce-back” effect from a rest day, though, sometimes the first day back on the horn and other times the day after that.
I was also in decent shape to start with, though, so there wasn’t much of a change in overall fitness during the 30 days. I don’t think we can draw any useful conclusions from this part of the experiment.
I ate plenty of protein throughout the experiment (averaging a higher-than-recommended 93 g/day) and my daily averages for coffee and alcoholic drinks came out to around 2 servings of each per day. I could stand to drink a little less of both, but my diet patterns were pretty normal during the experiment, so it’s no surprise that no major correlations jumped out. Even when I went out with friends and had 3-5 drinks, my playing showed no ill effects the next day.
Now, this all might have been different had I been living entirely on Top Ramen and Reese’s Puffs while drinking six cups of coffee before noon and putting away half a dozen beers during a night out. But my college days are firmly in the past, and I’m looking to keep it that way.
I liked this project so much that I decided to make it permanent, and I’m still tracking my playing every single day. I’ve stopped keeping track of non-musical factors like sleep, coffee, booze and exercise, but I can’t imagine practicing without keeping records now.
If your practicing has gotten a little unfocused lately, I encourage you to try some basic tracking for a week or two! It takes minimal effort, but the payoff is significant. Oh, and here’s a stripped-down version of the spreadsheet I used, if you’d like to use it to get started:
Practice Tracking Spreadsheet
You don’t have to go all-out like I did, either. A great place to start is with the basics: