Of all of the frustrating Greek myths out there, I think the story of Sisyphus is the one that I could always relate to the most.
In case it’s been a few years since your 6th grade Greek mythology unit, Sisyphus was the guy who was condemned to an eternity of pushing a huge boulder up a hill, that would always roll back down every time he got it close to the top.
I think we’ve all had to deal with this sort of frustrating, seemingly futile task at some point or another in our lives. Like trying to keep dandelions out of your yard. Or trying to keep a hairy dog from getting mats.
But I think the reason why this story always stuck with me is because that’s how practicing often felt.
Like, if I had a good solid block of time, I could totally work all my repertoire up to a pretty decent level and feel good about how it sounded. But I rarely bothered to practice this intently, because it all felt a little pointless.
In the sense that deep down, I knew that when I woke up and took my violin out of the case the next day, the boulder will have rolled most of the way back down the hill, and I’d be back to square 2. Or 1.5.
And ok, fine, I hear you Captain Arithmetic. =) Technically speaking, yes, if I’m starting from step 2, or even step 1.5 the next day, it’s not pointless. But you get the idea. This sort of daily muscle memory amnesia is super discouraging.
So when I met clarinetist Christine Carter a few years ago, and learned about her dissertation on “interleaved” (aka random) practice, I was intrigued.
And evidently, I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Because when Christine wrote a guest post on this back in 2017, the article exploded, and remains one of the most-shared things ever posted on this site with 61,000 Facebook shares and counting.
The article led to a number of follow-up questions, so Christine generously agreed to write a follow-up article someday. And…as you can probably guess, today is that day!
Have you ever been frustrated by the fact that you can take a difficult passage, work on it for a bit, get it sounding pretty good, but return to the practice room the next day to discover that you’re back at square 1? That nothing has really changed?