No time to practise?

Executive director of Making Music Barbara Eifler explores the challenges of making time in a busy 21st-century life.

No time to practise?
Barbara Eifler

I am lucky in that my day job is about music and specifically about supporting those people making and presenting all kinds of music in their spare time. However, just because I work in the music industry, it doesn’t mean I get to take part in any myself!

Then along comes Get Playing in which Making Music – my day job – are partnering with the BBC, and which is actually aimed at people like me, encouraging us to come back or start making music.

What initially appealed to me, as a lapsed piano player, was the idea of the Virtual Orchestra. I’ve only got a set period to learn my part, and there’s a deadline, which is always helpful! It’s also ‘just’ one piece and surely having once been (even if 30+ years ago…) really good, I thought I should manage the Toreador arrangement for Grade 4/5…?

So I downloaded it and had a sight read through, oh, in June, probably. Manageable, I thought; with a bit of effort I could do that! I even embarked on some practice, about once or twice a week, mostly the odd Saturday or Sunday.

But life intervened, four children are a distraction, never mind the full-time job supporting other people’s music-making, so it was nearly the end of July when I realised I only had ten days before I have to do the recording, because then I’m on holiday until after the deadline for uploads to the Virtual Orchestra.

I started practicing more often, but still I couldn’t manage every day – there simply aren’t enough hours when you’re juggling family and work, as I’m sure many others would agree. And I wasn’t sure if I was practicing the right way.

Being so rusty, I made full use of the tips published on the Virtual Orchestra website and found them really useful, not necessarily because they’re news to me, but because they remind me of the ways in which I used to practice. They also built my confidence back up: confirming that I was doing the right thing. So thank you ABRSM, another partner in this campaign, for those short films.

But just as the left hand seemed to be starting to do what the black dots on the page said it should, another obstacle loomed: the conductor’s video. I’m a home pianist – I don’t do conductors! I had enough to do just looking at my hands and at the music and I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to understand what Marin Alsop is trying to get me to do!

Obviously I had to play to her timing, so the first step was listening to the video several times, and then trying it out with the laptop sitting on top of the piano.  Finally, a secure position as found and I built up a small amount of confidence that if I listen to the orchestra through headphones at the same time as playing to Marin’s beat, something reasonable might be recorded for upload – providing the WiFi also plays ball…

Technical difficulties aside, it’s surprisingly complicated to accommodate even 15 minutes practice into my daily routine: can’t play early as the kids are still asleep, can’t play late as the neighbour goes to bed early, can’t play as soon as I get back from work as I need to give the family attention.

Making Music’s research into the barriers facing young people in making music beyond school age found has now been confirmed in my own personal experience: when I say I have no time, it means other matters are currently claiming priority in my life.

So one-off enjoyable and high-profile events like the Virtual Orchestra are really important in reminding me how much I enjoy playing the piano and how I must find space for music again in my life. A few more such events and I might even succeed…

This is the point of us at Making Music partnering with the BBC Get Playing campaign: we know what a life-affirming and life-changing experience making music can be and we want to support the BBC in getting as many people as possible to get involved with the Virtual Orchestra and maybe to get hooked on playing or to be reminded how much fun it is and how relaxing after a long day at work!

So if you do end up dusting off your clarinet, come and find a group near you to play it in – don’t let the Virtual Orchestra be your only playing this year: click here to see a whole map full of enthusiasts just like you.

Barbara Eifler is supporting the BBC’s Get Playing campaign for amateur musicians running through the Summer. For a chance to join the BBC’s Virtual Orchestra and be part of the Last Night of the Proms celebrations visit

  • Article Type: | Blog |
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