How do you get to Wigmore Hall? Setting goals, time management, and even addressing a phone addiction have been crucial for the cellist to maintain concentration as he prepares for his debut on 27 February 2024


Cellist Sterling Elliott

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In recent months I’ve had a significant shift in mindset with regard to practice, preparation, and time management. This positive change comes at a rather opportune time as I find myself preparing for substantial career milestones, such as my first international recital tour including my Wigmore Hall debut. This year also marks the first without school courses, which has been critical in granting total autonomy in my schedule and lifestyle, leaving any hindrance towards preparation the result of my own pitiable time management. These are a few steps that have helped me establish a healthy lifestyle and routine as I prepare for upcoming concerts! 

Setting Goals: Big and Small 

As someone who loves to stay busy, I’m incredibly grateful to have a demanding calendar consisting almost weekly of recitals and concerti. That being said, I’ve been working on welcoming downtime as opposed to filling each day with fulfilling, yet busying commitments; this could consist of miscellaneous freelance rehearsals/concerts, or something as simple as numerous social outings. Eagerly embracing the state of a growing solo career, I’ve recently chosen to manage it with the same determination I would imagine an Olympian to have towards their training. 

Having never jumped on the caffeine train, I set my first goal on optimising my daily energy and focus for rehearsals, meetings, and practice. I always claimed to value my sleep for this same reason, but truthfully my phone plagued my routine both at night and in the morning. Ample excuses to scroll endlessly on various platforms while lying awake in bed, just to wake up hours later and do the same thing! A simple addiction that was depriving me of critical sleep, easily up to an hour or more. This habit would also significantly delay the start to my day upon waking up, at times admittedly getting out of bed solely to check my phone, then of course climbing back into bed with it. 

My Solution – a physical NFC (Near-field communication) device that disables my phone from the any distractions, entirely customisable, and kept outside of convenient reach. The impact this has had on my sleep and concentration is something I wish for everyone similarly afflicted! 

My attention then turned to practice, now recognising the root of my flow state derailment circling right back to the same frivolous cellular device. Pairing my nifty sleep cure with mental practice parameters, six hours of practice felt surprisingly ordinary when four had typically been arduous. These small practice goals can be tremendously helpful when preparing loads of repertoire, such as two or three concerti in addition to a recital programme. This is a glimpse of the bulletin I had in my head during my last practice session:

1 hour – Warm up, Vibrato, Scales, etc.

45 mins – Ravel Sonata

45 mins – Haydn Concerto (2 & 3)

30 mins – Haydn Cadenza

1 hour – Poulenc Sonata

30 mins – Nadia Boulanger Three Pieces

30 mins – Vincent d’Indy Lied

15 mins - Debussy Reverie

15 mins – Encore

30 mins – Haydn Concerto (1) 

Time flies in a deep flow state and it’s typical to finish each segment wishing there was more time allotted. Save this motivation for tomorrow’s practice and constantly adjust these practice goals as needed! 

Time Management 

It’s great to have a robust practice plan, but what about factoring in life, rehearsals, cooking and cleaning, traveling and finding a practice room? Being efficient and healthy with productivity on the road can be incredibly difficult, especially when 200 days of the year are spent in airports and hotels. While I find this plan to be the most effective, I don’t view six hours of daily practice as compulsory. All goals should be adaptable and sometimes the best we can do is an hour. Regardless there are some ways that help me to optimise my available time. 

I don’t view six hours of daily practice as compulsory. All goals should be adaptable and sometimes the best we can do is an hour

I spread out practice across morning, afternoon, and night. For example, finding an hour at 7:30 to 8:30am, three hours in the afternoon, and two hours at night 9 to 11pm becomes significantly more practical than carving out a six hour period during the day. This allows ample break time for our brain, body, and stomach! Utilising a practice mute along with other creative measures can also really expand our practice time, especially taking jet lag into consideration. I’ve been on a complaint-free practice streak in hotels by turning on the TV while practising at odd hours (tip from Hilary Hahn!) 

Having flexibility with this regimen has been vital in maintaining good mental and physical health. Each day brings a variety of challenges, both expected and unexpected, therefore doing everything in my power to allow for the most engaged solo time with my cello constitutes as a successful day of practice!

Cellist Sterling Elliott is a YCAT Robey Artist. He and pianist Joseph Havlat will perform as part of the Wigmore Hall YCAT Lunchtimes series at 1pm on 27 February 2024. Find out more here.

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