Starting a Mindful Practice Routine: Practice tips from CMC faculty Rachel Condry

Rachel Condry is clarinet faculty and the Chamber Music Coordinator and one of the chamber music coaches. Through her many years of teaching, she has developed a mindful practice routine that is useful for all music students, no matter the instrument.

From the series: Practice Tips from Community Music Center Faculty

Starting a Mindful Practice Routine

Usually the first question a student or their parent asks me about practice is “How long should I practice?” My answer is that you should practice for as long as you can hold your attention on the process of practicing. Most of us lead hectic lives moving from activity to activity (or device to device) and it can be a struggle to focus our attention on anything, especially the rather complex activity of practicing our instruments. A well-thought-out and mindful practice routine can improve your focus and attention during each practice session, improve your listening, help you make steady progress and discover deeper connections to your self, to music and the world around you.

A good practice routine is a set of simple and progressive exercises that move through all the elements of playing technique before music is played. My mindful practice routine includes performing a simple yoga pose at the start of your practice session and using your breath to help quiet your mind and connect to your body. It is the body that you will use to play your instrument so this is a critical and often overlooked step! Special attention should be made to “flow” from one exercise to the next, bringing the focus of the first activity into the second and both of those into the third etc. Over days and weeks and months this process will become routine and bring new perspective on your playing. You will become more efficient at moving through the routine and spend more time playing music while still improving your technique.

The first step of my practice process is performing Mountain Pose. It can be done by any body of any ability and can be performed seated or standing. The pose focuses on alignment (for standing version: knees over ankles, hips over knees, shoulders over hips etc) as well as grounding, feeling energy moving down from hips to feet and connecting the body to the earth. From this grounding, one can feel the strength of the lower body and from that strength, the upper body can rise and discover new freedom to breath and move. From this position take three big breaths, in through the nose as you raise your arms above your head and out through the mouth as you lower your arms back to your sides. If you need any energy because you are tired and scattered, imagine that you are gathering what you need from the air around you and bring it into your body through the breath. Imagine that this energy is installed on the exhale so you can take it with you. How do you feel? Ready to work? Noticing the length and strength of your body, move in to your first warm-up exercise and then on through the remaining steps of your practice routine. For example, my routine goes 1. Mountain Pose 2. Longtones 3. Articulation exercises at various speeds and in varying meters and rhythms. 4. Scales (including scales in all keys, scales in 3rd, running scales and arpeggios- played with a metronome at the same speed with attention to being in control.) 5. Etudes and musical studies. After I complete these steps, I am fully warmed up, very focused, and ready to play whatever music I need. All in all this practice routine takes up very little of my overall practice time but it is the foundation of everything that follows and so the most valuable part of my practice. Should I not have time for a full practice session, this is the minimum I do each day.

This practice routine is a type of listening that moves beyond our ears. It connects our mind and body to our practice and we NEED this kind of connection to maintain our focus. Listening internally and externally with body and mind grounds us and makes us feel heard. When we feel heard, we are refreshed and ready to work. Our practicing can take on new significance and become quite enjoyable. Over time it extends our listening out in time and helps us to acknowledge our progress, focusing our attention on how far we have come and giving us confidence about what more we can achieve. This mindful practice process has been a game changer and a true inspiration for me and my students. I hope that you might give it a try!

Welcoming Polly Moller Springhorn to CMC

Interview: Polly Moller Springhorn, CMC Grant Writer

We’re welcoming Polly Moller Springhorn to our staff as the new Grant Writer. Polly is no stranger to CMC. She’s visited many times as a concert goer and serves on the Board of Directors for Outsound Presents, which puts on a new music summit in the Concert Hall every summer. Polly’s passion for music runs deep. She is an accomplished performer and published composer as well. Welcome aboard Polly!


What’s your background?
I was born and raised in the Bay Area in Walnut Creek and on the Peninsula. I started playing flute when I was eight. I want to San Francisco State and got my undergrad in Flute Performance. I went on to study at UC Santa Cruz and received my masters in 20th Century Performance Practice. I’ve taught flute lessons to a 40 plus cohort of elementary aged children through older adults. I am a published composer with three published pieces of flute choir music and a solo piece for piccolo, available through ALRY Publications. I also have written many unpublished improvisation frameworks for my colleagues in the free improvising musical community in the Bay Area.

What are some of your career highlights?
I worked for the San Francisco Girls Chorus, where I wrote the proposal for the Wallace Foundation Excellence Award. I was a grant writer at the San Francisco Art Institute and wrote an NEA grant for a mobile app. I also worked at SFJAZZ and wrote the proposal for a Google grant. I have served on a review panel for the California Arts Council, which was really informative for learning what’s going on in the arts statewide.

How did you first come to CMC?
I have visited CMC many times to attend performances given by the free improvisation musical community. After I joined the Outsound Presents Board of Directors, I started volunteering at the Outsound New Music Summit, which is held at CMC in the last week of July.

What drew you to the position?
I have a lot of experience in arts grant writing. I already admire the organization and I know people who have worked and taught here. I can relate to everything that happens at CMC, as a former student and teacher, and in my present life as a performer and composer and improviser.

How is going so far?
It’s going really well. CMC has an impressive portfolio of foundation funders. It’s no surprise given the organization’s long history, great reputation, and potent mission. I’m enjoying being here every day. I am enjoying hearing the practicing and the taking of lessons as I work. It’s great!

What are you passionate about in your work?
I’ve always been a writer. In my undergrad, I was doing a double major in both music and creative writing. At one point, I had to choose between the two. I chose music, but I never stopped writing. I found out I could write grants and write them well. I love that my job is to secure money for arts organizations. I feel driven by that mission.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to rehearse and play gigs and record with my band Reconnaissance Fly. I like making music with Usufruct, a duo of computer music, flute, and voice. I like to rehearse and perform with Ghost in the House, a free improvisation band, in which I play bass flute. I like to spend time with my parrot Murphy. I like to cook vegetarian food and eat vegetarian food in restaurants. I also like going on hikes and visiting the desert, specifically Wonder Valley which has a superb underground arts scene.

Concert with Conversation 2018-2019 season announced!

The free Concert with Conversation series, where world-class musicians grace the CMC concert hall in performance and Q & A session has been announced! This series presented by San Francisco Performances kicks off with Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodríguez on Friday, October 5.

Community Music Center is looking forward to all stellar performers scheduled to take part in the 2018-2019 season. We are grateful for the continued partnership of San Francisco Performances making these concerts free for our community.


Friday, October 5, 2018 from 6:00-7:00pm
Alfredo Rodríguez, Piano
Cuban pianist and composer Alfredo Rodríguez has become a globally recognized Grammy Award nominee with multiple critically-acclaimed releases on Mack Avenue Records since being discovered and produced by the great Quincy Jones. Rodríguez is leading the way for the new wave of Cuban musicians, including past collaborators Ibeyi and Pedrito Martinez, exposing the rich musical history of Cuba to a wider audience. Not only does he infuse his music with jazz and messages of hope for other young immigrants, but aims to incorporate philosophies of improvisation into everyday life.


Friday, January 25, 2019 from 6:00-7:00pm
Dashon Burton, Bass-Baritone
Praised for his rich tone and powerfully thrilling voice, bass-baritone Dashon Burton has proven himself to be a voice to be reckoned with since graduating from Oberlin Conservatory of Music and Yale University, winning multiple international competitions and performing with opera companies and orchestras across the country and in Europe. His talents make him equally at home performing Bach and Mozart to Stockhausen, as well as touring with the Grammy Award-winning contemporary vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth. Burton’s repertoire includes classical and sacred music, as well as programming with deeper political meaning.


Friday, March 1, 2019 from 6:00-7:00pm
Pablo Sáinz Villegas, Guitar
Pablo Sáinz Villegas has been acclaimed by international press as “the soul of the Spanish guitar” and as the most outstanding classical guitarist of his generation. The New York Times has recognized his “virtuous and moving interpretation.” He has an outstanding artistic career and emotional delivery on stage, both in recitals in intimate rooms and sold-out stadiums. Sáinz Villegas has studied at the Royal Superior Conservatory of Music in Madrid and Manhattan School of Music, and won countless international competitions and prestigious awards for his playing, which encompasses traditional Spanish guitar and avant garde orchestral music.


Friday, March 15, 2019 from 6:00-7:00pm
Sean Jones, Trumpet
Sean Jones has established himself as one of the most outstanding trumpeters and composers on today’s scene. Apprenticing with Gerald Wilson, Frank Foster, Jimmy Heath and Nancy Wilson, he served as lead trumpeter with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. He has toured with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Heavily involved in education, Sean has recently joined the Berklee College of Music’s distinguished faculty as the Chair of the Brass Department. He has also taught at Duquesne University and at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Sean is current Artist-in-Residence at SF Performances and is a member of The SF JAZZ Collective.