Jonathan Thomson

Numbers — by Jonathan Thomson

I believe in numbers. Part of what I love about running is that everything is quantifiable. I can track distance and pace meticulously throughout my training, and from that data predict my race time with alarming accuracy. By wearing an inexpensive device on my wrist, I can track my calories burned, activity throughout the day, and sleep (including deep vs. light sleep, and when I wake in the middle of the night). Through a free website (many are available), I can track my runs and see colorful graphs that can show how intricate relationships between distance, pace, rest, weight, weather, and wear on my shoes all add up to my overall running performance. My cello life can be less intentional. First of all, there’s no way to truly quantify "musical goodness." [...]

Training Plan Details: Workout Types (Part 2) — by Jonathan Thomson

TEMPO A tempo run is a set distance run at a fast sustained pace. An example would be 7 miles overall, with 5 miles run at a 7:24 pace (the first and last mile are slower, to warm up and cool down). Again, the tempo workout alternates with the speed workout (opposite the long run), and increases in distance while also quickening the pace as the race date approaches. The tempo run is a particularly important workout because the long run is usually not run as fast as race pace. Instead, the long-run is geared toward getting the body accustomed to running long distances, while the tempo run is geared toward sustaining a quicker pace for long periods. EASY Easy runs are low intensity workouts, designed to allow the body [...]

Training Plan Details: Workout Types (Part 1) — by Jonathan Thomson

After considering goal-setting and a general approach to musical practice as similar to marathon training, it is helpful to look into specific workouts runners employ in training. A marathoner's goal is fairly straight-forward: to train the body to run 26.2 miles, as fast as possible. For many, simply finishing the race is the main objective. Others will have more specific goals, such as: finish without walking, set a new personal record, or qualify for the Boston Marathon. While endurance is typically the key factor to consider, it would be a mistake to think that the training process is simply to run frequently, always at a similar pace, and increase the distance until the race. Rather, a training plan is much more nuanced and specific. In the same way that a more [...]

Setting Goals — by Jonathan Thomson

"The well-prepared marathoner looks after every detail of proper physical and mental training, nutrition, hydration, clothing, and equipment." — Amby Burfoot (running guru and winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon) Photo: Meb Keflezighi, who in 2014 became the first American to win the Boston Marathon since 1982 This attention to a wide range of details occurs over months of training, all with the ultimate goal of running 26.2 miles. Musicians should train for performance the same way runners train for marathons: with great organization and structure. Marathon training plans are highly detailed, with specific goals for each day. All facets of daily life become focused around achieving a personalized and realistic goal. This goal is set for one race, and is based on previous experience and current fitness. Both running [...]

Cello and Marathon Training — by Jonathan Thomson

Rule #1 and Rule #2 focus on the mental aspect of training: about setting your intention before working on a passage. This is necessary to practice effectively, and ultimately leads to better performances. Our experience playing the cello is a delicate interplay between mind and body, which is a balance that must be cultivated again and again as age, circumstances, and stakes change. Athletes face many of the same experiences in training and competition. Throughout my education, I found that my attitudes about the cello and the way I practiced stemmed from my experiences playing sports. Particularly during my graduate studies, running became a counterpoint to music. Running and cello both informed the other. Running helped relieve the stresses of performances, auditions, competitions, juries, and the ones made up by [...]

Rule #2 — by Jonathan Thomson

The previous post introduced the concept of Rule #1 (Never Stop), which trains the mind for performance by teaching it to stay focused, even after mistakes. Simulating the timing and continuous playing of performance is a crucial experience to be repeated many times during training. Through Rule #1 practice, we get important feedback about our technical preparation, stamina, and memory (if applicable). Rule #2 is the necessary counterpart to Rule #1: Rule #2: Always Stop! When you are practicing, you must not allow any mistake, uncoordinated motion, scratch, or squeak. If you practice with mistakes or undesirable tone, you are teaching your muscles "this is how the piece goes," and establishing bad habits. The next time you get to the same place, you will make the same error! Instead, start again from [...]

Rule #1 — by Jonathan Thomson

I can still vividly recall the lesson in high school when I first learned of RULE #1 and RULE #2. Somehow, though, I am still unable to impart these crucial principals upon my own students with the same gravitas as my teacher did then. These two general guidelines shaped the way I learned to focus my practice time and prepare my mind and muscles for performance. The more I study about how we learn, and about strategies for mental preparation—things like "chunking," myelin, meditation, visualization—the more I realize how valuable these two simple "rules" have been. We must practice not only for technical mastery, but also for expression. We must imagine future performance scenarios in the practice room. Putting the focus on communication provides the goal to work toward, and the [...]

Sports and Cello: Starting the Discussion — by Jonathan Thomson

  We see the dramatic moment in sports all the time: with the game on the line, a player steps up to shoot the game-winning free throw, kick the field goal, or take the penalty kick. Make or miss, social and news media chatter about these moments for days afterward. Documentaries and TV series offer detailed views inside the lives of athletes and behind-the-scenes depictions of how teams practice and communicate throughout their seasons. An athlete's comments on any issue can reverberate through our society for weeks. Sport is everywhere—it is unavoidable. Though many musicians and teachers may see it as a competitor to practice time and music's place within the culture, athletes and musicians share many common experiences and can learn from each other. While athletes personal lives are [...]