SPARK Practice started with sports.
What brings success in elite sports?
Coming from elite sports, I was used to ever-present coaches & a comprehensive training plan.
I’m Sarah, Head Nerd at SPARK Practice. I’m a professional violist, former Div 1 Scholarship rower, neuroscience aficionado, and mindfulness practicer. I’m here to change the conversation about practice (with science & kindness).
When I was rowing, I took my resting heart-rate every morning, and knew exactly how each workout fit into the larger plan. Working out was hard & exhausting, and I knew that my coaches had a safe plan for me to be in top form for my big competitions.
My coaches were present almost every time I was in a boat or working out in the gym. I had confidence in my coaching staff as I saw my body & mind transforming over the season for the needs of various competitions. In the fall, I was neurologically ready for long, brutal endurance races, whereas the spring was full of quick bursts & huge availability of immediate strength. I always arrived at races knowing what I could do, with the support built into my training to be able to push myself. I could dare to give it my all without risking my safety : mentally and physically.
Arriving at an elite music school was like skydiving without a parachute.
Music schools don’t teach people how to practice.
Music schools often ignore or even encourage unhealthy habits. Music school is like being thrown to the wolves and being expected to figure out how to fly in mid-air. But not just fly - fly perfectly.
We have theory, history, instrument lessons, but NO support for the thing we do the most - individual practice. Coming from elite sports, I felt lost & abandoned, and didn’t realize that many people around me felt that way. Nobody was talking about how to practice. The people who got better kept getting better, and everyone else was just stuck.
Even the people who kept getting better used damaging techniques that left so many great people burnt out, injured & unable to play, or completely miserable with their instrument.
But not anymore.
Now there’s SPARK Practice.
Also, there never has been a simple, efficient, reliable, teachable, proven system like ⚡️SPARK Practice before.
HorizonVU Sound and Movement
RESEARCH & LEARNING ‣ Sarah Niblack Revolutionizes Musical Instrument Practice with ⚡SPARK Practice
"…SPARK Practice gets results 100% of the time,
and I love to use it in my own practice and with my students.”
- DAINA STAGGS, VIOLINIST & SUZUKI TEACHER, TEXAS USA
HOW TO PRACTICE* *with science and kindness
SPARK Practice exists to help you build security & confidence on stage and in the practice room.
SPARK Practice transforms your playing whether you’re in conservatory, a performing musician, or even just starting out. It’s a flexible system that can be customized to support you in your daily practice or even training programs for competitions, auditions, & big performances. With input from world experts in elite sports, musical training, performance psychology, practice/learning experts, therapists, & more - SPARK Practice came from my own diverse background, good (& bad) conservatory experiences, and years of struggle in the practice room.
I want you to succeed, to be happy, and confident in achieving your goals. 🚀
I want you to succeed, to be happy, and confident in achieving your goals. 🚀
Why SPARK Practice?
Music schools don’t teach people how to practice. We have theory, history, instrument lessons, but NO support for the thing we do the most - individual practice. Also, there never has been a simple, efficient, reliable, teachable, proven system like ⚡️SPARK Practice before.
The expectations and demands of elite athletes and musicians are very similar, but the training support, coaching, and expectations of autonomy are VERY different.
I want you to find your musical spark and confidently let it shine.
SPARK PRACTICE IS THE SOLUTION
🎻 It turns out that we can use everything learned from elite sports in the practice room. Combined with mindfulness and kindness practices to create Positive Emotional Signatures, we can change the narrative and inspire efficient, constructive methods to excellence. Even at top music schools, I felt like there was a big piece missing - but didn’t realize that learning how to practice is SO uncommon. SPARK Practice is the intersection of sports psychology (elite endurance sports - not just golf), neurobiology, and a vast repertoire of practice and performance techniques from generations of expert musicians.
- ⚡️SPARK Practice uses 30-minute interleaved interval training sessions comprised of 5, 5-minute SPARKS with a 5 minute pause. It’s easily integrated into the Pomodoro method (aka, super easy to schedule into your day, and easy to manage from a studio perspective).
- 🧩 Each SPARK Practice session touches on every pillar of music-making. Each SPARK speaks to a musical objective through the lens of the 3 Ms (musical, mental, & mechanical), and strategically builds & reinforces learning, retrieval, integration, and expression from every angle. Instead of low-level work we level-up our playing with rich, neurologically complex musical objectives.
- 🥳 Cultivate a good attitude. Learn how to incorporate mindfulness with Positive Emotional Signatures, using a process-based approach. Concentrate on the right stuff, know how to recover confidently, & build your mental game into your practice time.
- ⏳Having a timer keeps you moving and helps make practice more fun. Spend 5 minutes on each SPARK, and when the buzzer sounds, move on!
- 😎 Take a break - rest is really important for your body and mind! We always rest for at least 5 minutes after each ⚡️SPARK Practice Session.
SPARK Practice Head Nerd, Sarah Niblack
Hi - good to see you! I’m so glad you’re here. 👯♀️
I’m Sarah, Head Nerd here at SPARK Practice. I love chamber music sight-reading parties, indie rock, neurobiology, stargazing, pho, and Kung Fu Panda. But what I absolutely love the most is making music - and supporting people like you to find ways to make music as fully and whole-heartedly as possible. Which can be hard, because, well… classical music 🤦♀️
In music school, when my teachers gave me feedback, I felt SO inspired and then SO…lost. I was at a top conservatory (CCM), surrounded by such an imposing wealth of excellence - but wasn’t equipped to get it all into my music making. There was such a huge difference between us and our professors (some of whom were international soloists) - and even they couldn’t articulate exactly what to do to get there. Burnouts/breakdowns were de rigueur. As a student, we only had coaching (lessons) for 1-2 hours/week, and after graduation - well I got a piece of paper and good luck. 🤷♀️
It was so different that what I learned at crew (I’m former Division One Scholarship rower, which basically means that I woke up at 4:15am & owned a LOT of spandex). I had detailed training programs from the next 5 minutes to a year from now. I had a plan, and I had coaches present 5-6 hours/day. My training was calculated to avoid physical & mental burnout. I had great coaches, and I knew that I could trust the system. In rowing, all I had to do was show up and push myself. In music (just like pretty much any musician I’ve ever met) - I was alone in a barren wasteland. 😕
Anyway, like we learned in Kung Fu Panda - there’s no secret ingredient. Something is special because we believe it’s special. You are special because you are YOU. But how to know that you’re on track, realize your potential, and to be confident in your progress was a secret. (Don’t worry - it’s not anymore!) 🌱
As a life-long nerdy-pants nerd-face, I’m constantly inspired by the science and neurobiology of self-compassion, creativity, and competitive response. My crazy background and experiences finally all came together into the 5 Pillars, and the SPARK Practice Formula. Now I’m the Head Nerd at ⚡️SPARK Practice, and I love finding simple, clear, repeatable ways to support professional & aspiring professional musicians to kick butt (& be nice to yourself in the process!). Yaaaaay! 🚀
I think it’s ridiculous that learning how to practice isn’t part of the standard conservatory curriculum, so let’s change that.
I’m so excited for you and your journey to become the musician you want to be. I want you to have the BEST musical life, and it’s been thrilling to see SPARK Practice have such an impact for musicians and teachers alike - to speak a common practicing language so that we can talk more about the good stuff - the music. 😎
Ready to get into the practice room? Start with the SPARK Practice Formula, then dive deeper with the 5 Pillars. We also do a couple Practice Intensives during the year to really accelerate progress in a supportive group environment.
There are some other events and starting in fall 2022, the holy grail of practice support - the SPARK Practice Strategies for Mastery Course. I also do online seminars for schools with support for teachers, help schools integrate SPARK Practice, teach at festivals, and love to both travel & create community, so let’s chat!
What else? Well, I’m originally from Seattle, WA - and now I get to live in Paris, France where I play with a bunch of cool orchestral and chamber ensembles. In 2021 I co-founded the Viola Practice Camp with my bestie Gwendolyn Cawdron. I get to teach lessons and masterclasses internationally, and started The Audition Club, a supportive playing group for high-level musicians. I also do Classical Revolution Paris (renegade chamber happenings) - inviting all audiences to experience classical music in an accessible and fun environment. It’s pretty cool. And now we’re friends, so that’s even cooler. 🥳