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RESEARCH & LEARNING ‣ Sarah Niblack Revolutionizes Musical Instrument Practice with ⚡SPARK Practice

Updated: Feb 28

Paris-based violist Sarah Niblack talks about ⚡SPARK Practice and Her Plan to Revolutionize Musical Instrument Practice

Former Divison 1 Rower , turned professional violist Sarah Niblack has won numerous auditions for schools, festivals, academies, and positions, and currently performs with orchestras in Paris and throughout France. ⚡SPARK Practice has been developed over the course of two decades of research and experimentation, uniting neurobiology, elite sports training, top conservatory training, and mindfulness practices.



Sarah Niblack's eclectic experience left her without a defined career path, in stark contrast to her peers, who spent their entire lives pursuing distinct greatness in their respective vocations. As a rower, she was the first woman in her region to qualify for Youth Nationals in three events (single, double, and quad), and was the first woman in her school's history to attend the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music on a Division 1 Full Scholarship. Sarah received a full music scholarship after she moved on from rowing.


After completing an undergraduate degree in viola performance, she attended graduate school for an MBA and an MA in arts administration. Sarah was recruited to oversee the Membership department at the Cincinnati Art Museum, the country's largest regional museum. After a five-year hiatus from the viola, she returned to music, and within five years was performing with French orchestras on France's finest stages - as well as running numerous concerts each month as the president of Classical Revolution France.


Simultaneously, Sarah felt irreparably behind, as if she didn't belong, as if she were perpetually unworthy and out of place. She struggled with autoimmune disorders, was sidelined by depression, underwent thyroid removal surgery, and fractured her hand. Sarah faced bullying as well as theft, assault, and aggressiveness. She struggled to integrate with her peers and suffers from crippling social anxiety. Sarah came to neuroscience and mindfulness after a few particularly trying years spent drowning in depression and yearning for a way forward. Finding a true beacon of light in complete darkness, Sarah began incorporating mindfulness and neuroplasticity experiments into her own instrument practice, producing astounding results and success.


Sarah began considering training cycles and theories in her practice structure, from a several-year macro cycle down to individual training sessions, based on her expertise with elite sports training. She incorporated acceptance and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) strategies while reviewing recordings and mock auditions, as well as after each repetition in the practice room. She sought assistance - found a teacher, coaches, therapists, and began cultivating a caring and supportive peer group and community. When given the choice between continuing to push her health to the brink or slowing down to rebuild, she reduced her responsibilities and shifted her focus to physical, mental, and emotional resilience. Sarah began to see patterns in training efficiency and discrepancies in conventional music teaching. Additionally, she began to see how contemporary music education perpetuates generations of institutional trauma, that many teachers are rendered incapable of teaching to their full potential, and that students (and potential students) lacking privileged access to specialized training are frequently ostracized, and made to feel like failures. For the first time, she saw her own "failure" differently, realizing that she had been led to - and left with - that erroneous sense. Sarah committed herself to de- and re-conditioning her practice in order to truly comprehend and begin to realize her own potential and success.


⚡SPARK Practice has been developed over the course of two decades of research and experimentation, incorporating elements of neurobiology, elite sports training, years of experience in high-level musical situations, and mindfulness practices. Its simple interface conceals a complex back-end, designed to cultivate musical excellence and nurture personal kindness, without the psychological tailspin. Musicians plan and reflect on their practice by filling out a few simple prompts on a daily journal form, then divide their practice time into ⚡SPARK Practice sessions. Each 30 minute session, comprising six 5-minute intervals, represents the five SPARK Pillars and a recovery period. Each letter in SPARK stands for one of the five pillars of music as outlined by Sarah: Sound, Performance, Attuned Intonation, Rhythm, and Kinetic Integration.


Each ⚡SPARK Practice session systematically incorporates all pillars , strengthening the musician as a whole. Encouraging healthy practices that incorporate play, stress tolerance, and resilience, ⚡SPARK Practice cultivates Positive Emotional Signatures in practice and performance, allowing musicians of any age or playing level to show up on stage as their authentic selves. She has already delivered over 15 lectures to students worldwide, will be teaching ⚡SPARK Practice at several festivals this summer, is developing courses (both live and recorded) available on her website, and is committed to transforming music education. Sarah explains


One of the most undervalued components of musical education is what occurs in the practice room. During those numerous practice hours, we are left alone, vulnerable, ill-equipped, and under severe pressure from all sides. I want to empower individuals in their own practice, so that their teachers could transmit more essential knowledge and students would not feel excluded from some inaccessible secret. There is no great mystery. Presently, we do not educate students how to practice, to integrate what their teachers are communicating, or how to organize their own thoughts into healthy, productive, scientifically-supported practices. Thus, ⚡SPARK Practice has emerged as a solution as a result of my own experience,that of my pupils, and an increasing number of ⚡SPARK Practicers. I want personal excellence to be accessible, and I believe that every educational institution should support their students with tools and practices to maximize their education and blossom into their best selves. I'd like to be a part of that discussion.


Building a diverse freelance career, advancing in her field, and even winning a few auditions, Sarah maintains that her practice is always a process, but her professional success is founded on wholehearted investment in her passions, nurturing activities that cultivate healthy key emotions. Sarah uses ⚡SPARK Practice in the practice room.


In order to feel my best, I must practice the practice. It is there for me on days I know exactly what to do, and on days where I feel lost. All I have to do is show up, and the support I want and need is waiting, ready to play...


Discover more about ⚡SPARK Practice and classes at www.sparkpractice.com. To learn more about integrating ⚡SPARK Practice into your school or festival, please contact Sarah Niblack sarah@sparkpractice.com or at www.sparkpractice.com.