Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Smart practice: observation

My running route took me by the church one afternoon and I stopped in to get a drink from the fountain, and to rest. Someone was practicing in the social hall, and while I sat on the bench outside, I couldn't help but hear the old familiar patterns:

They were playing the entire piece all the way through each time. a few measures in, they kept making the same mistake in the melody line. I'm not sure they noticed. Five repetitions later it was still wrong.

A few minutes later there was a new mistake. One the opening left hand arpeggio, which had now become minor instead of major. It was early and obvious. I'll bet what was going through the person's head at that point was along the lines of #$@#%! Why Can't I get anything Right!!!!!! Unfortunately, that kind of emotional surge does exactly what we don't want it to do: burns the mistake into memory, as strong emotional states, whether positive or negative, tend to do. This time they backed up and started over. If you'd been there I'd have bet you a five that they would make the same mistake and you would be out five dollars.

I didn't say anything, of course, but I'm saying this to you in case you are a practitioner of the art of piano.  There are ways to vastly improve the way you practice. And since you obviously have to spend a lot of time doing it, wouldn't you rather be better at it? To achieve better results and to enjoy the time spent? I knew you would.

There was one thing that was admirable about this person and their practice. They were putting in the time. Nothing would have happened otherwise. But within that time many things happen. And I think for many practice time is experienced as a long drudgery, as simply playing the piece many times until the timer goes off and you can quit. Paradoxically, if you are able to get more mentally involved in the specifics of your practice, while you will be more tired more quickly, you also will spend less time wondering when it will be over. It is even possible, occasionally, to approach a state of fun, while practicing. Really!

Happy practicing. See you back here next week.

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