|Photo by Paco, from Wikimedia Commons|
It took a few circumstances to get to me to this new-found place: a lack of time to practice and too much music. There's nothing new or unique about these problems. I think most musicians, of any age and level, grapple with these issues. It's how we choose to deal with these challenges that either leads to ineffective, boring, robotic practicing or takes us instead to a place where practicing becomes filled with purpose, results, and an engaged mind. I know I've been in my right mind during a practice session when I walk away from the piano feeling incredibly good about myself. I feel so strongly about this that I've come up with my own practice mantra:
If I don't find practicing ego-boosting, I need to change the way I'm practicing.
Practicing is not about repeating music over and over again with the hope that it will eventually be right. Practicing is not about just putting in the time. For me, practicing is all about problem-solving, constant problem-solving. I like to think of myself as an investigative practician. Wrong note? Why did I get it wrong? Was it a bad fingering? An accidental that I should've written into the music? A rhythm that I haven't taken the time to figure out? Am I simply playing too quickly for my brain to keep in sync with my hands? There is a reason behind every wrong note and in order for a mistake not to happen again, there has to be an explanation that my brain can latch onto, react to, and fix on the spot. If I play the passage in question again and I'm still making mistakes, then I try something else until the problem is truly fixed. Another new mantra of mine is:
I don't let myself play the same mistake twice in a row. If I do, I need to change the way I'm thinking.
This type of practicing is far from boring. It is engaging, it is challenging, it can even be fun. Shocking? I know. And when it works? Wow. When it works and success is tangible, there is nothing quite like it! These days I have actually found myself stepping away from a practice session a few inches taller than when I started out. It can be that phenomenal. And now, string together day after day of this type of practicing and the power of positivity that has been attained will inevitably seep into performing as well. To walk on stage knowing that I've never played a passage incorrectly but once means that I won't spend those precious moments during a performance anticipating the hardest passages or second-guessing myself. I know that I know it. It's that simple.
Are my performances ever note-perfect? Nope. When I make a mistake, does that mean I didn't practice correctly? Possibly. But I now tend to just chalk it up to inevitability because there is no perfect in performing, at least not in my world. And when you can walk off the stage with that type of attitude, without being tied up in knots, the world seems like a much happier, positive place and the stage begins to hold nothing but wonderful possibilities.
Now go practice...and please, do get addicted!