My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Beethoven in the woodshed - Day 8

Image from Wikimedia Commons
If nothing else, I actually came closer to hitting the 15 minute mark in this practice session.  That may seem pretty inconsequential to some but not to me.  I like to rejoice over the simplest things.  I actually feel that it is very important for successful practicing to have a feeling of accomplishment as often as possible.  If I get used to feeling good playing a given piece of music that same feeling usually follows me onto the stage when it comes time to perform.  

Enough philosophizing...

Yesterday's practice session was all about woodshedding.  With only 15 minutes this can be a bit of a challenge because woodshedding inevitably involves repetition and repetition takes time - there's simply no way around that.  I've been working a lot lately, however, on making repetitions really work for me.  What that means is that before I repeat something I make sure I have a reason for why I'm repeating it.  Or I give myself a goal for a given repetition whether it be to make a line smoother, more comfortable in my hands, to find something musical to do with the passage, to memorize the music, to internalize the harmonies that are involved...the more senses that are involved, the better.  I call this type of practice...

Repetition with cognition

Now to clarify, especially to any music teachers out there, I'm not saying that sheer, mindless repetition doesn't work in the long run, it's just the "long run" part I can't afford to spare right now.  

And I should add here that I'm not perfect.  I find myself drifting into mindless repetition every so often and if I'm not thinking about it I find myself there practically all the time.  It takes a lot of effort to steer clear of this tendency but in my experience it's worth it to consciously avoid it as much as possible.  

With all that said, here's me, woodshedding away...I hope it doesn't drive you too crazy and if it does, just remember, there are only 12 more days until I stop blabbing on about all of this.  

And one final note...if anyone has any comments, feedback, or suggestions, by all means, feel free to leave them here on the blog.  I'm not promising that I'll take everyone's advice but at this point, I'm doing this all without a teacher or a coach so I'll listen to what anyone has to say.  


  1. Your Beethoven series is awesome. I am an adult beginner (8 months now) and I thought that a world class musician like yourself could just sit down and play anything. This has been enlightening.

  2. Many thanks, Anonymous, for your comments and bravo for taking up piano as an adult! I love watching adults learning how to play an instrument - they are so much more focused and determined. They're also usually much harder on themselves. So keep it up and feel free to let me know how it's all going!

    And I'm so glad you are finding this series enlightening. Even though I wouldn't call myself a world class musician I think it's safe to say that most professionals need to work hard all the time. What the audience usually sees is the result of all the hard work and the benefits of having many, many times of performing the same pieces - experience and living with pieces for a long time makes all the difference in the world.

    Another reason to keep going! And to try performing a lot - even if it's just for your neighbors, relatives, friends, the local retirement community - wherever!

    All the best and happy learning and practicing,

  3. Erica,

    First of all, I have to say that whenever I read your blog (I've been following steadily for a while now), I constantly find myself nodding in agreement and wishing SOMEONE had told me all these little tips and methods before I had to figure them out myself. (And now someone actually has the courage to write out the things I shirk writing myself!)

    So in light of your courage, I thought I'd crawl out of my shell for two seconds and add onto your insightful "no mindless repetition!" idea.

    The most effective way I've found of conquering my brain's tendency to nod off and let my fingers do the "thinking" is by setting a little alarm on the desk and giving it a specific time of solid concentration. I started off with five minutes at a time, and couldn't even do that properly! But I've been gradually working my way up (this week is 25 minutes solid concentration); my goal is 50 minutes (x4)

    The reason it works (at least for me) is that even if my brain does wander off, it will be rudely interrupted by a high-pitched beeping very quickly. Knowing that, not only do I have a continual reminder, but I can concentrate on the music without worrying about focusing (this was a big problem at first; I found myself thinking, "Am I focusing enough?"--not very effective!).

    That's all! It works very well for me, although I constantly have to modify the system as my efficiency methods and ability to concentrate readjust.

    Thanks for your AMAZING blog! I look forward to following your Beethoven project!


    1. Anonymous G,
      Wow, well thank you for that encouraging feedback! I'm so very glad that you've enjoyed my blog and this Beethoven project. I'm having a hard time believing that it will be coming to a close fairly soon.

      And thank you for sharing your own technique for building up your ability to concentrate during your practice sessions. Another reader, Jamey, suggested I use a metronome for a very similar reason, I think. It's a way to focus the mind and to make it more aware of time rather than falling into the trap of just practicing for any old length of time, without a plan, and unfortunately without focus much of the time. I'll have to give your timer method a try as well. Actually, come to think of it, this whole Beethoven project, where I've only allowed myself 15 minutes a day, is somewhat along those lines. And wow, has it ever forced me to concentrate in a different way!

      Thank you again for reading and for crawling out of your shell to put in your own two cents - I can always use some extra change! :-)

      All the best and happy concentrated practicing to you.