The Missing Ingredient in Most Practice Routines


Let me ask you a question: When you think of the idea of piano practice, what associations come to mind?

If you are like most people, you may have included words or descriptions on your list that are not exactly positive, words such as “hard,” “time consuming,” “hard to fit in,” “not fun,” “a chore.” In fact, the idea of practice has been so skewed by misconceptions and negative assumptions as to often suck the enjoyment out of the process of learning to play (!).

Piano PracticeThe best practicing occurs when a student is truly motivated to practice! Motivation comes from having a clear sense of the goal in mind, whether that is performing some beloved piece of music, achieving a certain technical level, or attaining a certain clear reward (such as an applauding audience, a trophy, the praise of others). I practice because I truly love playing the piano, and it thrills me at a core level to be continually learning more and expanding my playing. I also pride myself in my professional polish and wish always to play my best when I perform. I am clear of why I practice, and I know it serves me to do so.

This is all too often missing. Many students, especially children, learned to practice not because they wanted to, but because they were pressured to by their parents or teacher. So they fall into the pattern of practicing without having developed any lasting motivation. And while they dutifully go ahead with practice, because they know they “should,” they donʼt clearly see the benefits of doing so. And when the day comes that they stop playing piano, even if they donʼt admit it to themselves, on some level, they are relieved. They gratefully drop piano playing from their lives, often never to return to it. Yet they have been taught that practice is a chore meant to please others, rather than a joy meant to please themselves. And they wonder why they never go back to playing!

You do not need to take that road. Instead, cultivate your own sense of motivation by creating clear goals that inspire you and from there creating a practice routine that will help you achieve those goals. Practice can and should serve your own musical development. It is a means, not the end itself. There are times to practice more, and there are times to practice less. And there are times when, believe it or not, you should NOT practice. There are in fact times when it is better to reflect, or let your fingers rest. Practicing is part physical, part auditory, part mental, and part psychological, so your practice needs will change depending on the situation.

There are also different ways to practice, as well as endless sources of inspiration that can give value for your practicing. Learning to play piano doesnʼt always mean sitting in front of the piano with music open in front of you. It can mean improvising. It can mean composing. It can mean LISTENING to a piece of music with an ear to learn something new about how it was constructed or how the performer accomplished something. It can mean reading up on the life of a particularly admired pianist, composer, or songwriter. It can mean reading how music is put together, or on piano technique specifically. It can mean watching others perform and learning from their strengths and weaknesses. These things can give you new ideas of what you want to achieve musically and inspire you artistically.

Donʼt limit yourself to a one-dimensional view of practice. It is time to make practicing serve you. Having a genuine sense of motivation can help you approach your practice time with a true sense of clarity and a positive attitude. This will help to keep you going in moments where you are frustrated, tired, or even bored.

Like anything worthwhile we do, achieving our musical goals will take some legwork. That is where the practicing comes in. Yet letʼs remember the true point of the practice: to achieve our musical ends. Those ends should be worthwhile to you. That will make the practicing worth it. From now on, I encourage you to keep that in mind when putting in the hours learning your instrument. The results will be infinitely more enjoyable and fulfilling.

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