I was recently having a discussion with a group of students concerning the definition of practicing. We only came up with two points. Simple, eh?
How to practice: 1. Know what you are doing. 2. Do it correctly.
Most of what causes our practice to be unproductive is simply being wrong in one or both of the areas.
Let’s start with point two. You think I’m kidding? Break the mold. Be daring. Start with number two.
This is where, in my opinion, we all get it wrong. Yes, this includes me.
‘Well, I tried.’ Have you ever thought this, or said it? This is the greatest obstacle for all of us. Have you ever heard the quote: ‘There is no try, only do’? We either do something, or we don’t do something. Sure, we can do poorly, and we can do well. In both instances we are doing.
We should give ourselves some room for error when we do something, but we should be certain to limit how many times we make errors.
If, for example, I play something wrong fifteen times in a row, what will happen the sixteenth time? Will I play it perfectly? No, absolutely not. Something about our approach is causing us to fail so many times in a row. If we do something incorrect more than 4-5 times we should stop immediately and examine what is wrong in our effort. 99% of the time the issue is trying to do something at too high of a tempo. In life, it is doing something within too small of a time frame.
The first step we should take when we realize that we are attempting to play something at too high of a tempo is to reduce our tempo by 50%. Most students, not mine of course, attempt to play as fast as they can and without a metronome. Fiction you say? Hardly.
How do I know this? Have I ever asked you to play what you worked on during our week apart and you did not ask me to turn the metronome on? Yeah, that’s right, sad face now.
Here’s a news flash for some of you: Humans are unable to be aware of the passage of time without a system of marking it. Think: Watches, Clocks, Calendars, Seasons, and etcetera. This is why we have these things. We don’t know what time it is.
(It’s 12:18 AM, What does AM and PM mean anyway?)
Still don’t believe me. Here is another example: One hour of math; one hour of TV or Playstation (Xbox, Wii, whatever.) Which hour is faster?
Neither. Each hour is 60 minutes in length. Of course you knew that, but to us it doesn’t feel that way.
The point is that no matter how difficult something is to do, if we allow ourselves to work as slowly as necessary we can play absolutely anything well. The reason we start with easier things and progress to the more difficult is because we want to play anything well and soon. Even I do this. See point four of ‘Practice vs. Rehearsal I’.
We must play things within our reach in regard to our current level of skill. This is related to point one in the above definition of practice. ‘Know what you are doing’. Not only do we need to know what we are doing, but also what we are currently capable of, so that we don’t make ourselves crazy trying to play something too far beyond our reach.
I will write in more detail about point one in the next installment.
Until then, thanks for reading and have a great week.