Why you’re not making progress while practising and my most embarrassing moment playing live.

Another day, another practise session.
You sit down and do your Hanon’s and Czerny’s, do your scales or the spider up and down, you strum those chords and do everything you’ve been doing for the last few months/years, but it just doesn’t feel like you’re getting better as much as you used to.

 

Maybe you’re thinking:
“I probably just don’t do enough”
or
“It’s because I already know so much. Of course it takes longer the more you know.”

 

Well I’m here to tell you, you’re probably wasting your time!

It’s not that you don’t do enough or that you’re already too skilled to become any better.

You’re just not practising effectively.
There are many factors that can cause a practise session to become ineffective.
These can include getting distracted from your phone or checking Facebook, practising too quickly or constantly repeating the same exercises that you’ve played effortlessly countless times.
Practising something means trying to get better at something. And how do you get better at something? By trying to be able to do the things you CAN’T already do.

 

Let me tell you an embarrassing story

from when I was studying piano for the music university entrance exam.
My teacher had me play the first Prelude in C major from the Well-Tempered-Clavier Vol.1
That was the first piece I ever learned from a keyboard with keys that light up to the song. It’s not a particularly hard song but it took some time and many lessons to learn to play it properly with expression and in the baroque style. So I practised it many times, every day, from start to finish about 5-10 times with every session. I occasionally still made mistakes but I just played over them and started from the top again once I was through. I did enjoy the music but playing the same stuff for 2 hours every day can get old really quickly, so for easy pieces like this I fell into a routine. My fingers’ muscle memory took total control.
I would start the piece focused but drift of to other places while playing it.
I thought I was doing the right thing, after getting better at something means repeating it many times right?

 

One day my teacher asked me to perform two piano pieces in a church since I had a lot of stage fright and performing needed to be practised too. I was supposed to play that Prelude and the Raindrop Prélude from Chopin which is a much harder piece.
I was confident. The Bach Prelude was a piece of cake at this point and the Raindrop Prélude I had practised many times as well, and I really liked that piece.
I sit down, relatively calm and start with the Bach Prelude but soon after everything goes kaputt.
I was drifting of again, despite the stage fright, and I play a wrong note!
All of a sudden I’m thrown back into reality confused and panicked. I don’t know where I am in the score, what I have been playing the last 30 seconds and what I’m supposed to play next. I try to keep going but it falls apart and I stop… and start again from the top…and fail again…and stop…and start again from the top…

 

IT TOOK ME 5 TRIES TO PLAY THAT DAMN PIECE TO IT’S END!!

 

Ashamed, embarrassed I want to hide under a rock, but I can’t. I still have one more piece to play.
Very hesitantly I play the Chopin piece, weary of every note, paying a lot of attention to the score that I wouldn’t get lost if I made a mistake again. But to my, and everyone else’s surprise, I play the best version of that piece that I’ve ever played, in, or out of concert.

 

The point

of that story is that practise doesn’t happen as much in the muscles as we think. Most of it happens in the mind.I could have played the Bach piece twice as good with half the practise time had I been mindful during my practise.I should have been mindful of every bar, every note, written down, what chords were implied, made notes of the areas where I made mistakes and focused on those and so on.
And most of all:

I SHOULD HAVE PLAYED SLOWLY!

Coordination is built with repetition regardless if done correct or incorrect. Meaning if you repeat a mistake enough times, your body will remember how to make that mistake. The point of practising slowly is to eliminate any wrong moves and only allow your body to remember the correct moves. Plus, you develop a better awareness of the piece by practising it slowly and taking your time to process all the information.

 

So from now on, stop wasting your time by practising for hours and hours even though you don’t really want to. Instead practise for 15-45 minutes mindfully (depending on your attention span) and then stop and take a break. If you still feel like going on afterwards then fine, but don’t practise if your mind isn’t there to practise with you.

 

 

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