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John Zeweniuk


February 6, 2009 at 6:28 AM

One of the things I have noticed about the adventure of learning to play as an adult compared to my experience when I was younger is that I can be much more analytical and purposful in my practicing.  I am much more aware of what I need to do to progress, and many of the things I was told (such as not practicing your mistakes) I actually TRY to pay attention to.  Still practice to me is an elusive discipline.

For one, I never seem to match up with even my own understanding of good practicing theory.  Even when I set out to have a great practice in terms of discipline and good habits I often find myself missing the mark.  For example, when practicing a particular section of a piece I always seem to want to try to play it at temp, even if I cannot.  When I force myself to slow down, I do briefly, but then there I am speeding up again.  Or I will make a few successive attempts at some difficult aspect of technique, but will give up before really making any progress.

These issues I suppose are largely matters of discipline and also fighting against habits.  However, sometimes I will get into a zone and practice something difficult at a good tempo to learn and will find myself engaged in that difficult technical challenge.  It is at these times when the practice session is really working and I am feeling the effectiveness of the methods.   Perhaps that is just it, sometimes I don't feel the effectiveness of slowing down or I am not making those very small gains in progress on that technical challenge which spurs me on.

In fact, I think the issue of very small but measurable progress at a single practice session is one of the keys to having a great practice.   By seeing even tiny advancing steps I become motivated to continue and work to overcome the challenge.  When I fall out of good practice habits, I wonder if what is happening is a kind of minor frustration borne out of not feeling even small sucess which causes a bit of grasping at just trying to do it any way possible.  I suppose it is mostly inexperience in these situations which is preventing me from recognizing what is causing the lack of progress and what I need to do to overcome it.  The skill in recognizing not only what is wrong, but what small steps and small victories are the path to overall sucesss is a valuable skill to learn. 

The second issue with respect to a practice ideal and my woefully inadequent attainment of it is one of a more broad and general nature.  Typically I have learned a certain kind of practicing discipline is ideal whether it flows through a schedule of warm up and scales, technical exercises, studies repetoire and performance practice say, this is an awful lot of items to fit into a practice session.  I find that more often than not I will be enthusiastic and motivated on one of those particular items and spend most of my practice session on a single thing.  Now I understand that overall one must have a good balance in what one practices, and it would be a mistake to only practice what we are enthusiastic to work on and leave out those boring (or difficult) but necessary bits.  However,  I think one should have the latitude to dive into something even if it means missing  a few other items that day.   I believe this can be beneficial because when you are engaged and motivated you are usually learning optimally as well. 

So, how does one find a balance of discipline , maximize enthusiasm and engagement and learn to recognize what it takes to secure small victories while working on a technical challenge.   I suppose learning these skills is as important to good development as the specific skills need to play the instrument.

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