"Practice makes perfect."
The saying is meant to inspire us to practice more; unfortunately, it's a lie. A whopper!
"Practice makes permanent," a piano teacher once admonished my son, followed by: "...only 'perfect practice' makes perfect!"
One must practice, but one must practice with care. A mistake practiced many times over is a well-learned mistake, and un-learning it can be very difficult. But how can one avoid mistakes?
One cannot avoid all mistakes, but one can avoid practicing them.
The problem is that mistakes can be deceptive. One might think, "I'm correcting my mistakes as I practice."
I very often see a phenomenon in students that I call the "Built-in Boo-Boo." A student will be playing a piece, then he or she arrives at a certain difficult note, perhaps a note that requires a shift. The student misses the note, stops, plays it once or twice more until it is correct, and then moves on.
If the student were to play the entire passage again, the student would do the exact same thing the next time: play the wrong note, stop, play the right note, move on. It can happen in a flash. In the student's mind, the note has been corrected. In reality, the student has formed a strong habit of playing the note incorrectly, interrupting the music, noodling around a little, then playing the right note. It's a built-in mistake that will remain, unless the student's strategy changes.
Why? Because the strategy of "correcting mistakes" does not work. Certainly, one will make mistakes, and one will need to correct them. But you only need to make the mistake once to know you have a problem that needs solving. Here are a few effective steps to truly correct a mistake, instead of continuing to repeat it:
This way of practicing will require more thought and investigation. It will require being aware of what you are doing, and you may even need to record yourself in order to find those habitual mistakes. But once you start truly solving your mistakes, your overall practice will be far more effective.
Please feel free to share your strategies for correcting mistakes and practicing effectively.
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