My piano practicing fills several hours most days.
For all of my piano years I believed that if I played the same music and the same notes enough times it would become perfect. Though most of the piece improved I continued to stumble in the same places, day after day, week after week. It just needs more time I would tell myself. I believed that practice makes perfect, but it never really worked for me.
Someone said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent.” No wonder the mistakes continued. I had practiced them over and over until they became permanent. Not intentionally. But it’s what happened.
Dr. B has taught me that if I want correct playing I have to practice correct playing. Begin at a snail’s pace, he suggests — whatever tempo is necessary to play every note correctly. In his studio, right notes take precedence over speed. Speed will eventually take care of itself he says.
Seven notes in Beethoven’s opus 109 have plagued me for weeks. Early on, Dr. B confirmed my fingering and suggested I slow drill until I mastered it. I did the drill. Still, I could only play it correctly on the fourth try. Never on the first try. Two weeks ago at my lesson we worked on those seven notes again. This time we started with two notes in the middle of the sequence, playing them in every octave on the piano. Then we added one more note and repeated the exercise. We continued, adding one note at a time, until I could play all seven. Then he said, “If you will practice this passage exactly like this for two weeks you’ll have it.”
I did what he said. Every day, the same slow, add-a-note drill. I practiced only right notes. Two weeks later I played it perfectly at my lesson. His method works. The right notes are now permanent.
My example is about music because it’s much of my life. But I believe the same slow deliberate step-by-step drill can apply to other things in our life. We need to stop, slow down, and practice getting the little things right before we rush to the finish line.
- in your writing, study the metaphors of other authors, then use their patterns to create your own. Practice writing better sentences.
- in your exercise, start with weights or reps that are relatively easy, then gradually add a little more, allowing your body time to practice at each weight.
- in your art, experiment with your paints, learn how they behave, work on something small. Save the big canvas for later — after you’ve had a lot of practice.
- in your kitchen, learn to make one item well, and then another, and then another — before you cook an entire dinner for company.
I continue to learn this lesson, this discipline, over and over. I often need reminders to slow down, get it right. But I’m impatient. I want to play the entire piece at the right speed — usually before I’m ready. Don’t many of us do the same thing? We’re so anxious to reach the finish line, that we shorten or ignore the preparation process. Then the finish is not what we’d hoped for because we refused to slow down, do the work, and perfect the small things.
Slow down. Do the work. Claim a better finish.
Until next Tuesday . . .