“How can we have a goal in practice, feel inspired by a sense of purpose and direction, and yet avoid becoming caught in a tangle of straining and striving?”
–Joseph Goldstein, author
Insight Meditation, p. 29
Have you ever felt entangled by your musical aspirations, swamped with music to practice and skills to master? Many young artists do.
Then, owing to overeagerness, students often bypass doing the slow, deep practice that’s required for them to reach their goals.
Case in point, myriad students arrive at lessons believing they’re prepared, only to realize under their teacher’s guidance that, although they devoted hours to their music, they practiced hastily and missed crucial fine points. (Sound familiar?)
“Be patient,” teachers urge, as they correct students’ missteps. The students agree to try, but then similar scenarios play out in the ensuing weeks.
What’s going on? For one thing, patience isn’t all that’s lacking.
The Problem with Patience
We employ patience to tolerate things we find unpleasant – say, waiting in long lines.
When teachers advise students to “be patient” in practice, it implies that deep practice is something to be endured, not honored and enjoyed. So, with “Be patient” echoing in their minds, students attempt to force themselves to tackle new material deliberately.
But, as they practice, inner tension builds because they’d rather be playing a favorite tune or casually riffing.
Little by little, their focus drifts and then they skim through their material or repeat it mindlessly.
In such situations, more patience would be a mere band-aid. Inner tension is the issue. And that tension typically arises from students’ attitudes toward and competence with practice.
Better than Patience: Acceptance
With an accepting attitude toward practice, we recognize the work that needs to be done and take pleasure in working. Tension and overeagerness don’t spark because we honor the creative process and commit to our daily tasks.
We don’t bemoan scale practice; we enjoy refining our tone, easefulness, articulation, and so on. When tripped up by challenging passages, we deconstruct them, trusting in our ability to solve problems.
“With an accepting attitude toward practice, we recognize the work that needs to be done and take pleasure in working.”
We take on each practice task with full attention and an unconflicted heart, confident that we’re advancing on our path.
To be wholly accepting, though, we have to know that our practice methods will move us forward.
Building Competence with Practice
If your practice habits need an upgrade, see Part I of The Musician’s Way for comprehensive strategies, and also visit the Downloads page at MusiciansWay.com for tools to organize your work.
For starters, consider your goals in the five practice zones and ensure that they’re readily attainable.
Then, abide by an appropriate practice schedule, delineate specific goals for each session, and employ varied, distributed and interleaved practice strategies.
Calming the Headwind
As an inspiration, I offer the following poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from the German by Robert Bly, which distills the experience of numerous aspiring artists:
My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has its inner light, even from a distance—
and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it, we already are;
a gesture waves us on, answering our own wave . . .
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.
For our purposes here, I interpret the headwind that concludes the poem as the resistance that many musicians feel toward doing deep practice and forging inclusive skills.
But we can calm those winds.
With true acceptance and an arsenal of practice strategies in hand, the sunny hill exists right here, right now.
The beauty in basics
Clear goals, clear process
The ultimate practice shortcut
© 2010 Gerald Klickstein
Photo licensed from Shutterstock
Thank you, Randy. I appreciate you bringing up the topic of denial, which is the opposite of acceptance and a potent source of the destructive inner tension that triggers impatience.
NIce Posting! As both a teacher and a performer I continually have to remind myself of these principles. I like to describe impatience as a denial of the truth of a situation and patience as the acceptance and appreciation of that truth.
The fact is that with the right attitude, slow, careful practice is a pleasant and renewing experience…
Thanks for putting this so clearly and accurately!