Close-up photo of violinist playfully smiling while practicing“The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”
–Carl Jung, psychologist
Psychological Types, p. 123

Can intense practice be both productive and playful?

That is, can we zero in on specific tasks in practice and feel exuberant at the same time?

Absolutely! And I think we’re at our most creative when we do.

Here are 4 ways that we can bring playfulness to deliberate practice.

4 Ways to Bring Playfulness to Deliberate Practice

1. Toy with Problems

When we practice, we perpetually run into problems, some technical, others artistic. Yet by surmounting problems we extend our abilities, so, in a sense, we need problems.

Sometimes, though, we stop seeing difficulties as opportunities and begin treating them as aggravating obstacles, and then our inspiration drains away.

To keep the creative juices flowing in my practice, I toy with problems. I’ll try one solution, then another, learning and laughing as ideas hit dead ends.

I enjoy the problem-solving process because I know that I’ll find rewarding solutions in the end. (For detailed problem-solving techniques, see pages 54-70 of The Musician’s Way.)

“By surmounting problems we extend our abilities, so, in a sense, we need problems.”

2. Repeat with Wonder

Some people might think that we repeat in practice to congeal phrases into unchanging forms.

Not so.

With every repetition of a phrase, I create something new – a subtler dynamic curve, a smoother legato, a creamier tone. My ears are wide with wonder at the possibilities that each musical gesture contains.

Of course, we rely on repetition to instill vivid mental maps of pieces, but with a playful approach, we can navigate those maps in near-infinite ways. Then, even the titles we’ve performed for years stay fresh.

“With every repetition of a phrase, I create something new – a subtler dynamic curve, a smoother legato, a creamier tone.”

3. Treat Errors as Adventures

We’ve solved problems and done our repetitions. We’re convinced that our material is solid. Then, out of nowhere: Splat! A fat error. (Know the feeling?)The Musician's Way book cover

I’ve made countless such errors, and I find them quite funny, almost refreshing. Not that I like messing up. What I mean is that when I miss something, the error helps me recalibrate my playing.

My errors show me that I’ve got something to refine. In response, I search out the sources of my glitches and take pleasure in the refining process.

“We’re convinced that our material is solid. Then, out of nowhere: Splat! A fat error.”

4. Transcend

Transcendence is a core feature of deep practice, and I think it’s a pillar of playfulness.

When I practice, I imagine dramatic scenes, dancers moving through space, whatever. I feel an irrepressible flow of imagination no matter what I work on, be it a scale or a masterpiece.

That playfulness begins as soon as I unlatch a case and lift a guitar in my hands because I never know what I might conjure up.

Know the feeling?

Preview and read reviews of The Musician’s Way at Amazon.com.

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© 2011 Gerald Klickstein
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