Level of ExpectationJanuary 7, 2015
Here’s one of my least favorite phrases:
What that means to me is that it’s not as good as could be, and that it’s okay to settle for less than an optimal result. I’m not okay with either thought.
Level of expectation can be a difficult topic of discussion, as everyone is in a different place. So I will try to be as clear as possible. There are many times when I’ve witnessed players of all levels finish a performance and say something like:
“…but that’s not how I play.”
Here’s the truth:
That is how you play.
If you’re unhappy with your level of performance, it’s likely that you should be unhappy with your preparation.
Too often, people dutifully spend time in the practice room hacking away until it’s time to be done for the day. When a performance comes around, they think the mindless practice (“But I practiced 2 hours a day every day this week!”) will magically transform into a higher level of performance. That’s not how it works.
If you truly want to raise your level of performance, it starts with how you are practicing. Here are some guidelines to help you get started:
- Before you start practicing, have a idea of what that session will accomplish.
- It could be as simple as figuring out where you’re going to breathe, or increasing the tempo by 5 beats per minute on a particular piece or passage.
- When you have accomplished what you set out to do, move on.
- If you finish quickly, set another goal and continue.
- If it takes a while, then it’s time for a break.
- Practice performing.
- If the performance is the first time you’ve played that piece all the way through without stopping, you have not set yourself up for success.
- The quality of your practice, not the quantity, is the most important aspect.
Now comes the hard part. You’re practicing dutifully, holding yourself accountable, and making real progress in the practice room. The next performance comes around, and you’re still not happy. That’s okay. Take each performance you get as a check-up on how you’re doing. Be honest with yourself about what’s getting better and what needs work. Then get back in the practice room. Repeat this…forever. If you do it right, you’ll get better and better while still realizing there will always be reasons to practice, and the process of learning and musical growth is neverending.
And you’ll know what I tell my students on a regular basis: