Posts Tagged ‘practice’


Level of Expectation

January 7, 2015

Here’s one of my least favorite phrases:

Good enough

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:

Good enough…isn’t.





The Christmas Lecture

December 19, 2014

It’s the end of the year.  For those of us that live on an academic calendar that means a couple of weeks off.  While breaks can be needed, and even important, there is a danger involved.  And that leads to something I give to each student every year: The Christmas Lecture.

Usually a break starts with the best of intentions:

  • “Without classes I’ll have so much time to practice.”
  • “Over break I’m going to get so much done.”
  • “Now that the semester is over, I can really be productive.”

But what happens is something like this:

Day 1

Well, school just got out, so taking one day off isn’t so bad.  Tomorrow I’ll get started.

Day 2

Hey, my friends just called, and we haven’t been able to spend much time together…I’ll get started tomorrow.

Day 3

My family has plans today so I probably won’t have time to practice.

Day 4

Okay, time to get back into it…right after breakfast.  Wait, I haven’t seen “The Price is Right” in years.  Drew Carey is no Bob Barker.  Hmm…there is some shopping I need to get done.  Okay then- shopping, then it’s definitely practice time.  Hey, I ran into friends at the mall.  We’re going to go see a movie.  I’ll practice first thing in the morning.

Day 5

Wow- did I really sleep until 11:00?  Let’s give Drew Carey another shot.  Nope- it’s just not the same.  Now where is my horn?  Oh, today we’re going to visit Great Aunt Ida.  She’s 112.  I’ve been hearing my whole life that I need to go, and be nice, because it just might be her last Christmas.


Does any of that sound familiar?

Sometimes the break can be the hardest time to practice because you’re out of your normal schedule.  Taking a day off here and there can actually be a good idea.  That’s not what I’m talking about here.  I’m talking about one day turning into a week or more.  I want you to have an enjoyable break.  I also want you to come back to school energized, excited, and looking forward to whatever is coming next.  And I definitely want you to practice.  So here’s what you do:

Practice first thing in the morning

If you’ll set aside some time when you get up to practice, then the rest of the day is yours.  Have a great time with your friends and family while still getting some real practice time in.

Have a great break.  Enjoy the time you get to spend with your friends and family.

And practice.



September 24, 2014

Finding a teacher can be a difficult process.  And here’s why:

There is no 1-1 correlation between playing and teaching.

Many successful players are also wonderful teachers.  They have spent the time figuring out how to do what they do and are able to explain it well.

There are plenty of successful players who will tell you that you should study with them because they “can do what you are  looking to do, so who better?”  This doesn’t always work out so well.  Just because someone is able to do something does not mean they are able to teach.

Then there are fabulous teachers who did not have a playing career.  They are able to help you grow both technically and musically because they have devoted their life to teaching.

And the most difficult, the bad player and bad teacher.  This seems obvious.  Not able to have a performing career can drive one to teaching, but without an understanding of either creates a failure at both.

So how do you find a great teacher?  Good question.  

If you are young and inexperienced, ask someone you trust.  This could be your band director.  It could be an older student who is playing well.

If you are older and have some experience, go and take a lesson from someone.  With some idea of what you are looking for in a teacher, you can get an idea of how a prospective teacher and you will work by spending one-on-one time with them.

Okay, I’ve found a teacher.  Now what?

Once you’ve found a teacher, listen to them!  If you’re paying this person to help you grow, make sure you’re doing what they say.

Okay, go practice.


Summertime (and the practice is easy)

June 4, 2014

Now that school is out, for most of us, it’s time for what can be the most enjoyable and productive time of year.  Do I sense doubt?  Stick with me.  During the school year, you are generally responsible for three types of music:

1)  Music your teacher assigns for lessons

2)  Music you will perform (school ensembles, recitals, etc.)

3)  Music you want to learn.

During the summer, numbers 1 and 2 don’t exist in the same way for most people.  This leaves more time for the area most people ignore when they get busy during the school year- #3.  So get to it.  Make a list of music you want to learn.  It can be anything- solos, transcriptions, tunes, excerpts, stuff you think everyone already knows except for you but you’re too embarrassed to admit it, etudes, etc.  Then get to work.  How many times have you heard something and thought, “wow, that’s cool…I’d love to be able to play that”?  Well, this is your chance.  Make a list of:

Music I Want to Learn

Of course, you must balance your musical practice with technical practice.  Summer provides a great opportunity to tackle the technical weaknesses that you are busy hiding during the school year hoping no one notices.  As I put it so delicately to my students here at Indiana, summer is the best time to make a list and practice:

What I Suck At

With these two lists you’ve got a full summer’s worth of stuff to practice.  When school starts in the fall, you can go back with confidence in the new music you’ve learned and the new skills you’ve integrated.