I was browsing through an (old) book about piano technique the other day. The book, written by a virtuoso piano player in about 1902, pointed out that practice involves not just the body, but the brain, and that effective practice is a lot of work.
He then went on to say (reflecting his 19th century world-view) something along the lines that “young girls do not practice effectively; they are more prone to while away the hours playing at the piano” rather than practicing. He went on to say that the piano offers a host of temptations ot play at it — rather than master it — and the diligent student must be aware of the danger.
I stand convicted.
I have a lot of enthusiasm for music. I love to play music. Sometimes, I so want to play it that I don’t spend adequate time practicing the music so I can play it better. Maybe I’ve had a tough day at work and practicing just feels like more work to do — while playing is pure pleasure. And sometimes, it’s probably just my own ego that says “you’ve already got it” – when my fingers say I don’t. By pushing through too quickly to “playing” before I’ve mastered it, I actually slow down my progress.
In my head, I still play the violin as well as I did when I was 21. But when I took it out of the case recently and ran bow over strings, it’s clear that I have a lot of work to do to re-install technique and produce a sound that has the right intonation — let alone tone — for the pieces I want to play.
At the same time, practice does not have to be drudgery. It’s not all about repetition and rote.
As Westney Willliam points out in his book (which I recommend) The Perfect Wrong Note, practice is actually a time to identify and solve the puzzles of why a section of music is giving you trouble, and to work through the mechanics to get it right. Approached this way — practice is no more tedious than playing Tetris or Farkle or solving a Sodoku puzzle. There can be a great sense of accomplishment when you figure it out.
And then — the playing becomes even more of a pleasure!