More Effective Practice Techniques

Coming From Nothing?

You have heard it again and again: "Practice makes Perfect" If you want to get better at playing football, tennis, painting, building a model aeroplane, cooking a thai curry or playing a musical instrument you just need to practice, right?

And isn't practice all about correcting mistakes: unlearning old habits and creating new habits?

I have heard it said many times to me: "I was never taught HOW to practice". Teachers always have the best tips and tricks to help you practice. But what if the best way of practising stemmed from "NOTHING"?

Picture this: you are sitting own to start practising the piano. You already know what you "should" be playing. You can hear how it "should" sound. But when you start playing "something happens" that you just can't play it like you want to. Then you get frustrated and make excuses for why you just can't play it right now. And no matter how much reassurance you get, you just cannot play that bit of music.

How come you know WHAT to play but you just can't seem to just PLAY it without mistakes? The answer might surprise you.

That is because your head is filled with NOISE: conversations from the past that are stuck on repeat in your brain. Conversations about your inability to play, about you making mistakes, about the sound you are making… Then you try to play that piece of music with all that NOISE going on in your head! No wonder you are making so many mistakes!

In realising that my students progress was starting to stagnate, I tried an experiment with one of my adult piano students. We got to notice the "noise" in her head that is preventing her from playing. So I asked her to meditate. If thoughts came in to her head, just let them go, like a leaf in the breeze. Notice them but not listen to them. Come from a place of peace and quiet. From her head being EMPTY.

I then asked her to play a scale that had been troubling her. And she played it perfectly, straight off.

To check this was not a fluke, I asked Anita to play a number of other scales. And to notice that if she got a note wrong to keep going, not stop like it was an issue. Again her fluency improved. Dramatically.

To check that this was not peculiar to just an adult student, I tried it out on a couple of students in their primary and teenage years. I keep saying to "empty" the brain. Hand all that "noise" to me. And try playing the music again. Whilst the results were not as dramatic, they could see that their mistakes were a function of them second guessing themselves.

I started reflecting on my own abilities. I realised that I cannot practice when I am "not in the headspace". I am more effective when I am focussed on the task and not be stopped by the negative self-talk that all-too-often pervades my thinking. I realise that the self-talk is a function of being human, and that it is never going away, but for some of the time that I am practising, I can come from a place of being "empty".

Please comment below and tell me your experiences of practising. Whether you could see that developing effective practice techniques could be as easy as starting from a meditative state. How you push aside the negative self-talk and how you develop a focus for practising. How do you go about instilling this in your students (or yourself)?