Musings on Learning Music



Your Practice Room Dialogue

  • You stupid fool! How could you miss that G# again!!  Now go back and get it right.  
  • Come on, you can play that exercise better than that; you've been practicing this for two weeks and you still can't play it?  
  • What makes you think you can play this instrument at all?!?!?  
  • And you missed that note again! It's higher than that. You've got to think high, think high!  
  • You can't slow down on those 16th notes like that; you have to keep the tempo going.  
  • Oh, you really are hopeless aren’t you.

So if you had a private teacher who talked to you like this throughout your entire lesson, would you keep going to him/her? I hope not.

How about this instead:  

  • Whoops!  Missed that G# again. Let's slow it way down and practice that spot 15 times.  Good! Now start from the beginning of the line and see how it goes.
  • This is a tough exercise, it could take several weeks to master. You are doing really well with this fast tonguing! Where are the tough spots for you? Yes, that one is difficult. So let's spend some time practicing just that section.  What are the difficulties? Hmmm… yes, slurring smoothly.
  • Hey! Nice job on that opening phrase! It was so musical, and I love the way you tapered the ending of it. The middle of the second phrase was a little awkward, so let's spend some time with that.
  • Whew. That was a lot of work today, but you got some really good things happening and some great progress. Next time you practice work on this, this, this and see if you can get those working better, too. 

Wouldn't you rather have a teacher who was encouraging at the same time as helping you improve?

Okay my next question to you… which one of these dialogs do you have with yourself when you are practicing alone?  Hmmmm?

My guess is, that for many of you, it's the first one. We tend to be very hard on ourselves. So you end up at the end of a practice session feeling depressed or like you can't do it or that it's just useless. What if instead, you look for the positive things in what you were playing, the things you did well, notice those, speak them, and congratulate yourself. Then, find a spot you didn't like the way it worked, and work on that. Still messing it up? Don't berate yourself, say something like, “Wow! This is difficult. I better slow down and practice this little section right here.”  And then notice the parts that get better, and not just the mistakes.

When you are practicing, YOU are your teacher; be kind and encouraging as well as demanding!  Changing the way you think in your practice session is not an easy thing to accomplish. But I challenge you to be more encouraging to yourself and notice and comment on and congratulate yourself for all of the things that you do well, before you dig into the spots that still need work.

While you are at it, put some pictures or items in your practice room, within sight as you play, things that make you happy and make you smile. Don't let your practice room be a dungeon.


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©Diane Muffitt