Can’t I Just Practice Tomorrow?

I’ll admit it: I’ve never really liked practicing. Not to say that I don’t do it. It’s just that at any given time, I’d rather do something else: shop, eat, check Facebook…Once in a newspaper interview, I was quoted as saying that practicing was like brushing my teeth — something I did every day as a necessity without questioning.

My childhood practice habits were pretty standard: my mom made me practice for two hours a day; my teacher told (begged?) me to practice slowly with the metronome. Practice time was always interrupting a Nancy Drew or Baby-sitters Club novel, so I tried to pass the hour as quickly as possible with some combination of dedicated practice and mindless repetition.

I wish more of my musical education emphasized how to practice instead of the duration of practice. The best teachers tell you how to practice instead of sending you home to with the vague order, “Work on it.” Practicing effectively is a challenge in and of itself! Once again, I must direct you to the Collaborative Piano blog for a great list of practicing ideas.

These days I’m still trying to master the art of practicing, and my practicing is much more goal-oriented (see also: Practicing Triage). I enjoy it much more than I did as a child, though I still wouldn’t list “practicing” on my list of fun things to do. Some days I have to con myself into practicing: I tell myself that I only have to work on a certain passage for a mere 20 minutes. Before I know it, one thing has led to another, and I’ve practiced much longer. This tactic works for house chores too!

I’ll leave you with a quote from my piano teacher at Juilliard: If you don’t practice for one day, you’ll know. If you don’t practice for two days, you and your teacher will know. If you don’t practice for three days, everyone will know.

3 thoughts on “Can’t I Just Practice Tomorrow?

  1. patty says:

    So fun to land at this blog o yours!

    I teach oboe, and attempting to teach students how to practice is part of the job. I use several different metaphors — and yes, I sometimes mix ’em! One is the “dissection method” which I’m sure anyone can figure out. Another is “opening the curtain”. For the latter I take a sticky note pad paper, cut it in half, and place one half before the tough couple of notes (we oboists sometimes have to whittle down … or dissect …!) to nearly nothing) and the other on the other side of the tough section. With the metronome painfully slow the student works on the few notes. Then we have my “5 times in a row” rule; the metronome doesn’t speed up until the student has played the passage perfectly 5 times IN a row. The other half of that rule has to be be done at home because it’s a “5 times in a row, 4 days in a row” rule. And I really do mean in a row.

    It’s boring, I know, but I work with my young students on this and they start to catch on to what true practice means. I also emphasize that they don’t have to start at the beginning of a work each time they practice.

    Ramble ramble … sorry to go on and on. I just wanted to drop in, fill you in on a few of my ideas, and mostly say that I’m enjoying your blog and have bookmarked it for later! I’d like to add it to my bloglinks if you are cool with that! 🙂


    • Eileen Huang says:

      Thank you, Patty! Great practice tips. One new thing I’m trying is to state a goal before each repetition. Anything from “This time I will not miss the E-flat,” to “This time I will pay with greater dynamic contrast.”

      Please feel free to add a link. I look forward to checking out your blog as well.

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