The myths surrounding piano practice #1

There are several myths surrounding the idea of practice, a few of which I will try to debunk in a series of posts. It is important to notice that as per any myth, each contains a certain degree of truth.

The distinction is crucial because although they seem to pour out naturally from common sense, often these myths function as demotivating mantras for the beginner and amateur musician. They might feel like heavy axes, ready to kill our desire and pleasure of playing an instrument. Hopefully, you’ll be able to see them in a different light from now on.

Myth 1 – Serious practice means long hours

Two things to unpack here: the ‘long hours only’ idea of good practice, and the implication that seriousness is needed in order to get results.

It is true

  • that in order to play anything well, one needs to sit down and practice it for as long as it takes, sometimes hours, days, weeks.

  • that the best and most serious pianists in history have spent their life sitting at the piano.

What is not true is

  • that unless you are able to spend long hours practising piano you will not achieve anything serious with your instrument.

In fact, what makes one an artist is the depth of ideas rather than how many hours it took to finish the work. The beauty and interest of a piece lie in the quality and meaning of the content rather than the difficulty of its crafting.

Put it this way: to play that one piece of music well, you need to put in the necessary amount of time. Only you can decide how much time is needed by engaging in the process. After a month you might realise that it will take much longer than you expected and that you don’t actually have that time. Clearly, you may have aimed a bit too high for the time being. In this case, the previous month was the perfect opportunity to reassess your level. After all, you’ve been training to a higher standard. Great, next pick something more within reach or alternatively, be a little more patient. A month of attempts at this higher stander may in fact not be enough …

Truthfully, serious piano practice requires patience, quite a lot of it.

Serious practice means patience, I would say. The same patience is necessary to keep yourself motivated after the hundredth mistake. Equally, you’ll need patience for any long-term plan, like writing a book, creating a new business or raising a child.

When you sit down to play piano you are not entering a gym to grow your muscles nor are you aiming to crack a code, once and for all. Instead, you are developing a skill.

This skill has more similarities with cultivating a plant or learning a new language than understanding how an engine works. Your current instrumental challenge might take months or even years to be mastered, so you better arm yourself with patience.

So, the myth goes “serious practice means long hours”. The seriousness implied as necessary is quite intimidating, suggesting that no fun is involved.

Have you ever heard the quote ‘Comedy is a serious business’? Meaning that the skill, intelligence and effort of the people within the comedy business are not to joke about.

Music, art and the practice of both follow the same logic. Approach it with determination and respect. However, there’s no reason to take it too seriously. The repertoire itself offers plenty of room for lightness, irony, joy and laughter.

Consider the witty ironical works by very serious composers such as Gershwin, Stravinsky, Mozart or even Beethoven! Do your best, but don’t take it too seriously.

The default downside of seriousness is that everything about it becomes too important, including the mistakes you make and your own shortcomings, adding a layer of harsh self-criticism that defeats the original purpose of you playing an instrument.

Your audience wants to hear your music, not your struggles with it. So, when you sit at the piano don’t be serious: be patient and enjoy!

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