Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “Enthusiasm is the mother of effort, and without it nothing great was ever achieved.“
Unfortunately, when I was in high school, enthusiasm had nothing to do with my reasons for practicing. Except for those times when I had a new piece to learn, practicing was not something I enjoyed or looked forward to. I did it because I felt I had to.
But imagine a parallel universe in which you are in high school, and suddenly have one of those moments of clarity in which your perspective on practicing shifts (ha ha, get it?), and you begin practicing not out of duty, but from a place of genuine enthusiasm?
How much different do you suppose your experience of college, graduate school, and beyond would be? How much better might you become over the course of weeks, months, and years?
A tale of two perspectives
A student approached me after class this week (true story), and beaming from ear to ear, excitedly shared with me a breakthrough he had this past week. He explained that he always thought practicing was something we did simply to fix problems. To correct notes out of tune, scratchy tone, coordination issues, tempo, and so on.
But this week, something clicked, and his concept of practicing changed. He realized that the reason we practice is not to fix things per se, but to figure out what we want to say, and how to say it.
This conceptual shift resulted in an exponential leap in his level of enthusiasm for practicing. As if there was now a greater purpose and reason for engaging in practice every day.
I asked how he came to this realization, and he said it was a combination of many things that over time coalesced into this moment of clarity.
The contributing factors
Here are some of the things he mentioned as having a role in bringing about this new view of practice:
1. Reading How Many Hours a Day Should You Practice?, and Paul Kantor’s suggestion that the practice room ought to be like a laboratory.
2. Watching this video of Leon Fleisher, where he emphasizes the importance of having a concept of what you want before you play – and likewise suggests that the practice room is the place to experiment.
3. Watching this video of Glenn Gould, especially the part beginning around 1:10 where he seems to be trying to figure out to get the piano to produce what he hears in his head, and then at 1:58 when he gets up from the piano seemingly to sing out loud to clarify what he wants, at which point he returns to the piano to see if he can make it happen on the instrument.
4. And all the teachers he has had contact with over the years, who have repeated variations of the same message, sometimes even asking him to sing out loud in lessons so as to demonstrate how he wants the phrase to sound away from the instrument.
There are undoubtedly other contributing factors that led to this reconceptualization of practice, but however it happened, the enthusiasm is there – and hopefully to stay!
Have you found ways of increasing the innate level of enthusiasm in your own (or your students’) daily practice?
I have 5 copies of the popular Metronome+ app (iPhone) to share with readers. Submit your favorite idea for increasing enthusiasm in the practice room below in the comments, and I’ll give these copies away to my five favorite responses (please fill in the email field when leaving your comment so I can send you your code!).
UPDATE: Codes have been handed out – thank you to all who left comments!
photo credit: kreg.steppe via photopin cc