Whether it’s an audition, a math final, or your herculean efforts to prepare a non-dried-out Thanksgiving turkey for once, it’s never fun to fail, make mistakes, or fall short of your goals. Which probably explains why there are so many quotes on the internet about the value of learning from our failures, and embracing setbacks. Like…
The first few minutes of bringing a puppy into our home were awesome, and I thought it’d be amazing if there were a way to make him stay that size forever. He was so tiny and cute, the kids could barely contain themselves.
And then he peed on the carpet.
Because while I knew he shouldn’t be peeing on the carpet, he clearly did not. And since everything I read online suggested that it was critically important to make sure the little guy did not make any mistakes, I was super stressed out. Because for every mistake he made inside, I was told that I’d have to counter this with dozens, if not hundreds of successful repetitions outside.
Of course, it wasn’t very realistic to think that I could get through potty training with no mistakes. But the fear that one little slip-up could undo dozens of correct repetitions made each mistake seem really monumental.
Similarly, I think we all know that perfection in the practice room from Day 1 is impossible. Yet it still feels like we should still be striving for “perfect” practice and minimizing errors as much as we can. But could it be that this fear of building bad habits, actually ends up leading to a kind of practice that stunts our growth and learning?
Did you ever have a teacher who suggested that you imagine projecting your sound to the last row in the balcony? Not by forcing things, of course, but to use the image of filling the hall with your sound, so that even your pianissimos would carry to the very back?
I imagine most musicians have been given that advice at some point or another. Because playing in a big hall does require more from us than playing in the practice room.
But sheesh, wouldn’t it be simpler to just say “play louder” and be done with it?
Or does this mental image, which shifts our focus away from our body or instrument and directs it toward the space instead, make a meaningful difference in what the audience hears?
Recently, my daughter through a pretty hardcore PB&J phase. And since I hadn’t had a PB&J sandwich in years, I made myself one too, quickly re-discovering how yummy they are.
I mean sure, peanut butter by itself is fun. And some strawberry jam is nice to have around too. But when you put them together? Awesome. (And you know what’s also awesome, BTW? Full-fat cream cheese and chunky strawberry jam on a lightly toasted Bays english muffin.)
Umm…what does this have to do with anything?
Well, research suggests that mental practice can be a helpful adjunct to regular physical practice.
Research also suggests that “observational practice,” where we simply observe someone perform a skill, can help us learn more effectively too.
And recently, researchers have begun to study the effect of combining these two approaches, to see if that might be even better than either strategy alone.