The word practice sparks all types of emotions in us. Some dread having to practice, some fear it, some experience anxiety just anticipating practice and most view it as simply hard work. We have no idea the time and effort one has to dedicate to learning an artistic skill or any skill for that matter, but let’s focus on how this relates to studying music and or learning an instrument. These two can be mutually exclusive though personally I feel they are one. It is possible to learn an instrument with only a minimal understanding of music and it is possible to have depth in regards to music without the instrument. In my own experience, I learned a great deal about music, but barely played an instrument until I entered college. Put a pin in that as we will revisit this.
Let’s talk about practice. There’s that word again and here come those feelings regarding it. Early on I found a very easy way to combat all these fears and anxiety over practice. Here I was, a late teen and HAD to learn piano. (insert pin here) I was accepted to college as a theory/composition major but was strongly urged to learn some piano over my senior year before attending. So my parents found a teacher for me and I set out on the task of learning an instrument. In my case, the piano. All of a sudden I had scales to practice, repertoire to practice, the mechanics and physical aspects of practice and what seemed like practice practicing. YIKES! So much to practice! And I still had school work that needed to get done. It all seemed a bit overwhelming and my practice was all over the place. Something had to change.
I truly wanted to eliminate practice altogether. Think about that for a second. I had so much I needed to learn and practice that I wanted to just get rid of practicing all together. I wanted it to magically just happen I guess. Then out of the blue, I had asked a friend what he was doing over the weekend. He said he was going to spend time with his girlfriend and wasn’t going to be around. He asked me what I was doing and I jokingly said, well I guess I’m going to be spending time with my piano. This was a light bulb moment for me! I would no longer be practicing but merely “spending time with my instrument.” All of a sudden I didn’t see sitting down and performing certain tasks as work. Simply substituting “spending time with the piano” completely transformed my attitude towards my approach. My piano became my girlfriend and we spent a lot of time together. And I do mean a LOT! All of a sudden, my time with my instrument became much more structured and productive and I was learning at a rate that I could hardly believe!
Then another realization hit me. When I could actually perform a piece of music I was said to “play” the piano. Wow. I’m playing! Let that word "play" sink in for a second. This is another example of shifting the weight of words to put a more positive spin on things. I wasn’t working on my scales or working on Bach, I was “playing!” Playing scales, playing repertoire and even spending time learning from records I enjoyed, figuring out songs and licks. I was no longer practicing and working. Suddenly I was spending time with my instrument playing!
Words do matter and how we present those words to our subconscious can make a huge difference in our approach to things as well as in the results we achieve. There is a lot of work involved in learning any new skill. However, tell yourself to spend time with your instrumentand to play and not so much practicing and working. You will find all those anxieties and fears and even the boredom you may experience at times just vanish. It’s all in the mindset.
So go spend some time with your instrument and play, play, play!