Making music is a beautiful and fulfilling passion. A lot of us enjoyed playing an instrument at some point in time but, for the non-professionals as I am one, it‘s always a challenge, to find the time and space for it, besides the daily duties of work and family.
Being a passionate amateur pianist, making music, for me is always something to talk about with friends and colleagues. Sharing the beautiful experiences I had when playing music often leads to the question, how I managed to do that besides my job and family, where do I take the time for it and how did I get to a fairly skilled classic pianist after such a long break, just playing along some well known pop songs.
Well, the first answer is that I never paused longer than a few weeks from getting my fingers on my digital piano, the one and only instrument I had, since I realized my life‘s dream of owning a grand piano. So I always kept a certain level of musicality that helped a lot in getting back to a serious practice consuetude at the end of 2017. But the real truth is, that I had to improve my discipline in doing practice every day.
I started reading a lot about how to practice the piano and in particular about the importance of a daily, even if only few minutes, practice (which is valid for any instrument). Chuan C. Chang‘s „Fundamentals of Piano Practice“ (Source: http://www.pianopractice.org), available online or as a printed version in many languages, was a real eye opener in terms on how to practice in detail. Also it was a huge motivator in the sense, that Chang states that no esotherical capabilities are required to reach even the most advanced skills. Discipline, the willingness to improve and the right techniques to do it efficiently is the key in his opinion.
But honestly, isn’t that valid for our daily job as well? After a day of tedious work, fiddling around with demanding tasks and intense communication, do you really want to continue challenging yourself?
There‘s another aspect of music making, I‘d like to emphasize. When I come back home, there’s nothing comparable for me to that feeling of taking place in front of my grand, perceiving its scent of brass, copper and wood taking a minute or two to enjoy the smoothness of its key’s surface and the imposing sound once I start to play the very first notes of a scale or arpeggio to warm my self up. The aspect is relaxation, the ease of tension that you can achieve by making music, after a long day of duties and tasks.
While facing the challenges of instrument practice for improving your skills, never forget that music is an art and as such it requires way more than a good technique, it requires feeling and passion, expression of your thoughts and feelings and of course it requires the muse to do that.
The 10 minutes trick
We‘re talking with busy people about music making, so you need something really efficient and short, for the mangers right? 🙂
So here is a ten minute trick: Better practice 10 minutes a day than one hour a week!
While kind of simplistic there‘s an absolute truth behind this trick and this is related to the way, our brain elaborates experiences. A task which is perceived by the brain as a repeating one, enforces the associative paths in our brain and that leads to the long term memorization of all related sensory and motoric abilities. In the theory of post practice improvement (PPI) and I can confirm by my own experience that this really works. The brain continues to enforce its neural connections even after a task has been completed, just as muscles starts to enforce themselves and grow after a physical workout. The drawback is, that you should give your brain a little time to relax, so interrupting work to play ten minutes, then going right back to your next workshop, probably won‘t work. Select even the ten minutes a day accurately, do not surround them with tedious tasks or other learning activities and give your brain at least 30-60 minutes to elaborate, a short nap could help or just any activity that you already trained regularly, such as routine jobs.
Perceive focus and get into the flow
Music instrument practice is one of the most demanding tasks in terms of audiovisual and motoric coordination. It will teach you how to gain focus and get into the status of flow. When you feel completely immersed into your practice, try to perceive the way, how you get into it. You will definitely profit from that experience in your daily work.
Switch off the phone, turn notifications off, when you’re using a tablet or notebook as a sheet music reader or time tracker. You will learn a completely new way of getting your tasks done. Without any disruption and external triggers, you will learn to take back control and rather poll for information, when you are ready to do it and not when others are pushing you. When playing your instrument, you also will learn to get the level of relaxation required to better manage your daily business, challenges wont look that insurmountable and stress will be eased as you learn to focus on the really important things.
It improves your working skills
Music has mathematical structures in it, that trains your brain to improve analytical skills. Learning a new music work requires to analyze its structure, identify repetitions and in general patterns in it. The way the brain works when learning a new piece is to identify the individual components, put it into a relation to each other and to your own skills. Isn‘t that very similar to your own expectations, when talking about working skills?
Indeed, you could see, facing the daily challenge of instrument practice, as a way to improve your general working skills as well. In my opinion I got way more from my own music instrument practice than from many trainings about self improving I was participating in the past. It is due to the experience „on your own skin“, to the improvement of your self-perception and to the daily practice, that what you’ve learned and experienced gets part of your own DNA, so to speak.
On the long term?
We talked a lot about the short term experiences and the „ten minutes trick„. On the long term you will have to structure your practice time smaller segments. These consists into practicing basics like sight reading, scales and arpeggios, exercises and other elements and components of a musical piece. Some guitar or keyboard riffs will also do the job, as they are training your muscular dexterity as well as giving you some nice and reusable performance elements. You will spend some time while trying to memorize and improve a new piece, which is very important as it gives you kind of a target to achieve on the middle term. Once your repertoire is grown, you will notice that not playing a piece for a long time leads to forgetting some elements of it (if not completely losing it). So repetition or review of pieces in your repertoire is required from time to time. You should easily get back to a piece you played once, if not, you probably didn’t really memorize it. Be careful, there‘s something called „muscular memory“. It is quite easy to achieve and also easy to forget. Memorizing a piece means to engrave its structure and details in your brain from an audiovisual (and music theory aspect) perspective as well.
If you can afford it, try to achieve a practice time of 45-60 minutes a day. You may slowly approach it starting with the ten minute trick applied at different times during the day. Ten minutes before going to work, ten minutes, when you return home and may be another ten minutes before going to bed for the beginning. Going to sleep right after your practice is in my opinion the most promising thing in terms of post practice improvement.
I could write for hours, how to get to that point of being able to play the beautiful atmospheric works of Debussy or the challenging Fiorituras of Chopin‘s Nocturnes. As I‘m carefully tracking my practice time (you will surely notice the app advertised on the landing page of this site 🙂 ), I can tell you, it required some few lessons during my childhood and around 1200 practice hours in 2 1/2 years to get to that point, a lot of discipline and joy and of course a lot of my wife‘s and daughters‘ patience.
I hope that following this hints, you will enjoy music instrument practice as I did and still am doing. Perceive and engrave the moment, when you will get back to your instrument, give it a little time and enjoy your first performance in front of friends and family once you got to this point.