6 Practicing Myths Dissected

You might have heard the old saying, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? ….practice, practice, practice!” Now that I am scheduled to perform there in February 2014, I feel qualified to weigh in on the topic of how to practice the piano.

Piano Playing is Complicated

Studies have shown that playing a musical instrument is “among the most complex skills of (human) motor tasks” (LG Meister et al./ Cognitive Brain Research 19 (2004) 219-228). Certainly learning to perform a complicated classical piece of music from memory in front of an audience is the hardest task I have attempted. Most other things have seemed relatively easy by comparison except for facing the prospect of dying young from cancer.

Plenty of Advice Available

Many books have been written on how to play and practice the piano specifically, and on how to master complicated skills more generally. They range from philosophical books such as Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and The Inner Game of Music to pragmatic recent publications such as Josh Kaufman’s The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything… Fast!, and Chuan C. Chang’s Fundamentals of Piano Practice, and YouTube videos by everyone and their brother. It seems like mastering the piano should be a relatively easy task given the vast amount of instruction available; there were 104 MILLION listings when I googled ‘how to practice piano’.

But Will it Work?

However, when the rubber meets the road, one is generally alone at the keyboard trying to figure out the solutions to various problems. As the American folk song “Lonesome Valley” puts it:

You got to walk that lonesome valley
You got to walk it by yourself
Ain’t nobody else
Can walk it for you
You got to walk it by yourself.

What’s Ahead

I have decided to offer my thoughts on some of the more widespread beliefs about practicing. Hopefully you will find something of value here to help you on your path.Next week I will dive into the first myth: Practice Makes Perfect.  In the weeks ahead,  I will commit myself in print about some other common thoughts on practicing,  such as:

You can learn anything with enough repetitions
Practice, practice, practice will get you to Carnegie Hall
Learn it hands separately then hands together
Listen to recordings enough and you can put together a great interpretation
Learn technic first then work on music

I’d love to hear from you.  Are there any other beliefs about practicing you would like to hear about?  Do you have thoughts on the process of practicing you’d like to share?