Joyful Practice

For the past month, I’ve been walking to my teaching studio at 6:30 every weekday morning to practice piano for 2 hours. The walk, approximately 20min in duration, has been dark and cold. You might think that this would be a very miserable and tedious endeavour. But on the contrary, I can’t remember a previous time period in which I enjoyed practicing piano so much!

Let’s face it, practicing a musical instrument or being in high-level training for any physical pursuit can be extremely physically and emotionally taxing. But why should it be? I’ve been a practicing musician since I was 5 years of age…that’s the last 40 years! And it’s only been in the past year or so where I can finally admit to myself that the routine of practicing piano is joyful! What do I mean by joyful? It means that a 2-hour practice session feels like it was only 30 minutes. It means I listen to the sound that emanates from the piano with a deep appreciation. It means that when I make slips, I either react neutrally or even sometimes laugh before I try the passage again.

This has been a huge mental achievement to get to in my music making. While music continues to be my career, practicing piano has become more of a therapeutic activity that brings me greater well-being and inner peace. I am a regular practitioner of meditation and I find very similar emotional outcomes from both pursuits.

So since I’ve reached this newly-discovered musical nirvana, I’ve been thinking consciously of why this is. After all, I want to continue to ride this wave! Here are some of my conclusions…

– I only practice music that brings me passion. Now I should preface that statement that I almost exclusively practice my own compositions these days. But it wasn’t always the case where practising my own pieces brought me joy. I think this factor is tied in with the fact that I’m also finding my own compositional voice. Even if you don’t practice your own compositions, I think it’s important to find repertoire that resonates with you strongly that it’s almost as if you did compose it.

– I only practice music within my own playing ability. That’s not to say that the piano pieces that I learn don’t challenge my coordination and motor skills…they do. But I’ve figured out what’s realistic for me to have success with with regular practice. I realize that fine-tuning that intuition in assessing repertoire can be challenging…but I firmly believe that it can be developed. And when you get, it’s productively glorious!

– I focus on the long-term goal rather than obsessing on assessing the quality of my practice on a daily basis. Over the years, I have seen first-hand how some piano students get bogged down with self-criticism. That creates anxiety and the human body simply can’t function as well in this state. If I have a practice session and I’m making slips, I do drills to correct the issue. If it’s still not perfect, then I just tell myself, not to worry, it will be better tomorrow. And guess what…it usually is!

– I don’t just focus on the physical motion of my fingers but I make sure to also listen to the sound. After all that’s why we play, right?

– As I practice, I regularly remind myself how lucky I am to have this opportunity to sit at a piano and play music. Many people don’t have that opportunity so I never take it for granted.

– While I practice, I congratulate myself for all I have achieved in my musical past. I strongly believe that as you work to better yourself for your musical future self, the wave of your past achievements is what motivates you to move forward.

Whether you’re a piano player like me or you’re in training for something else, I can’t recommend enough to work at being joyful in the everyday of your activity. Since you spend so many hours doing this and life is so short, why would you want to be in any other state?

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