It’s the time of the year for exams and competitions again. And as it’s getting closer to the end of the year, students in general are having more pressure from their school and work lives. They start to get panic.
I am never a person to get panic when facing an important deadline. Even when in school, from college to grad school, I always finished every project/essay/recital preparation etc. way ahead of the set deadline. I would have it finished at least two or three weeks before the deadline for submission set by the professor. It was just a habit for me to do that. I truly enjoyed working on the project and could not be happier to start on it and have it finished earlier on so that I would have extra time to review and polish it (but I almost always never really made much changes to it). I was a freak who actually loved to do homework. I guess it’s because I was learning something I truly loved. I also would prepare for the lectures so I could be able to understand what the professors would be teaching and answer their questions (okay, not every course, as some of them were quite boring).
When I had to prepare for a piano exam/jury/recital, I just kept practicing. I knew it was the constant work that would keep me prepared for any of those events. Earlier on I would select the program, count the timing, prepare the program brochure, and even buy/choose the concert attire, etc. so that I would not be panic at the last minute. I didn’t want any of the tiny details to sabotage my performance. Of course, when it came to the end of such event, I felt relieved just like anyone would. But it’s the whole process that counted.
Students nowadays seem to focus too much on the “end-product”, namely the exam/competition/recital, or the diploma/certificate they can hang on the wall. Indeed, that is important, it signifies your effort to achieve such a goal you work hard for. But what about the process? Have you learned anything? Have you enjoyed your learning and playing? If one only plays for an exam or a certificate, I would find it really sad. It’s just like one spent all the time from the beginning of the year to the end of the exam only for that certificate. The meaning is all lost.
The same notion goes for your practice. Certainly, once in a while, we would drag along with our practice, because we are too tired, or we want to do something else, or we are stuck in the middle of our progress that we simply cannot solve any playing problem in our practice. But if one never enjoys his/her practice, and just avoids practice every single day, only until the end of the week right before the weekly piano lesson comes s/he drags his/her body to the piano and reluctantly practices a little, then what exactly is the point of piano learning for this person? Just because s/he needs to get through yet another piano lesson so that the teacher won’t yell at him/her? If I were that teacher, I would tell that student to think very thoroughly if s/he truly wants to keep playing and taking lessons with me. The answer can be yes or no. And if it’s a “no”, then there would be no point in continuing to take lessons, as if one is not passionate with piano playing and learning, why should one be doing it?? It perplexes me. I would understand if the student is a child as s/he might be forced to take lessons by his/her parents (not that I agree with this), but it would not make sense if the student is an adult who can make clear decisions on his/her own with matters like this.
I think most students who have decided to continue taking piano lessons must have their own rational reasons, so that it’s not that they don’t want to practice, but they have been implanted with this notion that “practice is painful” from earlier on in their lives, by the people around them (parents, friends and teachers). When I ask some of my students to think the reverse, they are surprised and confused : “shouldn’t practice be boring?” “NO! it shouldn’t be.” It’s very hard to change the way they think even though they actually love to play better and learn more. I ask them to think, instead of each lesson is the conclusion and end of the weekly practice, that practice is in fact continuous and each lesson is just a pit-stop in this long-term process. I tell them, it’s a matter of a switch. You don’t have to “correct” the old thought before “learning” the new one, you just “adopt” the new thought and “forget” about the old one. It’s really that simple. Believe in the new thought in the blink of an eye and immediately (or gradually) you will forget about the old thought. Usually my students don’t believe me, arguing that it’s not that easy to do. “How can it be that simple?” Believe me, you can. Because I did it that way. You can do it too. It goes the same for learning a new technique (and eradicate the old one).
Many play with their hands. I want my students to play with their minds. As the mind always comes first before the hands. If it doesn’t, there must be something wrong with that person’s brain.
My students, remember this:
“The journey is the reward.” – Steve Job
You would truly understand this when you look back in 10-20 years of time.
Or better still, believe it now and you will see the wonder happening in your practice and playing. You will do even much better in those “pit-stops”.