In my last post, I addressed how honestly evaluating your practice gets you to the goal of being able to play your piece faster than just trying to play your piece at tempo.
Understanding how we learn works hand in hand with this honest self-evaluation.
Whenever we do anything (play a phrase, brush our teeth, walk from one spot to the other), it creates a groove in the brain. When we repeat that action, it solidifies that groove. If we don’t repeat that action, the groove fades away.
So if you play a piece or page or section or phrase the same way 10 times in a row, that’s going to really help solidify that groove. The next time you come back to that spot, you are highly likely to play it the same exact way again.
This can work to your benefit or to your detriment.
If you played that spot 10 times in a row correctly, you are highly likely to play it correctly the next time. Conversely, if you played that spot 10 times in a row incorrectly, you are highly likely to play it incorrectly the next time. If you played that spot 3 times correctly, 3 times incorrectly, and 3 times incorrectly another way, your brain is likely going to be confused the next time and have to pick between 3 equal paths…but notice that the correct versions are outnumbered 2 to 1 by incorrect versions, so you are more likely to play one of the incorrect versions.
If you do what so many of my students do and play a passage incorrectly, repeat until they get it correct, and then move on, you are highly likely to play it incorrectly the next time you come back to it (because the number of times played incorrectly still outnumbers by far the number of times played correctly).
This is where the saying “Amateurs practice until they get it right; professionals practice until it won’t go wrong” becomes relevant. Why does that musician on that recording you listened to or at that concert you attended sound better than you? Because they didn’t move on when they got it right one time. They kept practicing until the number of times they played it correctly far outnumbered the number of times they played incorrectly.
So many of my adult students struggle with consistency issues. They allow themselves to fall into the trap of thinking “I’m just doing this for fun” and they let themselves off the hook when they make mistakes in practice. This ends up being self-defeating.
I’m not advocating beating yourself up for making a mistake, but rather I’m saying don’t ignore those mistakes. It’s not much fun when you can’t play your piece because it’s full of mistakes. Treat the mistakes as clues that are telling you which passages need more attention and more repetitions. If you iron out the mistakes, you get to enjoy playing the piece so much more. That’s how you truly get to enjoy just playing for fun.