Dear Students, Parents, and Special Guests,
Happy New Year, first of all. I hope you and yours had a great holiday season. May 2018 bring you everything you need to be fulfilled, happy, and productive, for yourself, for your families, and for your communities.
In this issue:
● New Students
● 2018 Resolutions
● Deliberate Practice
● Now Taking in Laundry
There are no further scheduled closings for the month of January 2018.
The Studio has acquired five new students recently! Please join me in welcoming Keegan, Riccardo, Brandon, Emil, and Steve.
ResolutionsFor 2018 I’m going to try a little experiment in semantics, to see if it makes a difference. Traditionally I’ve always made resolutions, which seems a little heavy-handed (and you know we don’t like those here). I don’t keep count, but I’m guessing my track record of staying with those resolutions in the past has probably been typical, which is to say, dismal. So this year I’m calling them “aspirations”. It has a nicer, lighter sound to it, don’t you think? I’ll spare you my personal ones (they’re not particularly exotic — eat less, exercise more, up the meditation ante, the usual) but I will share with you what I aspire to as a teacher this year. Students, consider yourselves forewarned:
- Setting Goals: Why should I be the only one? I would like to know what you are aspiring to, and how I can help you get there.
- How to Practice: Expect to hear more about this, having a mindset of Deliberate Practice, what strategies to use, how to apply the principles, when to ramp it up, when to throttle it back, etc.
- Scales, Chords, and Arpeggios: I know this one sounds dull as dirt, but I’m committing to keeping this one on a daily basis, and I’m going to recommend that you do, too. Scales in particular are so fundamental to how we traverse the keyboard. They’re complicated and require a lot of attention, but the payoff is tremendous.
- Never resting: The great cellist Janos Starker (1924 – 2013) was once asked in an interview if he could sum up his life’s work as a cellist, to which he responded: “It’s the continual discovery of smaller and smaller points of tension to release”. Starker said this in his twilight years, and it’s so inspiring to me. Learning never stops, growing never stops, improvement never stops. So I will try to impart this to my students as a teacher, by example, one hopes, but also encouraging all of you to continually strive to be better, for yourself, for your audience, for the music itself.
When speaking about how to practice, it’s impossible (for me, anyway) to discuss this without talking about the principles of Deliberate Practice. It’s a great term, but it’s much easier to say than to do. What’s involved here? Deliberate Practice simply means not doing things by rote, with endless, mindless repetition, but rather: establishing a goal (no matter how small; often the more atomic the better), coming up with a strategy to achieve that goal, putting that into action, assessing if the action is bringing you closer to the goal or not (feedback), making any necessary changes to the strategy, putting that into action, feedback, rinse and repeat (and repeat (and repeat)). Here’s a rather crude graphic representation as a flowchart:
Note that one definition of insanity (often misattributed to Einstein, apparently) is “repeating the same thing but expecting different results”. Deliberate Practice is the antidote. If you are playing something badly, repeating it over and over again is not going to make it better. What will make it better, potentially, is putting on your detective’s hat and trying to figure out why it’s not playing/feeling/sounding like it should, or could. Another axiom to keep in mind (and this I attribute to my brother’s tennis pro): “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent“. And in my experience, habits, whether good or bad, are developed very quickly, and are less easily undone (or redone). The brain is agnostic as far is this is concerned. It will do whatever you tell it to. The mind, if I may make the distinction, is where discriminating awareness takes place, the executive function that has to constantly assess and reassess whether a passage is working well or not. One more quote from the great Polish teacher Theodor Leschetizky (1830 – 1915) and I’ll get off my soapbox (for now):
“Decide exactly what it is you want to do in the first place; then how you will do it; then play it. Stop and think if you played it in the way you meant to do; then only, if sure of this, go ahead. Without concentration, remember, you can do nothing. The brain must guide the fingers, not the fingers the brain.”
Thanks, Ted, I couldn’t have said it better (or in fewer words) myself.
The great Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886) was reported to have told his students who were struggling with technique to “wash their dirty linen at home”. With all due respect to the master, I say, please bring me your laundry. It’s my job, and my great pleasure, to help you unravel the mysteries of pianism, so that you can play your instrument as it should be played: with joy, ease, and great satisfaction. I look forward to helping you achieve your pianistic goals in 2018! Just know that I don’t use fabric softener.
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