To Practice More Efficiently, Try to Stop Practicing

How to Practice Piano Efficiently

Sometimes, the most simple solutions are the most ingenious.

When I first started a music blog, most people were looking for “practice strategies.” Now, everyone wants a “hack” to fix their life. Case in point: an increasing number of Twitter bios of young-ish entrepreneurs who have track records describe themselves as growth hackers, whom you can hire as a consultant for your own startup.

As a pianist, I believed, for the longest time, that the only way to grow my skills was to sit in the practice room.

That’s not true– upon reading research and experimenting, I found other activities will help us grow, outside the practice room. Here are five ways to practice efficiently, by not practicing.

1. When you are stuck on the same problem for more than 40 minutes, stop practicing.

You’d only waste time by forming bad habits. Concert pianists often sit through hours of practice room frustration and emerge with kinky back postures, which they spend hours trying to fix as it becomes painful.

Instead, leave the room for 30 minutes and you will come back feeling refreshed, with new ideas– this is called a pattern interrupt.

A pattern interrupt is simple yet powerful: if you find yourself spiralling down a negative path, you can change this direction by breaking the patterns in your surroundings. This works for practicing music, learning to code, design teamwork, and it’s even a sales tactic for marketers. After all, we are hugely affected by our environment.

2. To take this one step further, you are the average of the 5 people closest to you— not everyone is meant be your friend.

So, surround yourself with good people whose goals align with yours, and keep them close. For example, if you are trying to teach piano, always make time for a weekly coffee with a fellow teacher; I’m inclined to say that musicians who jam and hold piano parties have more fun anyways.

Even if you’re not actively practicing your skills, getting together with a friend who is on the same journey, or slightly ahead, will serve you well, to discuss goals and challenges. Are you having trouble scheduling practice time in your day? Are you hoping to hire a music teacher by the end of the year, but having trouble finding the talent?

Jessica and I blog on opposite ends of a spectrum as she is generally in front of the camera while I am behind, but both of us work with uncommon hobbies and our coffee dates result in hours-long masterminds.

Once you open up and show a bit of vulnerability, you will see that if they are, indeed, the right person for your tribe, they will do the same. These people will inspire and help you, because you are as good as who you know.

3. Give, above all else.

You should give without expecting a return– I’ve always believed that the return may not come right away, but you will see it soon enough, sometimes when least expected.

When you allow yourself to move into flow during music practice, meaning you’re focusing on the moment and not sneaking glances at the clock, the process will be much more enjoyable. Set your goals and plan backwards, but don’t count the seconds.

4. Practice in your head.

Wherever you are, take a few moments to imagine yourself practicing. Move your fingers, hear the individual notes and cadences, close your eyes if you can.

Mental practice will help you make use of the spare moments in your day. I began practicing mentally years before discovering that it was a technique.

In one study, researchers found that medical students who practiced mentally in addition to physical and textbook practice, performed better during live surgery, on average, than students who only relied on the latter.

Studies like this suggest that mental practice adds another dimension to knowledge in your mind, so much that the action becomes an experience. In the ’90s, people would accomplish “techy” tasks, like  checking email, by memorizing the steps– today, designers are turning these actions into experiences that delight and encourage people. That’s why checking your phone first thing in the morning can feel as right as drinking water.

5. Once an action becomes an experience, it will start to feel natural.

If you have performance anxiety, try to practice performing mentally, and physically– imagine the experience of being onstage.

Why don’t you design your own experience? How will you wave as you walk onstage (or will you wave at all)? How will the audience react? What happens when you slip up during your playing? (The correct answer here is to pretend you didn’t notice the mistake, and keep playing however you can, even if you are replaying the opening passage twice. Don’t ever forget to bow when exiting.)

Of course, the above activities will never replace real, physical practice.

If you are the musician who gets stuck in the practice room, get out there and enjoy music another way. If you are the person who never has enough time to practice, these are ways to sneak bits of music into your day, and get inspired to move forward.

What is your favourite practice hack? Share it with others in your comment below!

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