Can We Practice Smarter, Not Harder?

How to Practice Smarter, Not HarderI squatted the bar today.

A guy came up and presented a stool to me, and told me to pretend to sit on it when I squat.

Last week when I started feeling my muscles again, I was so grateful.

I can’t tell if my form is right and sometimes it feels like I might as well be casting spells with a rainstick. I watch lifting videos.

My friends will read this and tell me I could have asked them. But they would have to be there, and I guess I could say, “Am I doing this right? It feels wrong.”

Thinking back to the last time I had dedicated mentors, my music theory teachers said I could call anytime with questions. I never did call, but I liked having mentors who were so invested in my success.

Most of us don’t need to work harder; we are working hard already. Instead, we need to work smarter.

Practicing music is like going to the gym: the key is consistency and growing to love the process, and somewhere along the way, you will learn about yourself.


How to Practice Smarter, Not Harder

I want you to see that I know I need mentoring. My arms felt contorted behind my back and now my back is bruised from squatting. But it also feels like productivity.

I want to be strong in one area of my life. I’m afraid that if someone finds a flaw in my form when lifting proper weights, I’ll have to demote myself to lifting a branch to fix my posture. I don’t want that, but then I felt that my back wasn’t straightening properly.

Many musicians ask how to improve: get a mentor. You can only create a trajectory if you realize that you are still at the very beginning.

Having someone by your side who is dedicated to your success will help you grow in the most unexpected ways.


Let me answer the popular question: “How do I improve?

Self-taught and beginner musicians like to email me a life story first, then a music question.

The advanced musicians generally share life and business problems with me, because they don’t have a music problem for me to analyze.

Anyone learning piano needs a teacher to start  there is no way around this. Three months with a good teacher is worth a year of fumbling on your own and creating bad habits. (Check out my recommendations for beginner pianists.)

It’s like, if I went to the gym and worked my way up to squatting two plates (90lbs) but it turns out my knee doesn’t align and I break my ankle.


Am I good enough to teach? or “How do I teach piano?

You figure both out by doing it, probably badly at first. If you can stand the fact that you’re not that great at it, then you will develop the drive to improve.

Starting a music studio is very much a business as it is the art of teaching, and so I would first place myself in a situation where I am not learning both at once.

I would learn how to teach, first, at someone else’s studio. Once I’ve developed credibility and experience, and verified that I do love to teach, I might start my own studio.


A major difference between teaching older beginners versus kids, is that the older beginner is impatient.

They want a magic formula to learn note reading overnight. They want faster fingers, they want to play pop songs or hymns or gospel music. They are busy and have other priorities.

That is not a good combination for becoming an expert and older beginners are more likely to get frustrated and rage-quit.

Kids are better positioned to succeed in music because teens and adults are simply more distracted and less willing to focus on creating a strong foundation.

This is why teachers should throw in pieces that everyone knows, like Happy Birthday or Fur Elise or a pop song.

The score should be simple enough that they can grasp it in a month or so and show off to their friends, so they feel like, okay, the technique is hard, but at least they have something to show for it rather than random songs called “Ding Dong” from the technique book.


I go to the gym because I’m so happy afterwards.

But you don’t flip the switch one day and you’re better forever.

I’m not fooled by a few happy days anymore–the gym helps. I have friends at there. I understand why people count the number of days they’ve recovered from anorexia, or days they’ve been sober.

I look at all the people working hard  these are the people I appreciate coming to me for advice.

I look at all the people working smart  these are people I admire. You can work hard and smart, or work hard and not smart. Working smart starts with reaching out to a mentor, someone who has been through what you are doing now, and knows the steps to success. And the pitfalls to avoid.

I am okay with being a beginner lifter, because I am creating a trajectory. I have a mentor who looks out for me. All I need, now, is to work smart and keep doing it.

Winners are people who set their sights on a goal and keep going against all odds and make no excuses.

Because I am done with excuses.


Who have your favourite mentors been? How did they help you?

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Jordan Daniels
6 years ago

I love the analogy of smart musical practicing with working out at the gym. Finding a mentor is definitely one of the first steps of developing a smart way of practicing.

One of my greatest mentors was actually not a musician, but a business student who taught me the importance of connections and reaching out to people. While I had pretty decent skills with the piano, it was not until I reached out to people that I was able to start performing at more concerts, venues, and meet other musicians that would share their insights of playing with me.