Examining the “why” (and not just the “what”) of our practice habits is important. Of course, when we begin to commit to a regular, serious practice as young students, the process of establishing predictable “whats” (the amount of time in the practice room and a routine of working on tone, technique, intonation, articulation, études, excerpts, and pieces) is a crucial element to success. After many years, though, my practice sessions were tenaciously tied to the “whats”, the time and the routine, and after fulfilling those daily requirements, to a feeling of reward. As my mind equated logged hours with success I minimized my emphasis on the music itself.
After a particularly fanatical week in the practice room logging 6 to 8 hours a day, I went to a lesson excited to present to my teacher the results of all those hours. I played through my concerto. Robert’s first comment was “You’re not playing much right now, are you?”. I was devastated he couldn’t hear the intensity in my approach and interpretation and felt the need to defend and protect my work. “I’ve been playing 6 to 8 hours a day this week!” “I don’t mean practice, I mean communicating musically with other people. You need to get out of the practice room and play some chamber music.”
Getting out of the practice room and into chamber music rehearsals flipped the emphasis – away from the technical logging of repetitions and toward the music itself. Those sessions constituted my “moments of glad grace” which allowed me to wake up, again and again, to the joy and importance of music making.
title from When You Are Old and Grey, W.B. Yeats