I recently came across an article at mindful.org with some ideas that seem relevant to these busier seasons.
Sociologist Dr. Christine Carter created the chart below highlighting 3 myths Americans often belief and the truth about them. These truths are highly relevant to learning piano—or anything!
Practicing is what students are generally spending the majority of their time at the piano doing. If practicing feels dull and joyless—and non-productive!—then piano will likely feel that way as well. From the perspective of children, chronic negative experiences become like a dark cloud overhead, threatening a downpour, but beyond their power to change.
Clearing the skies, so to speak, can change how one feels about practicing. When I learned to focus do one thing at a time when I practice—to have a short-term, achievable goal and work towards it—practicing was full of little successes. Learning to do the right amount—the MED—was also helpful. Part of that was learning to take the right medication, so to speak. The clouds over practicing are fed by ineffective practice. Focusing on a single goal with the constant aim of achieving each goal effectively is part of what can make us become absorbed. Through doing these things, I became absorbed in practicing, and the skies were clear & sunny.
It is apparent, however, that playing the piano—as opposed to practicing—is an important part of learning piano. Whether it’s playing pieces we already know, making up things, exploring sounds or rhythms or just listening—playing is a piano student’s version of wasting time: Time spent with the piano/music not practicing. The truth is, play is important for kids. The late, great Fred Rogers (AKA Mr. Rogers) went so far as to assert, “…for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”
My desire for my students is that their time at the piano is effective and absorbing when it’s practicing, but is sometimes just play. After all, musicians “play” music. And for us it is, indeed, play. Our practice determines how much fun we can have. Yet, without the playing part, practice would lose its purpose. With time spent both practicing effectively and just playing, we can keep growing in music and the piano can become to us all it can be; joy, expression and, when we need it, what it was to Maya Angelou in her difficult times as a child:
Music was my refuge.
I could crawl into the space between the notes
and curl my back to loneliness.
~ Maya Angelou ~
When we discover how music can speak to us—and how we can speak with it—it becomes something we never want to stop doing.