When Hard is Easy

do-you-chose-the-easy-way-or-the-hard-wayThe conundrum many young (4-7), beginning piano students face is that ineffective practice is easy, but is also soon boring and frustrating because it’s ineffective. Playing through a piece is not hard if all you are concerned with is playing through it (doing things correctly? maintaining a beat? huh?). That is often, unfortunately, what the practice of students amounts to. Yet, although effective practice is harder (at least at first), it is more interesting and gratifying. They don’t really know that, for they’ve never really experienced sustained effective practice. They just know practicing can be boring, difficult and frustrating—and without much feeling of success. None of which is fun!

Professional musicians have learned that the “harder” way of practicing—the effective way—is actually easier in the long run, much easier! For a professional dependent on performing for a living it’s also essential, because his practice time is limited (which is actually true of all of us!), but the expectations of him in performance are high. He has to be sure his practice will produce mastery in performance.

Happily, the most effective way of practicing is also the least amount of work. If one paces oneself well, it doesn’t actually ever even feel hard. It just takes time. But since every part of it contributes to the final goal of mastering what is being practiced, it takes the least amount of time.

This is hard to believe until it has been experienced several times. Even then, with young beginners (and some older ones), it is hard because it requires sustained, focused thinking. Most young students just don’t roll that way at their ages (see Planting a Seed for a discussion of how they do “roll”). They are used to things grabbing their attention and following their interest. That’s what makes them learn so much in early childhood.

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It’s also why process is so important. In my post Success and Motivation, I discussed three pillars of sustaining growth of knowledge, skill and joy in piano, which I call the SPA treatment (Success, Process & Attitude). “Process” is where the nitty-gritty stuff happens.

If you are interested in getting an idea of how an effective process might look, RNS Practice Stages, parts 1 & 2 look in detail at a process for mastering playing a piece that I call the RNS Practice Stages. RNS stands for Rhythm, Notes & Sounds, the three fundamental aspects of music. This process is actually processes within a process. The top process, the Practice Stages, is applicable to beginning, intermediate and advanced levels of piano, while the the processes with in that the Practice Stages are tailored to young beginners. For older and non-beginners, they can be modified to better suit a student’s age, level and personality.

In the end, this process like any effective process, helps to make the job or mastering a piece of music as stress-free and effective as possible. In doing so, what seems hard becomes, actually, quite easy.

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