Why do we practice music?


Why do we practice music?  I mean, in any given moment, what motivates us to actually sit down at our instrument and practice?  The immediate answer is usually “to get better.”  True, but if we all want to “get better,” then why do so many of us procrastinate and put off practicing?  Both amateurs and professionals want to become better players, but not many of us can say that we really practice as much as we’d like to.

There’s a huge opportunity to be had in addressing this question, since facing this issue goes right to the heart of why we make music.

I’ve come to understand the practicing issue a little differently from how I used to view it. Although it’s true that things like a performance deadline, etc., will ‘get’ us to practice, what will help us in the long run is to find the motivation within. (Notice that I said ‘motivation’ rather than ‘discipline.’)

Think about eating food, for instance. Assuming that food is available, we somehow always find a few minutes to sit down and eat. We do this without any future ‘goal’ in mind other than eating because we’re hungry and/or enjoy the taste of the food at hand.Now imagine if practicing a piece ‘fed’ you in the same way. You sit down for 5 minutes and play, say, the right hand alone a few times simply because it’s fun, with no future goal in mind. And then the next day, you do it again. If you’ve forgotten it, you just shrug, smile to yourself, and learn it over. If you’ve remembered it, you find that it’s a little easier today, and perhaps the music flows better and is more enjoyable. Then the next day you start the left hand, etc. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that this is a much more enjoyable way to practice for myself. The funny thing is this: my playing has improved more than ever, almost as a ‘by product’ of simply playing for my own enjoyment.

I hear from students all the time who feel they “jump around” too much in their practicing.  They feel that they’re not making steady progress and ask for my advice. I tell them that the reason they skip around so much is probably because they are so passionate about learning music. They just haven’t seen anything through far enough to enjoy the process of working on something steadily and over time.
Try to make sure that you sometimes work in a step-by-step manner, alternating this with times that you just play whatever you want to.Writing this has inspired me to work on a particular Bach fugue that I’ve been putting off. Good luck to us all!


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