Notes for Music Learners: Little by Little

For as long as I can remember, I have loved learning.  Not just the process of acquiring knowledge and skills, but the theories behind how we learn things.

There are a lot of ideas about learning that probably aren’t in fact very helpful:  cramming, “memorizing,” drilling, repeating.

In the realm of learning piano, I’ve been thinking about how important the baby steps are in the process of making progress.  For adults returning to the instrument, I think that this is especially difficult.  Many people played piano well at a younger age, then life brought them other priorities, and now as they return to the instrument they are flooded with all sorts of discouraging thoughts.

But I used to be able to do this.

I was sure it would be easier to get back in the groove.

There is no shame in having focused your energy on things other than piano skills. Now that you are back at the instrument, you have made a choice to value music as a skill and creative outlet in your life.  This is a good thing.

As you move forward with your practicing throughout each week, experiment with these ideas:

1. Small chunks of time may be more effective than long practice sessions.

Just as eating small portions throughout a day is better than stuffing yourself once in the evening, so it is with learning new skills. Try practicing in 5 minute increments three or four times each day.

2. Sometimes, it is the time between the practice that is when the real progress happens.

This one sounds kind of crazy, but I’ve heard multiple people comment on how  there is something almost magical about the ‘inactive’ times between working on something. Whether building muscle, dealing with writer’s block, solving life problems, or trying to get a new passage of music into your hands, it is often good to take a break. Your mind keeps thinking about what you were doing even without your conscious awareness being involved.  When practice is frustrating, take a break.

3. Short segments of success will spur you on for more.

Do you keep stumbling through a whole song with trips in the same places?  I know it is really boring sometimes to break a fun familiar tune into mechanical super slow exercises. Rather than thinking of it as mechanical technical stuff, try to hear each measure as its own song. Each of those notes is there for a reason. Play each note, each chord, each rest even, as if it were living for that moment. Train your ears to hear every not during your practice.  Not all notes are noticeable when a song is played through in its entirety, but if you take tiny steps and have success with them, you will feel good about it. Practice tiny bite-size chunks of music – two notes, two beats, two measures.

4. Slowly but surely, you ARE reaching your goals.

Think of yourself two months ago. You are a more musical person now. You have played songs.  You have shared your music with others. You have revisited or learned music terms and techniques that are enriching your musical and creative abilities.  You are more familiar with time signatures, key signatures, rhythmic patterns, and notes of the staff.  Good for you! Notice the progress you are making.

Thank you for letting me into your world, for asking me to help you enrich your life through music.  Thank you for enriching the world by being a person who cares about and invests in cultivating musical arts.

Happy Musicing!




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