ArT of the Piano: Avoiding Frustration Ruts- changing our intent

A seemingly simple issue with deep roots. I was reading over old notes from grad school the other day. I came across a sentence from Dr. Naoko Takao: “Look for Minimum work with Maximum Gain.” Basically, practice smarter, not harder.

In practice, I find this idea uncomfortable. I feel weird thinking “How can I master this piece/passage master this quickly and easily?” For me, this thought feels like cheating. I'd rather over-prepare. I’ve always believed that hours and hours (and hours) of practice would lead to success.

The “only after hours and hours” mindset is the perfect breeding ground for the Frustrations Ruts. We’re all familiar with these. You’re running the same passage over and over, at the same speed/dynamics/articulation………. and you can’t stop. You say to yourself,  “just one more time and I’ll get it right.”  You hammer at yourself and the keys again. Frustrations escalate as even more mistakes creep in.

The Frustration Ruts visited me because in my intent, I failed to believe I could find a better way. My intent was to put in hours, not to find success efficiently. I created a perfect scenario for the Frustration Hours because of my emotional attachment to the belief that I deserved success only after hours and hours of work. 

Hours of repetition do work up to a point. However, sometimes I perform better when I have a limited time deadline. Why? Simply, the limited time forced me to change my intent. 

My intent became, "How do I learn this quickly?" I had to be ultra-efficient, to find really solid, secure ways to input the info. I did more chord analysis. I pinpointed technical difficulties. I trusted myself more. Instead of rushing to play the passage (and then messing up and start over), I took time beforehand to remind myself of how I wanted the passage to go. I never got stuck: if something didn't work, I just moved on and came back to it later. 

The practice sessions felt different. My focus never wavered even though the work was more intense. I felt much calmer, less emotional. In fact, my emotions never got involved. I was a craftsman chipping away at a do-to list. I learned the music fast and performed well....bypassing hours and hours (and hours) of work simply because I changed my intent and in so doing, arrived at a completely different, more successful process.

Our day jobs often prohibit us from spending hours and hours at the instrument. I argue that this is GOOD! Rather than believing we’re shortchanging ourselves, what if we asked, “Why do I want to practice this way? How can I practice smarter here? Is is there a better way? How can I keep this fresh? How can I do less overall work with bigger results?” We call upon more mental resources, more creativity and less muscle with this process. Which means more focus, more energy, more gain! By looking for more efficient and finessed intents we can initiate faster improvement, more accomplishment, and more time to do the other things we love. (Like practice)...