Play or not play-there is no "practice"

Posted by: Schroeder II

Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/21/12 06:44 AM

Sorry to paraphrase Yoda but my teacher has given me her interesting phylosophy.
Practicing has a negative connotation, as if you aren't really playing.
She says if you are hitting the right notes or not, long as there is sound coming out, you are playing. Practice makes it sound like work, not fun.

Some of my colleagues find piano stressful.
I on the other hand find it stress relieving especially since I never "practice".
Posted by: Larry B

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/21/12 07:12 AM

I have to agree that practice feels different from playing, and I definitely play more than I practice. That said, I would say that I improved more from a few months of dedicated practice than I did from several years of mostly playing. Practice is focused, deliberate, and goal-oriented. Sometimes it's not fun, but it's worth it.
Posted by: Euphonatrix

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/21/12 07:25 AM

Originally Posted By: Schroeder II
Practice makes it sound like work, not fun.


Well, practice IS work, dedicated, mindful, repetitive, sometimes frustrating, hard, challenging ... that's the fun about it actually! smile
And that's what makes it so glorious when you can really *play* your piece for the first time, forgetting about minute details, technical stuff. Even better when you can start *playing* with the piece, changing expressions and emotions at your will, varying your interpretation from day to day, getting new ideas and insights.

Of course, if you use a very broad definition, everything that gets a sound out of a piano is "playing". But that leaves aside the very special qualities of the process of practice.

We have had various interesting threads about differences between practice and playing - lots of good thoughts. Unfortunately I have not bookmarked them but if you are interested in the topic you might find them using the search function.

BTW - I always wonder ... why don't feel people repelled by terms such as "training" and "work out" (hey, "work" is even in that word!) when it comes to boring sports activities? Physical exhaustion does not seem to be such a bad thing or something that needs to be hidden under euphemisms in order to get people to do it. Why does mental, intellectual "work" have such a bad image? confused
Posted by: Morodiene

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/21/12 08:12 AM

Hmm, if practicing isn't fun then you're probably doing it wrong.
Posted by: DinaP

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/21/12 08:36 AM

Don't remember where I ran across this story -- someone was talking about their college years and if she told her housemates she had to go practice her instrument and needed to change chore schedules she got a negative reaction -- but -- if she said she had to rehearse it was a whole different story -- rehearsing sounded really important to her friends.
Posted by: malkin

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/21/12 08:48 AM

"Rehearse" and "practice" are the same to me.
"Perform" is altogether different.
"Play" is all of them, and like Morodiene said, they are all fun.
Posted by: Farmerjones

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/21/12 10:25 AM

For 30 years it's been progress, plateau, progress, plateau. While i know there's going to be points where there seems like no progress, i also know and trust there will times when i do move forward. This is why i don't push it. If i get tired/bored of where im at, i explore. Exploration leads to discovery. Discovery leads to satisfaction. Satisfaction leads to boredom. etc. etc. Just as well, enjoy the ride. smile
Posted by: rocket88

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/21/12 10:45 AM

Practice is learning how to play a piece, fixing problem areas, and polishing it.

Playing is what you do with a piece after you learn it.

I always have to teach my students how to practice. It is a skill unto itself, and usually has to be learned, in addition to learning the obvious such as how read music, sit a the piano, etc.

Interestingly, I have never had a transfer student who said that their previous teacher(s) taught them how to practice.

What practicing is NOT is playing a piece over and over and over, usually too fast, repeating the same errors over and over without fixing them, which is, in my experience, what many people do unless taught otherwise.

Perhaps that is why this thread title is "there is no practice", because it is so common for people to not clearly understand that practicing and playing are two very different things.

Which is along the thought that Larry B said earlier:

Originally Posted By: Larry B
That said, I would say that I improved more from a few months of dedicated practice than I did from several years of mostly playing.
Posted by: jazzwee

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/21/12 11:49 AM

What Rocket88 says about the distinction between Practice and Play is very important. To get to my level of playing in a shorter time than average, I have a ratio of Practice to Playing of 80/20.

At the beginning it was probably 95/5.

So I'd say your teacher gives a convenient argument to come back for "happy" lessons but does not give a sound advice for quick development. The best results are when you put the hard work in early.

At some point, even the practice is good enough to sound like playing (so it is not so discouraging). But you really need to get over that hump.

It's back to the same repeated line. 5000 hours of practice to get some competence and 10000 hours to achieve mastery.

"Playing" accounts from ZERO of those hours. Practice is purposeful and goal oriented.
Posted by: jdw

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/21/12 12:59 PM

I love practicing. To me it's playful work, the best kind. I love playing too--but I do think the distinction is useful, as others have said. I even love performing, sometimes.
Posted by: ClsscLib

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/21/12 02:19 PM

Originally Posted By: jazzwee
What Rocket88 says about the distinction between Practice and Play is very important. To get to my level of playing in a shorter time than average, I have a ratio of Practice to Playing of 80/20.

At the beginning it was probably 95/5....

It's back to the same repeated line. 5000 hours of practice to get some competence and 10000 hours to achieve mastery.

"Playing" accounts from ZERO of those hours. Practice is purposeful and goal oriented.


Jazzwee, I'm so impressed by what you accomplished in a relatively short time. Some of your success, I'm sure, is due to talent and intelligence way above the norm, but I'm hoping you can share some further detail on your approach to practice in the early years.

I gather your focus today is jazz. Did you consider your early years of practice to be focused on jazz, or was it more a type of disciplined approach to piano playing generally?

WHAT did you spend a lot of time practicing? Scales? Arpeggios? Chord progressions? Sight reading? Difficult passages of individual, challenging pieces? All of the above?

If you could share a few general "lessons learned" about what a developing pianist should do to maximize the benefits of a strategy for practicing, I'm sure that at least some of us would appreciate your effort in doing so.
Posted by: jazzwee

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/21/12 03:07 PM

ClsscLib, thank you for your kind comments. I don't feel particularly successful but I admit my personality is such that I persevere and I never give up. That alone is probably the main secret. Now achieving this in a shorter time frame is one that can be aided by a little organization and planning.

Given my late start at the piano (at age 47), I had to make sacrifices and not attempt to be good at everything. Though I love classical music, I didn't think I had a chance to develop sight reading skills in a timely manner. So I've given up on that. I can read only slowly. And then I have to memorize. For this reason, I've avoided classical. I just learned a few major pieces that I've memorized but I've forgotten most of them. However, I understand what the lessons learned are in playing classical and I persevere to add them to my jazz side. I'm drawn to more "pianistic" jazz playing (more classical influenced).

Now what's important for me on the classical front is technique. It wasn't a perfect road. I've had tendonitis surgery done which proves the difficulty from failure to remove tensions. I went on an intellectual search for the best way to handle technique. I went to a classical teacher for guidance. And lots of trial and error. Could I have sped this up some more? I realize now that perhaps not. It just takes so many hours to accomplish. Playing now, it feels very different from playing at the beginning. The sense of control is very different. This means that neuromuscular connections just have to grow. And it takes as long as it takes. Patience is required. In the meantime, there are plenty of other problems to solve.

Among the various exercises that I focused on, I would say that a heavy focus has been on scales, particularly in building up velocity, and evenness. I'd say this continues to be a main focus and still lots of room for improvement. In various threads, I've also indicated exercises I've done related to finger independence. Velocity is particulary important for jazz playing so I have worked heavily on that.

Beyond the technique side, the issue with jazz is actually creating the music. When I was a beginner, I thought this was just quick random movements in the scale and that anyone can sound good. Now I realize that you really have to make music, and melodies, and textures and I'm at such a baby stage here. I can play. But just from self-critique, I'm very far from the musicality required.

At least for my genre, I've found that complete mastery of EVERY issue is required to play it well. Deep understanding of harmony, melody making, tension and release, etc. so that every note counts. I'm in awe of the masters who can create music with such ease. Please understand that I have no illusions about where I am in this scale. I'm at a baby stage.

For a general picture of my approach, I can generalize by saying that I've always had a teacher, and often the best that I could find in my area (which fortunately is a big city). I practice 3-4 hours a day. I have very specific plans of things to work on. I actually don't rely on my teachers much for that. I create lists of "problem areas" and then work on those in an organized way.

My goal often is to play something correctly at least 5 times without mistakes, and then I move on to other things. Meaning I don't attempt to beat a horse to death. I'm content with small achievements in small chunks.

As far as specifics, realize that you have to solve ALL the problems in piano playing. So everything has to be gone through, in all keys. And you will miss stuff. I was asked to play blues in the key of B yesterday. I realized that I wasn't in control. It was difficult. This means, I've got to put this on my practice issues list.

The good news is that at my stage, I play out every week. Often multiple times a week. Some days I can play well, some days mediocre. I listen to every performance and watch for flaws (there are tons of them). Then I try to improve. That's all I can do. Please understand that professionals on this forum laugh at my amateurish skills (and have done so openly). And I acknowledge that they deserve to laugh. But it doesn't bother me because in time on the instrument, I'm only the equivalent of a 16 year old playing piano (if I started at 8).

I'm happy to be a role model for those who think they cannot play as an adult beginner. It can be done!
Posted by: malkin

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/21/12 03:44 PM

Originally Posted By: rocket88

Playing is what you do with a piece after you learn it.


I'd call that "Performing."
Posted by: BeccaBb

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/21/12 03:55 PM

Thanks for posting that Jazzwee! I only have a year under my belt but hope to one day be able to play gigs. smile Your definitely an inspiration!
Posted by: rocket88

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/21/12 04:24 PM

Originally Posted By: malkin
Originally Posted By: rocket88

Playing is what you do with a piece after you learn it.


I'd call that "Performing."


I think that "performing" is what you do when you play a piece for an audience, but I see your point.
Posted by: rocket88

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/21/12 04:27 PM


Excellent post, Jazzwee, thanks.
Posted by: Michael_99

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/21/12 04:29 PM

As I learn a new piece, I crawl slowly through it and each time - over time the piece is gradually brought to
speed. From that point I regularly play the piece and all other pieces trying to improve on my playing. I enjoy
playing the piano, of course. As a beginner it just awesome just to play everything I have learned. I always
play my pieces as if I were playing them in a concert doing my best. But please understand, I don't have any
desire to play for others. Playing the piano is all about me learning to play the piano to my highest level I can
reach - age, health, dyslexic, stroke are factors - so far none of this have yet been a limiting factor. I suppose the funnest thing is feeling my brain straining with all it might and brain power to get my fingers of both hands to work together, both hands have to play at the same volume, playing notes at the right time, etc. My brain and I enjoy playing a tune/piece I know because although I still have do my best, but the brain and fingers work to a degree automatically and there is much less stress or strain just playing the pieces over and over
every couple of days.
Posted by: ClsscLib

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/22/12 09:11 AM

Jazzwee, thanks so much for your detailed and thoughtful response. You're my hero.
Posted by: DadAgain

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/22/12 07:19 PM

Originally Posted By: Euphonatrix
..why don't feel people repelled by terms such as "training" and "work out" when it comes to boring sports activities? ... confused


errr??? - what planet do you live on? Around here the concept of physical excursion is enough to strike fear into anyone. I'm almost a 'excercise-phobe' and both words "training" and "work out" have extremely negative connotations (far worse than 'practice' or 'rehearsal'). I can be persuaded to do physical activity - but only if its described in different terms: I'll "PLAY a game of squash or soccer" or comfortably "STROLL around a rainforest for a few hours" - but call it a "work out" and I've already turned around and gone to the bar instead!
Posted by: Andy Platt

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/22/12 10:40 PM

If you aren't having fun practicing, you are doing it wrong.

Words are unimportant. How you practice/play is. In my mind, going back over the same detail again and again (hopefully adjusting things, trying different ideas) till you get it right is practice not play and I think it's disadvantageous to pretend otherwise.
Posted by: Starr Keys

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/23/12 02:01 AM

Originally Posted By: Farmerjones
it's been progress, plateau, progress, plateau. While i know there's going to be points where there seems like no progress, i also know and trust there will times when i do move forward. This is why i don't push it. If i get tired/bored of where im at, i explore. Exploration leads to discovery. Discovery leads to satisfaction. Satisfaction leads to boredom. etc. etc. Just as well, enjoy the ride. smile


+1. I couldn't agree more, especially about the exploration part when one seems to have reached a plateau.

There's more than one way around a problem and sometimes the circuitous route is best. Not only can it offer the best scenery but more chances that one will see something important along the way one would miss just following a straight line from point A to point B. But even if one doesn't, it's often exhilarating for its own sake, which gives you more energy for the climb off that plateau. Thanks for your post!
Posted by: Starr Keys

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/23/12 02:27 AM

....Jazzwee, I loved your post. It was very interesting to hear about your journey and process. It just hasn't been mine, nor do I see it as being mine in what's left of this lifetime. But I admire your tenacity and dedication and am grateful for your support of my comparatively meager efforts. You seemed to have found your vocation late--two vocations actually, performing and being an "inspiration" to those who also want to perform professionally.
Posted by: jazzwee

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/23/12 03:26 AM

Thanks for all the kind comments. BeccaBb, Rocket88, ClsscLib, Starr Keys.

Starr Keys -- you do have it right. It's not just about me wanting to perform. I didn't intend to do that originally but it just was a result of where I got to. But really the vocation of giving an inspiration to adult beginners to prove that comments about "plasticity" of the brain, and other physical limitations based on age are has truly been an important part of this process.

So yes, I'm happy to be an inspiration for other adult beginners to reach their desired goal. I also want to make sure that people understand that I'm not making a claim of being some great pianist. I'm not. All I can claim is that I'm progressing just as well as any kid. And I'm still getting better.

BTW - I'm probably somewhere near 6000-6500 hours now. So somewhere near 3500-4000 to go of "Practice".
Posted by: KarelG

Re: Play or not play-there is no "practice" - 11/23/12 04:39 AM

Jazzwee, you are my hero. In fact I'm more or less doing the same experiment about "is that 10000 hours rule right or wrong?" and "how far can I get with focused practice?". From your long excellent post above I can learn again some useful things for me so at least in my case you are already inspiring me. Thanks a lot for your very open-minded posts! Karel