Isn't it disappointing when they don't practise?
We've been working on this part of the piece for so long now...
It was fine when I played it at home...(still happens to me sometimes!)
If I haven't uttered these questions or statements, then I've heard them discussed at courses or conferences. It's an ongoing issue. My last blog was about practice diaries, and before researching the practice habits of my own pupils, I thought I would delve into other peoples' experiences by looking up some quotations; they make interesting reading. Obviously they can be taken out of context, but they are good starting points for discussion about practice and motivation. Motivation, intrinsic or extrinsic, influences attitudes to piano playing and practising in the longer term. At the foot of the post, I have included the individuals to whom they are attributed - there are some surprising names, and you will find the quotes online (at www.brainyquote.com or www.goodreads.com, among others).
a) I went to college on a classical piano scholarship. My grandmother made me practise one full hour a day. Every day. Man. I thought all she wanted was for me not to have any fun. Next thing you know, you have a career in music. Now, not everybody's going to go on and be Mozart. But music makes you smarter.
What this suggests to me is how this person really appreciates the opportunity, support and encouragement he was given and with hindsight, the positive effects of regular practice. He persevered and now enjoys the benefits. It's also very realistic for him to say that not everyone can reach that sublime standard that is Mozart, but it says that music, and by implication the practice of music, does you good in a holistic sense. Countless studies attest to the positive effects of music study on young minds. Compare with this:
b) I think any parent that makes their kid sit at a piano against their will and practise, they're going to have a kid that's not going to want to play the piano.
Thankfully I have come across very few situations where there's a student learning piano because their parents, for whatever reason, think it's a good idea. It's the 'against their will' part of the comment that is important here. Students must want to play the piano, enjoy practice and understand the potential benefits of doing it regularly, otherwise it's just going to be counter-productive. Also, the piano is not for everyone. Understanding parents know this and encourage their children to learn other instruments and to go where their enthusiasms lead them.
c) I bought a piano once because I had the dream of playing As Time Goes By as some girl's leaning on it drinking a martini. Great image. But none of it worked out. I can't even play Chopsticks.
Very amusing, but I bet this happens a lot. If it didn't work out, perhaps he discovered that the piano wasn't for him, or that he needed to practise more than he thought (how many think it might happen by osmosis?) Perhaps there just wasn't enough application, and time did go by without focussing on what he needed to do to make the dream happen...
d) Piano was - well, all musical instruments were taught in this very rigid, formal, classical method when I was young.
There's a message for teachers here. It's vitally important that we don't curb enthusiasm. Lack of flexibility might have put this person off. If we want our students to want to practise, then we have to put the fun into learning, centre it around their needs and help them to see the benefits, full stop.
e) Football management is such a pressured thing - horse racing is a release. I'm also learning to play the piano. I'm quite determined - it's another release from the pressure of my job.
I think this quote demonstrates intrinsic motivation really well. We usually find that adults are determined learners and appreciate the health benefits of being able to play. Conversely, they can also be self-critical and expect that they should be able to do things because they are older. I've known adult students get really quite cross with themselves when they've practised something and it just doesn't 'come right' when they think it ought to. But how great when someone wants to practise hard at something in order to free the mind of something more stressful.
This, from a well-known conductor and broadcaster, is another example of determination, this time to understand something on a higher plane...Blood, sweat and tears, but to get into the heart and mind of one of the greatest composers does take dedication and practice, and I suppose there's a fine line between love and hate!
There are political and cultural overtones in the next two quotes, from well known jazz performers:
g) The piano has disappeared from working class family life, which is a shame. It's associated with the middle classes now. Everyone in my family sang and played piano, but my parents were delighted and amazed when I became the first professional performer in the family - apart from a clog dancer way back.
h) When I was at school, I wanted to play a piano, and they said, "No, that's for classical students." There's always been this air around pianos, which can very often discourage a young person from having a go.
Money may be an issue when it comes to having regular lessons and being able to own an instrument on which to practise, without a doubt, but I wouldn't want to be considered of a particular 'class' depending on which instrument I play. Once upon a time there would be a piano in the 'parlour' in lots of homes. Times have changed, and so have attitudes to what's 'cool'. Are we considered serious/classical/middle class if we play the piano as opposed to a keyboard, guitar or drums? Why shouldn't a student want to practise jazz improvisations and chord progressions etc. on a grand? How our hobby or leisure time choices are perceived by others might eventually have an effect on our will to continue if there are outside pressures:
i) Within our culture, every school has a swimming pool. We lived on the coast. People swam in the surf. It's a very sporty nation and at that particular time anyone who had an artistic bent was very much an outsider. so if you liked reading or ideas or playing the piano, then your dad viewed you as a sissy, basically.
How sad if you want to take up the instrument but feel you can't, or you feel like giving it up, because of what others think about it. I have come across the effects of peer pressure on pupils once or twice. Thankfully, with the help of parents, I've managed to keep a student with potential motivated enough to continue.
j) Every difficulty slurred over will be a ghost to disturb your repose later on.
Love the music metaphor in this one, but it is so true. Now we're getting towards the nitty-gritty of how to practise. Focus, attitude and time-management will be discussed in a later post...
k) We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
Practise in the most efficient way and wonders happen... I liken this quote to the adage:
Practice grows on you. The more you practise, the better you become. The better you become, the more you enjoy playing. The more you enjoy playing, the more likely you are to practise, and the more you practise...
This is practising from intrinsic motivation, on auto-pilot, almost, because you have become inspired to do better - it's become part of your day. Pupils who practise well out of habit are every teacher's dream.
Finally, a bit of 'tongue in cheek':
l) If you cannot always remember when you should practise, keep this in mind: Practise on the days you eat.
I must remember to try this one!
g) Jools Holland h) Jamie Cullum i) Geoffrey Rush j) Frederic Chopin k) Aristotle l) Suzanne Guy
In the next article: The where and when of good practice habits.