Practice Makes Perfect: Being aware of what you practice.

Jul 2, 2010 by

I was talking to a piano student yesterday about practice. Although this is a typical subject frequently and repetitively discussed in piano lessons, this conversation with an adult student was different. She diligently practices. Everyday she goes through her lesson assignments at a certain time, spending at least the suggested amount of time on each component. In spite of her practice regimen, she was not improving; in fact, some techniques and difficult passages in her music were regressing.

How could this be? The answer lies in the idea of practice. In music, as well as other behaviors, habits, interests in life, we are continually practicing. I use and explain this concept when I teach. For example, with this woman, I asked her to take just a small portion of the piece she was working on (a measure or two) and play it at a slow enough tempo that she could play it repetitively without habitual error. (It is important to recognize the difference between a mistake and a habitual error.) When she accomplished this, I asked her to move on and to continue this process in her daily practice.

Inspired Piano Player

Photo Credit: Pauho

One of the joys of teaching music is connecting the process to life. Music is a microcosm of life. In this example, my student and I had a lively and meaningful discussion about the fact that we practice things all of the time and we are not aware. If we are playing incorrect notes, incorrect timing, with more or less dynamic changes than we ultimately desire, we are practicing those things; drilling them in, programming them into our brain and muscle memory each time we play them. For our brain, there really are no “practices”; nothing that says, “this one doesn’t count”. The awareness of what we are programming is the key to getting the results we expect and desire. This is true in other aspects of our life as well. Awareness of what we are “practicing”, empowers us to make choices about what we bring into our lives and choices about how we respond.

To attain goals in music, business, love, diet, exercise, finance, or to overcome obstacles the first step is to slow down. Choose attainable goals. I suggested my student work on just a couple of measures (small segments) at a slow enough speed that she could stay mindful. In other areas, this might mean saving a small amount of money out of each paycheck, or cutting one thing out of the daily calorie intake, or walking around the block, or noticing when our thoughts or words are negative.

Photo Credit: FatMandy

We are continually practicing. Even the things we want to change we practice each time we repeat them. It is important to note that we do make mistakes; we miss a beat now and then or we hit a wrong key. That is different than repeating a passage over and over incorrectly because we don’t know how to do it correctly or haven’t taken the time to replace it with a new skill. Being kind and gentle to ourselves and working on one thing at a time allows us to be mindful. When we are mindful, we are completely present and aware of the practice taking place. This is a formula for success in music and the songs that sing our lives.


  1. Sandi Severson

    Betty, thank you so much for stopping by and for your nice comment. Look around this site… it is a wonderful place for positive energy.

  2. Betty Owen

    Nice BLOG article, Sandi. Very well thought out and articulated. Thanks for sending me the link–you’re doing great!

  3. Sandi Severson

    Thank you Beulah. Yes, slowing down gives us the time to actually make decisions and the presence to notice the direct and indirect outcomes.

  4. Beulah

    Awesome commentary Sandy. Thank you for the reminder to slow down.