I've been taking piano lessons for the past two months. I haven't written about it here on my blog but I'll save the details of what motivated me to learn the piano for another post. Right now I'm writing because I recognized something after two months of taking piano lessons. A weekly thirty-minute one-on-one session with a coach doesn't make someone a proficient pianist. It's the practice that makes someone a proficient pianist.
But I already knew that. In fact, when I started taking lessons I knew that if I didn't practice I wouldn't get anywhere. Now it's been two months and I feel like I don't know nearly as much as I should. Every week I end up not practicing enough because I constantly put practice off until tomorrow, telling myself that I can make up for it later. As the weekly session with my coach gets closer, I feel more and more anxiety for not having practiced enough. I fear he will call me out on it and get angry. But why should he? It's not his fault. There is no one to blame for lack of practice but myself! I'm paying him for his time and if I choose not to make use of what I'm paying for then I'm only screwing myself. No one else.
That's another interesting thing. Every week I feel so sure my coach will call me out for not practicing enough but every single time I leave the session calm and relaxed. I'm sure he notices that I haven't practiced but he doesn't get angry or make me feel bad for not practicing. Instead he calmly coaches me and helps me improve, even if the improvements are barely noticeable. Sure, yelling and screaming can be useful when you're pushing your physical body and trying to block out what your brain is telling you, but when you're trying to get your brain to learn something new it has to want to do it. Pressuring your brain into learning just won't work.
Practice under stress is bad. Very bad. Our brains are wired to shut down certain areas when we're stressed out. Stress makes learning much more difficult. If we're stressed out every time we practice, we're not going to look forward to practicing (and when we do, it won't be effective anyway). Practice should be fun. Science has even proven that we learn faster and remember more when we're having fun!
When I started learning the piano, I set myself a goal of being able to play Fur Elise by December 25th, 2009. That's about four months away. At the rate I'm going now it will probably take me another year. But I can fix that. I can shorten one year of skill development into four months. All I need to do is commit to practicing and make it a regular habit. It needs to become a routine -- as routine as sleeping or brushing my teeth. And it needs to be regular. Cramming in a six-hour practice session the day I'm meeting with my coach won't help my brain form new synapses.
You are what you repeatedly do. That's my new mantra. Earlier today I opened a random book on my bookshelf and turned to a random page and saw that quote. Starting today, I'm going to write that sentence every single morning when I wake up and spend a few seconds contemplating what I want to be. Do I want to be nothing? Then I should do things that equate to nothing. Do I want to be a decent pianist? Then I should practice the piano daily.