When I started taking piano lessons, my tutor was constantly stressing the importance of becoming intimately familiar with all 88 keys, the sound each one made, and the musical notation that corresponded to each key. I understood why all that was important, but I really had no idea how becoming intimately familiar felt or even looked like. That changed today.
My tutor has me practicing several different areas simultaneously. There are seven separate sections but they can roughly be split up into three areas: exercises on the piano, reading and recognizing notes on paper, and rhythm and ear training. The most difficult part for me has been joining these different areas. I can practice stuff on the piano and then stop and read notes on paper, but connecting the notes on the paper to the keys on the piano just doesn't seem to happen.
Then today, just as I was finishing a one hour practice session and writing down what I had practiced, I had an idea for how I could work on connecting the various areas as I practiced them: I would start using my little music notation notebook (a Moleskin) for keeping track of not only time but the actual notes that I practiced. Instead of just writing "Practiced the D Major scale: 20 min", I would actually write out the musical notes for the D Major scale that I played and then make a note of how much time I spent practicing them. Making a habit of writing the notes every time would mean automatically strengthening the connection between the notes and the keys that I'm playing.
When you watch a good musician play an instrument, you can tell the instrument has become an extension of him or herself. It has become as familiar and comfortable to them as their own hands and feet. Once that happens, there is no discomfort limiting their ability to create music; the music can just flow through them. Learning a new instrument (especially a first instrument) is basically like adding a new body part to yourself -- a third arm or leg. Becoming intimately familiar and comfortable with such a new body part takes a lot of concentrated practice.
I spent about twenty minutes writing notes and playing them at the same time and wow. Everything feels like it's starting to connect! It's almost like I finally figured out how to attach nerves to this new body part, instead of just brainlessly moving things around.