The quality of your practice is directly proportionate to the quality of your thinking. Contrary to what many musicians believe, you’re not“training muscles” as you practice, so much as you are directing your thinking so that your brain can readily coordinate the muscular activity necessary to play well.
Mindless, repetitive practice usually yields limited, often disappointing results. Deep practice, where you are cognizant of your specific, in-the-moment goals, as well as what you hear, and sense in yourself as you play, is what leads to consistent improvement.
If you practice when you are distracted (maybe you didn’t get enough sleep, are in an angry mood, worried, about something, really hungry, etc.), you know that you won’t do very well. In fact, you might even finish your practice session with the feeling that you wasted your time.
But what about when you’re fully present and focused for your practice session? Are there ever times when you need to check your thinking? My answer is a resounding yes!
Stopping to check in with, and redirect my thinking is always a better choice than plunging forward again with another mindless, misdirected effort. It always makes the next attemptsomuch more efficient and constructive.
Ask yourself a few simple questions:
Am I tightening my neck, shoulders and back?
Am I allowing the weight of my body to balance through my feet (when I stand as I practice)?
Am I mostly expanding or contracting (releasing or tensing)?
How is my breathing (effortless and quiet, or tense and noisy)?
Am I really listening to what I’m playing (as opposed to just hearing sounds)?
Am I clear about what my immediate goal is with this particular exercise, passage, etc?
If you wanted to simplify it all, you could ask yourself, “Am I tending more toward contraction or expansion as I play?” Included in this question (besides noticing your body) is your ability to listen to and hear yourself. Are your senses going inward(contracting), excluding the full experience of your sound, or expanding outward into the room where your sound actually is?
You’ll make fewer mistakes (which means you’ll spend less time making unsuccessful “takes” of whatever you’re working on). In short, you’ll get more done in less time. Really.
Plus, you’ll develop a good standard for awareness that you’ll bring into your performances. All good news.
Release tension and expand back to your full stature.
But whether you use these directions, or ask yourself the kinds of questions that I’ve listed above, or simply remind yourself to pause for a moment to regain your stature and your clarity, make a point of stopping to refresh your thinking.
Make it an aim as you practice to STOP. Notice that when you do this, you play with much less tension, and greater clarity and consistency. Make this a part of your practice habits, and you’ll be pleased with the results.