Practice is the goal

We don’t practice the fiddle to get better at the fiddle, we just practice to practice. In other words, when you just do what you’re doing to the best of your abilities then you’ve arrived at the goal, which is realizing there is no big goal to reach other than the present moment.
In other other words, we practice music because it’s fun.

I just finished a weeklong meditation retreat at the San Francisco Zen Center, which explains why my head is full of deeeeeeep thoughts.

During the retreat you meditate for over five hours a day in nine 35-minute periods. You work a bit around the meditation hall (cooking, dishwashing, cleaning, etc.) You exercise in the afternoon. You don’t talk unless it’s functional speech (Where is the nearest bathroom?! This is a red alert!!!)

Oh, and you wake up at 4:50 am each day. The head student runs around the temple clanging a bell. As you pry open your eyes you think, wait, why am I doing this again?

The basic practice of meditation is to let your thoughts go. You just see them come and go. You don’t develop them or get involved with them, yet you don’t try to push them away. At times it seems elusive or even impossible to do. And then out of the blue, you find that things have cleared and you are aware of what’s happening in the present moment. But don’t get too excited! It doesn’t last…

Ultimately, we practice to practice. No matter what level you’re at as a music student, I encourage you to find a way to be totally involved with what you are learning and playing. Just listen! Make just one note sound good. Can you be aware of your breath as you play?

And if you can pay full attention to just one note, can you pay full attention to a phrase? How about a full tune? And if you can do that, can you do that with other activities? When washing dishes, are you trying to just get it done so you can move on the thing you think you want to do (Game of Thrones binge watch)? Or can you wash those dishes with all of your heart and mind?

Usually it feels hard to do that. But then, surprise! You’re just doing what you’re doing. In this way, music practice, like meditation practice, can enrich each moment of your life.

Now go fiddle with that!

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6 responses to “Practice is the goal

  1. That’s great. I listened to the Freakanomics podcast the other day and am probably going to order Peak. I wrote a post on my blog about deliberate practice and posted in the blog post a YouTube video of another interview that he did with The Musicality Podcast that was aimed more towards learning music. Here’s the link to that interview if you want to listen to it: It was obvious to me after I stumbled upon Ericsson that you were familiar with him from the way you shape your lessons…and probably why I am making progress following your lessons. His deliberate practice is definitely something I want to practice in learning the fiddle, and learning just about any new skill.

  2. Jason,
    Are you familiar with K Anders Ericsson and what he calls “deliberate practice”? How you teach your lessons are so in line with what he espouses.

    Purposeful practice has specific and well-defined goals.
    Purposeful practice is about planning out and putting a bunch of micro steps together to achieve a well-defined goal. If I have a goal of learning a new tune, how do I get from point A to point Z? What are the little steps, or elements of the whole, I need to accomplish? I need to map these out before I begin. I then work on each step, one step at a time, joining the steps together, one by one, until I can join all the steps together and accomplish my goal, to be able to play the new tune.

    Purposeful practice is focused.
    Deliberate, purposeful practice is hard mental work. I need to get rid of as many distractions that may impede my focus and concentration. No distracting noises, turn off the phone, be hydrated and nourished and as physically comfortable as possible are just a few examples. Additionally, I need to realize when I have reached the point of diminishing returns and take a break and do something totally unrelated. I need to relax and then come back to the task I am trying to learn with a renewed energy and focus.

    Purposeful practice involves feedback.
    How do I know I am doing something right? Where are my mistakes? What is causing them? Depending on the practice situation, feedback can vary. Listening carefully, using a mirror to watch myself, audio and/or video recording for playback so I can hear/see what I am doing, submitting a recording for peer review, meeting with a teacher are examples of feedback. Without feedback, either from myself or others, I cannot figure out what I need to improve on or how close I am to achieving my goal.

    Purposeful practice requires getting out of my comfort zone.
    Pushing myself is probably the most important principle here. Unless the seed pushes through the soil, it will never grow into a flower. Pushing myself beyond what was familiar and comfortable is crucial to making progress. If I never push myself beyond my comfort zone, I will never improve. Moving beyond my comfort zone means trying to do something I have never done before. Finding ways to solving new challenges is a key to deliberate and purposeful practice.

    1. Yes! I had been doing and teaching a flawed form of deliberate practice on my own for a long time. And then I head Andersson on the Freakanomics podcast. He clarified a lot of what I was doing and thinking and thinking about. Then I read his book Peak. It’s one of those books I’ll keep coming back to.

      More and more, I’m trying to integrate this philosophy into fiddleHed and my own life.