“…the world branded on ragged sides.” Linda Hogan

July 11, 2016

Sitting down to practice we might consider what we can learn today. It might be as simple as getting a feel for the piece, or more complicated like keeping to an exam preparation schedule. We might consider our state of mind be it haggard or alert and full of energy. Time constraints are another factor we might only have 15 minutes and how do we use that wisely.

I have read numerous books on how to practice, and for a while had high expectations for them – a really good book on the topic should help me play more like a true master – or so I thought. To my chagrin, most of those books regurgitated ideas that I had already tried and were only marginally useful at best. There was a one size fits all strategy behind them that led away from a true understanding of how to improve. Improving means learning new habits and that requires a specific process and mental agility. There are many ways we can improve and some involve physical work, while others require mental work. All of them require a mindful approach to the activity.

In a state of having too much to do with no time to work, one might consider using 20 minutes to play a short section and repeating it about ten times. This approach is a way of tuning the mind, calming it down, and repeating the same music is a bit like a mantra - it helps us focus. As the ability to focus grows one might find that there are fewer mistakes happening because repeating a task is a good way to assess and compare. Normally take seven will be a better performance than take two.

Learning a new hand position, however, requires a different approach because one tends to drift back into comfortable, older habits. In this case the best way to work is to adopt the new hand position play two measures then reset, continue for two measures then reset etc. This kind of work reinforces new habits and tends to prevent the hand from drifting back to previous positions. After doing only two measures for a few pages one might increase the distance incrementally to four measures and then to eight. If the new hand position is easier I have found that the body will choose the more comfortable one. But it must be given a reasonable period to adjust.

The Sultan was having a big party and the whole community was invited. The children were entertained outside with clowns, magicians and dancers while inside the adults heard the best poets recite and the finest musicians play. There was a long table laden with food and colourful desserts as the guests milled about.

At one point the Sultan realized it was time for his son’s medication and called for an attendant. The attendant left to fetch the princeling, but as he got to the exit Nasrudin asked if he could be of help as he was just going outside. “Go have some baklava, it is the best I have ever had,” he said. “Let me do your errand.”
The attendant – who was starving said, “Please fetch the Sultan’s boy.”
Nasrudin asked, “How will I recognize him?”

“That will be easy,” said the attendant, “Just bring the most beautiful boy.”

A few moments later Nasrudin returned beaming with his son in his arms but the attendant shouted, “Who is that skinny little kid?”

“Well,” said the proud father, “You did say to bring the most beautiful boy”.