A big part of my teaching involves my worldly advice… of “you can do better.” One of the most frustrating things is when I see a student struggle with something because they are not practicing properly and being a lazy musician instead – one who does not actively think and experience the music while playing the instrument.
99% of the time we are practicing inefficiently. Our hands are simply on autopilot and we are just trying to log hours as if we were flying planes. I am extremely guilty of this type of practicing, which I really should not even call practicing but rather just “using my fingers.”
Yesterday I taught my most advanced student and we have been stuck on a few Bach pieces for a long time (a few weeks of no progress). I say WE because her progress as a student is just as much as mine as a teacher. Anyway, I had her practicing fingerings, on the lid of the piano, with accents, counting out loud, closing her eyes and we ended up spending the entire lesson trying to focus and get a certain passage correct.
I saw in her eyes her disappointment after the lesson. I find that the better the student, the harder I am on him or her, because I just know it’s within them to go beyond what they perceive as their potential. My own private teacher from college told me that he sees potentials of students and not realities. I think I am somewhat the same in my teaching visions in that regard.
It is so much easier to criticize others because half of the things I told her are things I constantly tell myself. I continue to battle these struggles of getting through a passage, focusing, practicing at my full capabilities, and especially that I can push my own potential. There are so many mental blocks in an artist’s pathway to “accomplishment” and we fail to recognize the importance of the struggle.
It’s been a while since I feel like I have gotten good or even conquered a piece, but I have to tell myself to embrace the struggle instead of fighting it. It feels absolutely terrible to me when I can’t get something right, but somewhere within all the haziness of the notes our fingers stroke, there is a shard of clarity that we have to uncover with each new piece that we play. I know it exists because inevitably I know that I can find it and I DO. There’s never a set timeline and that in itself is frustrating, but that glimmer of hope is what keeps me going. Sounds like life’s hardships doesn’t it?
Until then, the struggle is real for pianists. And it’ll always be.
But that’s what makes the music all the more worthwhile.