The Practice Session That Almost Wasn’t
Navigate through moments of resistance by keeping small commitments to yourself. Doing so might bring unexpected gifts and accomplishments.
The Acts of Resistance
I didn’t want to practice today.
I did everything in my power to avoid it.
I slept in late, practiced yoga, took a shower, trimmed my fingernails, dried my hair, and made my coffee.
It was noon when I was “finally” ready to sit at the piano and practice.
I’m not sure why I avoided it as fiercely as I did that morning, but I did.
Perhaps because I wasn’t happy with my last practice sessions or because my fingers felt cold and stiff (which they do most of the winter months). Or maybe I didn’t want to work out several passages that I knew needed attention. I could have just been feeling a bit of the blues.
Whatever prevented me from sitting down, I knew I needed to spend some time at the piano. As a piano teacher, I want to set an example of consistent practice for my students and continually hone my musical skills. Despite decades and thousands of hours of experience practicing the piano, the more I practice, the more I can relate to my students. The more often I solve my own problems with difficult musical passages, the more tricks, techniques, and insights I have to provide my students when they encounter their particular troubling passages.
Playing music is a lifetime skill and a lifelong pursuit. I will never “arrive” as a musician. There will always be more to learn about the art of playing, more music to enjoy and be challenged by, and more emotions to express through the music. More than that, as I age, I find an increasing number of life lessons to be learned embedded in the process.
“You’ve got this. Only ten minutes. You can do it. Stay focused. Make the most of your time.”
I set my goals for the practice session. One: Practice for ten minutes. Two: find solutions to the three separated difficult passages.
I started with the first passage.
“My fingers are frozen. They don’t want to move.”
So, I switched things up. There is a metaphor in there somewhere. In life, we can’t stop when life gets hard or we feel stuck. Perhaps we just need to divert our attention in a different direction for a little bit. Then return refreshed to try again.
“Let’s try something new.” I thought.
“I remember seeing an article referencing jazz warm-up exercises earlier in the week. That’s outside my wheelhouse, but let’s give that a try.”
I pulled out my phone, looked for the article, watched a few short videos, and dove in.
After experimenting for a bit. I felt pleased with how fun, challenging, and easy it was to complete the exercise. Though I’ve never formally studied jazz piano, my music theory knowledge and classical technical training served me well as I attempted scales and intervals with a jazz twist. It was definitely a bit more of a workout for my brain than my fingers.
''Interesting, that little challenge warmed up my fingers and shifted my mindset."
Ready to dig into my repertoire, I went straight to the first passage’s presenting problems. I took a deep breath, practiced the passage slowly with my hands together, then separated the hands out while looking for the hang-ups. I double-checked my fingerings and the way my hands approached the keys. I discovered a few pesky left-hand pinky sustained quarter notes that eluded me. I also noticed my tendency to reach for a D sharp in my left hand instead of a D natural.
With those observations made, I tried the entire passage again.
“That's better. Now play it with a smile,” I told myself. (Humor and jovialness dominate the mood of this section.)
“I don't feel joyful or jovial right now,” I thought, but perhaps I would after working out the passage a bit more.
After a few more minutes, I could play the passage cleanly. I also noticed that my mood had again brightened!
So, I went to the next passage requiring attention. This time I observed inconsistent left-hand fingerings. I took the passage apart, picked up my pencil, and wrote in the desired fingerings. I slowed down the passage and adhered strictly to those fingerings. I attempted to speed it up, but the new fingerings eluded me again.
Tired and frustrated, I decided it was again time to switch gears.
I played the piece in its entirety, pleased with some passages and not with others. There seemed to be a sloppiness in my playing today that I didn’t have the energy to correct. The 16th notes were uneven, the tempo kept slipping away from me, and my memory failed me. So, I set aside the piece and moved on to a piece with more of an emotional tug on my soul.
There are a few more life lessons.
It’s okay to step away from challenges for a bit if the challenge requires more energy than we have to give.
Feeding the soul takes priority over striving to achieve perfection.
“It’s been a hard week with the children. I need to feel satisfied and accomplished in my practice today.”
I flipped the page to the next piece in the collections of songs I've been learning by Tchaikovsky.
I found just what I needed.
The Unexpected Gift
The third piece in the suite, entitled "March", is a somber heartfelt song in the key of g minor. This song requires precision of a different kind of precision than the technically involved second piece. Each voice must be voiced “just so” to tell the story and bring out the emotions of the piece. This is where I thrive as a musician.
I carefully placed the first notes on the keys of my left hand, voicing the top note over the bottom one. I shaped the phrase present in the harmonic structure of the left hand for a few bars before bringing in the melancholy, yet haunting right-hand melody. There’s a yearning and a wanting in this song mixed with sorrow that resonates with me. Perhaps because that's where I am in life right now. Yearning, wanting, desiring, and yet grieving at the same time.
The mood shifts in the middle section with a faster tempo and right-hand short, crisp, staccato notes, providing a good contrast to the smooth legato slower first section. There’s a sinister and yet jovial sense to this part of the passage, with grace notes that remind me of one playfully skipping along the path. I also feel a sense of urgency in this passage filled with passionate octave jumps. A ritardando, or gradual slow down of the tempo, indicates it’s time to return to the somber first melody.
I played my heart out.
"No one is here to listen. That’s okay. One day it will be time to share my music with others again. For now, I will play for myself."
The Healing Power Of Music
There is beauty in music that no words can express. Emotions rise up within me when I play or find themselves satisfied, heard, and understood. It’s as if, when I play, my soul has space to cry. My pain becomes purposeful when I’m able to express it through music. When given the opportunity to perform once again for others, I will know my life experiences will have created something meaningful and moving for others to receive.
As I sit here, writing this experience out, tears roll down my cheeks.
It’s always been me and my music. My constant friend. My constant companion. Music has always heard my soul's cry, soothed my emotions, and received my pain, doubts, and fears. When life has felt the most vulnerable, fragile, and unbearable, music met me with understanding. It’s as if the music
I suppose that’s why I avoid it sometimes and why I didn't want to practice today. Some sessions carry an unexpected rawness and a vulnerability to them I don’t always want to confront, but must. That’s the power of music. It grips the soul, activates the senses, and evokes emotions that then must be felt and expressed. I supposed my intuition knew this need and why I felt internal resistance to finding my way to the piano. I’m so glad I made it there.
Today, my heart and my soul needed to be seen. My heart needed to cry through music.
Today was not for refining technical passages. It wasn’t for speed work. It wasn’t for learning new music.
Today was about feeling, expressing, and healing.
Satisfied, I put away my music, took a deep breath, and came here to write. I guess I’ve always been a creative individual, an empath, and a deep feeler. First through music, then with words, and now, with both.
I’ll sign off now… the piano is calling me back.
Food For Thought:
What’s one way you can move past resistance when facing a commitment you made to yourself?
Envision how it will feel to keep that commitment to yourself despite whatever internal and external obstacles oppose you. What joy can be found in accomplishing that task? What unexpected lessons might greet you in the journey?
I encourage you to “do the thing.” Keep the commitment to yourself. You may be surprised by what you discover in the process.
Learning to play the piano takes consistent practice over a long period of time. In the process, there will be times of resistance. I get it! I’ve been there! It is from my own personal experiences that I am able to coach my students, of all ages and abilities, through their challenges and help them achieve excellence in their playing while cheering them on every step of the way.
Could you, or someone you know, benefit from having this kind of piano teacher in your life? If so, schedule a Discovery Call with me today! Let’s together, bring the joy of music into your heart and home!
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