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The Joy of Practice: Part 1- The Inner Dialogue

Our society has traditionally created a dichotomy of sorts between learning and teaching.

I understand that there is a need to define roles. We have schools and universities and we designate who are students and who are teachers. But, for each individual involved, how much of the learning process calls for students to be active teachers and how much of the teachers’ process requires that they be active learners. To put it another way, when we learn something on our own, how much of the process is learning and how much is teaching and where does the imaginary border lie? I ask this question in the way of an introduction to the subject of “practice”. In this first of a series of posts, I’d like to present the case that in order to have efficient, effective and enjoyable practice, we need to acknowledge that practice consists of a relationship between the teacher and the student and you are both at the very same time.

Generally, when we discuss practice in the context of music, we are referring to an activity that is solitary. We can also have band practice, but we call that a rehearsal. There is a difference between the two that can be summarized as: practice is for one person and rehearsals are for more than one. Many of the strategies, processes and considerations that go into a productive practice session will lead to a successful rehearsal. Digging down a bit deeper, fun and fruitful practice sessions are modeled by rewarding and inspiring music lessons.

The thing that my favorite teachers taught me over the years was how to learn/teach. They would encourage me, while also assisting me in seeing all that I could improve; they would diagnose a problem and prescribe a remedy that delivered quick and satisfying results; they modeled a fun, exciting and sustainable path to attain my ever-changing musical goals. When I practiced, I intuitively attempted to recreate the wonderful lessons that I had with my teachers with me “playing” both the teacher and student.

What happens in a practice session is ultimately about relationship. Is your teacher-self dedicated to helping you find a way to master your challenges while you enjoy the process, or is your teacher-self a mean task master, anxious to ridicule, discourage and demoralize you. How did your “teacher-model” speak to you, instruct you, empower you?

I have had students who cursed themselves audibly when they made a “mistake”. Students have punched themselves after an error. Still other students will come to a lesson frustrated (to not be able to perform a particular skill after practicing for the entire week), only to find that I can talk them through the process and help them to perform that same skill within minutes, if not less time. In every one of these cases, the nature of their “teacher-self” and “student-self” and the poor quality of the communication between them is short-circuiting the experience. We should be conscious of the dialogue that goes on in our minds around practice and nurture a constructive and positive relationship - focused on our goals.

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