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The Joy of Practice: Part 6 - How can you be bored?

Last week a student emerged from a Piano practice room claiming that he was bored with nothing to practice.

“Well, let’s go into the practice room and talk about this”, I said. Once inside, I asked him to play some major arpeggios in 3 octaves. He obliged but struggled at a very slow tempo. When I asked him about playing uncomfortable major keys, minor, diminished and augmented arpeggios, he shrugged and said “those are hard”. He played a chromatic scale for me with one hand, but when I asked for both hands in octaves, it fell apart. As I explored all kinds of other skills, the need for a checklist became apparent.

Although I am not this student’s piano teacher, I am a teacher on staff and was struck by the whole situation. How can we enter into practice and guarantee that we will not be bored? I don’t remember ever being bored practicing. I suppose that it is due to a few really excellent teachers over the years. It is a teacher’s role to help to expose your weaknesses and help you devise a plan for addressing them. Once you know what you need to work on, it is only the discipline and courage to continuously confront those issues that allows for your improvement. I can understand how frustration might set in on occasion (although I counsel against the temptation), but boredom????

In chapter 3 of a book entitled “Succeed” by Heidi Grant Halvorson, the motivation of “being good” or “getting better” is presented. I would say that when it comes to practice, “getting better” always brings more satisfying results. When you enter the practice room in order to convince yourself that you are good, you choose to do only what you already do well, you avoid doing anything that makes you feel insecure or unqualified and you tend to repeat the same things all the time. This clearly will lead to boredom. If you enter instead with a commitment to “being better”, you actively seek out things that you can’t do, things that make you uncomfortable, that stretch you and then you can take account and formulate goals and strategies to grow.

You’ll continually discover things to learn and practice. Embrace all of the ways that you can improve. Have a notebook with all of the many areas in which you can benefit from practice and you’ll never be bored again!

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