Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Top Practicing Techniques of Great Musicians (and Great Martial Artists)

I dislike the concept of listiclesas readers may know, but I ran across a nice blog post called 8 Things Top Practicers Do Differently. It's a brief summary of some research done in 2009. The principles translate (as they so often do) to martial arts practice as well.

You can read the post, ("No! I'm too busy! Just tell me what it says!"), but here's my takeaway ("Thanks!").

A group of piano students were set a brief excerpt of music, given the same amount of time to practice it and had to come back the next day to play it. Their performances were evaluated for correctness (right notes, right rhythm) and quality (tone, character, expressiveness).

Practice Strategies of the Winners

Since most people can only remember three things, here is a distillation of a distillation of the winning strategies:
  1. Whenever you practice, practice with focus and attentiveness. As we say in Kokikai Aikido, with "mind and body coordinated." If you are not focused, you're wasting your time. Listen, feel your body, relax, notice.
  2. Use that focus to help you practice correctly whenever possible. Every time you practice incorrectly, you reinforce what's incorrect. When you are aware and attentive, you'll notice when you're incorrect right away, and you can focus on the details needed to correct yourself.
  3. Slow down. This is the most important thing you can do! Slowing down allows you to focus and to practice correctly. Remember that anything worth practicing involves coordinating complex motor movements. Once you slow down it's much easier to identify the exact source of difficulty, and to repeat just the movements you need to get it right. After you get it right, it's much easier to speed up. 

Read More About Slow Practice

Here's another lovely blog post about practicing slowly in the martial arts and in music.

Photo credit: Republic of Korea KOREA.NET - Official page of the Republic of Korea (photo has been cropped and image enhanced)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Having to Practice vs. Wanting to Practice

Practice, almost by definition, is something that you have to do regularly.

Most of my music teachers (ALL of my music teachers) have told me I need to practice regularly, usually way more than I do. Or they have told me that "professional musicians" practice X hours a day, with the implication that if I ever want to be as good as I aspire to be...well.

Thats why I was surprised to hear Frankie Gavin, legendary fiddler and founding member of the group De Danann, saying this in a master class:
"Practice for as long as you feel like practicing. If you're really enjoying yourself, time will fly...Practice when you want to. If you feel like you have to practice, it's an awkward one... Decide to practice, yourself...You have to think, 'I know what I'm gonna do, I'm gonna take out the fiddle and play a tune!'"  
I like that thought!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Yeah, But

As an aikido teacher, there's nothing worse than hearing a student say, "Yeah, but..." or obviously dismiss the idea I'm trying to convey.  Sometimes they say something, sometime they just look at me funny. When they do say something, it's usually something like this:

  • I don't really think that will work. 
  • I've done it differently with another instructor. 
  • I'm not able to do that. 
  • I already know that.
Now, it makes sense that the best way to learn new things is to be open to new ideas. So why are we often so resistant when someone makes the effort to help us? It's especially illogical when we actually came to a class to be taught, to then resist the teaching! 

I am not immune to this reaction, myself. Both in piano lessons and in aikido seminars I often catch myself on the point of saying (or thinking), "Yeah, but..." Where does it come from? Do I need the teacher to acknowledge that I "know something"? Is it hard to accept criticism? Am I really in this class to learn? Whatever the reason, I try to let it go, smile, and say, "OK. I'll work on that."

I'm pretty sure that attitude has gotten me a lot farther than saying, "Yeah, but..."

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Don't Strive to Be the Best

Everyone wants to feel like they are truly unique, different, better, the best, even though, statistically, with more than 314 million people in the U.S. and 7 billion in the world, well, there's just no way.*

In my case, I want to be the best musician, the best at aikido, the best mom, the best driver, the best at everything. Maybe not literally, but somehow deep down I am always comparing. If someone else is better, at some level that means I'm just not good enough. And out of 314 million people, there's always someone who's better. Sometimes this means I'm never satisfied and always pushing to be better. Other times it's depressing and makes me want to give up. And from what I've seen, I have a lot of company in looking at things this way.

It doesn't help that there's a strong message in our culture that competition is good. Competition supposedly drives us to work harder, be more productive, invent more and accomplish more.

But on some level that's, frankly, insane. I do want to be a better musician and better at aikido. And I can look to certain musicians and aikidoists to show me what's possible and how to accomplish it. But that doesn't mean I'll only improve by comparing myself to them and coming up wanting.

Really, the opposite is true: if I'm always comparing myself, I constantly feel bad about myself. I know that feeling crappy about myself is not the best way to go about playing music. In aikido one of our basic principles is to keep "Positive Mind."

Question #1: Can I teach myself to appreciate the abilities of my fellow musicians and aikidoka, without being competitive? ("I'm better than him." "I'm worse than her.")

Question #2 (Because I like to consider the "big picture"): Would society fall apart if we all stopped comparing and competing? Or would some things be better?

*Unbelievably, I seem to be the only Judy Minot in the U.S. There's at least one Judith Minot in France.