My Musings on Practicing

I have played the piano since I was 5. I am 22 now so that is 17 years, or about 78% of my life. Over those 17 years, all but 2 of them I was receiving lessons and training. (Those two years was when I was on my Mormon mission and was not able to take lessons due to both a lack of time and the shear logistics of trying to have a regular teacher considering I moved about every 4 months.) Something that came along with lessons was practicing and a lot of of. By the time I was in college, it was not uncommon for me to practice 4 or 5 hours a day. If I did my math right, that’s about 11,400 hours. As such, I have gained one very specific, very strong opinion on practicing.

What ever you are practicing, when every you are practicing it, the where is the most important aspect. You need to be in a space that is both suited for the activity. Practicing swimming in a pile of leaves does no one good. And the place you practicing in must be comfortable. Here is an example.

I am not longer pursuing a degree in Piano Performance almost exclusively because I have no where good to practice. In the School of Music at the University of Arizona there are plenty of practicing rooms reserved specifically for piano performance majors with some extremely well maintained 1980 Steinway Model O’s. For those of you not in the piano world, the 1980’s where some of the best years in piano manufacture, specifically for Steinway while the Model O is the perfect size given that it is not so small all to sound hallow, but not so large as to be over powering. They are great instruments and in general sound amazing. However, they sit in cold rooms not much bigger in than the piano itself in the basement of the Music Building. Suffice it to say that practicing in these rooms is miserable. You get headaches because the piano sound is too loud in such a small room. The floors were exposed concrete and the lights were florescent with grey wall. The room itself felt sad. It was not a space suited for practice and I hated being there.

Even this professorially done photo can’t make the place actually look enjoyable.

Over the 2 1/2 that I worked on my BM in piano performance, I slowly grew to hate practicing. I don’t think was because I was doing it so much as where I was doing it. Can you imagine spending 4 or 5 hours every day in that room every day? I felt my soul being ripped out of me.

Then one day I walked into one of the larger orchestra rooms. The grand piano was unlocked (once again a 1980 Steinway Model O), so I sat down a decided to practice a little. Before I knew it, 3 hours had passed and I had gotten more work done in 1 session than I had in the past week. I realized then that part of the reason I hated practicing was the place I did it in. I did everything I could to get access to those orchestra rooms with their high ceiling and real windows. But I couldn’t make it a regular thing. Orchestras practiced in the orchestra rooms. Who knew?

Eventually it came to a point. If I wanted to progress in piano anymore, I was going to have to suck it up and practice in the basement; however, if I practiced in the basement much more, I was soon going to hate piano all together. In order to save my passion for piano, I had to leave it. It was the hardest decision of my life so far. And to think, I would probably be graduating with my BM this year if the practice rooms were better.

So think about what ever it is that you practice. You probably do it because you enjoy it. If you don’t, then you probably did at one point. Think about where it is that you practice. Has that effect how you feel about your passion? I invite you all to practice in healthy, happy places. Demand better for your passion.