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In this blog, I’ll give you a few simple but very effective tips for practice. Practicing efficiently ensures that you can play something you thought you could never master. It helps you avoid those annoying mistakes that keep coming back. It contributes to more enjoyment while playing and reduces nervousness before performances. So, leave behind the excuses like ‘I’m too old,’ ‘I started too late,’ or ‘I’m not musical,’ and focus on finding the right method.

This time, I’m providing tips based on the book “Lezen, weten en niet vergeten” (Reading, Knowing, and Not Forgetting) by Mark Tigchelaar. The principles he explains should be generally known but aren’t yet. I will translate these tips into the context of music in the upcoming blogs. Here’s the first principle!

Principle 1: Always Learn

I have always been interested in how we learn. Since my high school days, I’ve wondered why we’ve organized our education in this way and whether it can be improved. If you’ve attended my workshops or purchased the online course, you know that I always emphasize how to practice what I explain. Music is always about practicing; new music needs to be rehearsed, and at the very least, you want to maintain your technique. That’s why I was curious about Tigchelaar’s book. In it, he describes eight principles for learning. I’ll translate them for you into the world of music.

The first principle is what I’ve just described: it’s about finding the right method. Let’s move on to the second principle from the book:

Principle 2: Fill the Void

Empty moments while playing? Indeed, it makes sense. How often do you catch yourself thinking about groceries, what’s going wrong or right, what your fellow musicians might think, and so on, all at the same time? It’s incredible how all these thoughts occur simultaneously in your head.

I hadn’t realized that when I’m thinking while playing, apparently, I have the time for it. My brain simply isn’t using all its capacity for playing. And so, it starts doing other things; think of small children getting bored and fidgeting.

How do you fill the void then? In the case of reading, according to the author, you should do this more quickly. The results are astounding, like speed reader Anne Jones, who read the latest Harry Potter first and finished it in three quarters of an hour. She could also answer all questions about the content correctly.

Playing faster is not, or not the only, solution for us. What we can do is fill the void with attention to the music. This means not just playing as if you were a CD being played; the ‘see if it works method.’ Instead, consider the story you are telling. Envision it, feel what you feel about it. What musical phrases are you actually playing? How do you start, how do you finish? Or focus on dynamics, timing, intonation, articulation, your posture, the movement of your fingers, the breath you feel in your body. There is so much for us as musicians to pay attention to.

Repeat with different focus

Secretly, I must already introduce the next principle, because zooming in on everything at once is not practical. So choose a focus and play it again with a different focus. That doesn’t mean you play without dynamics if you focus on timing. But you pay less attention to it.

I practiced Tai Chi for many years. In Tai Chi, you practice a form: a series of movements that are always the same. And you preferably do this every day. And every lesson as well. The only thing that constantly varies is the focus. One time you focus on the moments of inhalation and exhalation. The next time on weight distribution, or the ‘string on your crown’ principle, and so on. This way, you can dedicate your entire life to improving one fixed series of movements.

In music, you study a piece much more thoroughly in this way. As soon as you drift off, you can choose a new point of focus. Or apply the next principle, more about that in the next blog!

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