Practice Starts With P – and Practice Makes Permanent

Persistence, that is, to keep practicing.

I was mostly self-taught as a child. Sure I learned how to read music through playing trumpet in the school band and singing in choirs, but I taught myself piano and guitar because the instruments were around and I always played them.

Because instruments were games and gateways of expression to me, I never really felt like practice was an obstacle to be avoided. In fact, the resistance from family saying I made a lot of noise probably gave me some motivation, from a reverse-psychology perspective, but I was compelled to always play with feeling. As a disclaimer, I wholeheartedly encourage private musical instruction. The time I wasted developing and fixing bad habits could have been better used learning to play more and more music.

However, with lessons or not, I feel the fundamental requirements are the same for everyone, regardless of ability or knowledge. These all happen to start with the letter P, which practice also begins with.

The four “P”s of Practice:
• Perspective
• Persistence
• Patience
• Playfulness

Perspective is necessary because one must know where they’re at and where they’re going and what’s reasonable. This is perhaps, one of the most important reasons for a private teacher. Group lessons are not in and of themselves bad, but a private teacher understands where the student is and what that student needs to do in order to improve.

Persistence is the sense of attraction to a goal or ideal. I think Persistence is a quality most useful when you’re not practicing. It’s a motivating force to draw someone into practice. Once you’re practicing, I find that patience is more useful.

Patience is the understanding and faith that progress will be more rapid if one takes their time. In practicing piano, there is very little pain and there is no direct correlation between making a mistake and pain. This might seem confusing, but a real-world example is quite clear. When one touches an open flame, the pain is felt and one quickly learns never to do that again. With piano, one must be aware that the only pain is the loss of time that trickles by with impatient practice. Patience must be balanced with Persistence to be truly effective. Occasionally one can and should attempt to play at full-speed to see how much progress has been made.

Playfulness is perhaps the forgotten component. Playfulness shouldn’t be confused with the wasting of time. In fact a lot of the greatest scientific achievements have been the fruits of playfulness and playfulness alleviates stress, serving to play better music and alleviate stress long-term. Being playful while practicing can be quite productive. Suppose a melodic (one note at a time) phrase is difficult. Through being playful, one could change the rhythm of the melody. One could raise the melody and follow the contours of the melody through different keys creating different moods, all while exercising the fingers and developing muscle memory of how to play that sequence of notes.

As a closing note, one could summarize this way: Persistently go practice, but while practicing, be patient and playful and be leery of pain. Pain is not one of the P’s. And beware – whatever is practiced becomes habit, which is the new adage, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.”

Let me know if you’d like more information about private lessons with me.

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1 comment


  1. Cheryl Hillman

    Having our cocktail party on 12/7 @ 7pm. Are you interested in playing at it?

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