Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Power of Good Practices

For me, reading my list of blogs each morning is better than reading the news.

The news is just chock full of sensational garbage aimed at exciting our passions, getting us riled up against one another and everyone else, all with the aim of making money. And it has made the most controversial of them very rich.

I found out a long time ago there are things I can change and things I can't change. I prefer to direct my energy to those I can change.

Reading my fellow bloggers each day, rather than sapping my creative energy, inspires all kinds of new ideas and fires me up for doing something positive.

Yesterday, at Joanne's Whole Latte Life, she asked a question which made me think deeper about something I'd already been contemplating--the value of practice.

Practice is an overused word in many ways, and to tell you the truth, I'd come to think of it as just doing something a lot rather than doing it well. But for those of you who followed my blog this last year and a half, you may remember that I started piano lessons last February, and these piano lessons have taught me about:

1. The power of practice

2. The necessity for quality practices to form good habits.

A bad practice forms a bad habit and, as they say, bad habits are hard to break!

My piano teacher told me from the start, when I was more interested in playing a whole song than concentrating on doing small parts right, that correcting a bad habit in piano will take FOUR times longer than learning it from scratch. Four times!!

To put her theory into real time, it means that when I get to a series of measures that I've played wrong, I have to play them and play and play them, ad nauseum, until I can play them perfectly four times. (That's the corrective measure she's taught me). Sounds easy? It's not.

So, I've come to look at practice with a whole new respect. How do I sit on my horse? How do I lead them around? What habits have I taught them?

I read in a book (can't remember which one) a long time ago that there was a family who raised a colt, and when the colt was young, the father taught him to stand with his front hooves on the father's chest. As the horse grew, it turned into what could be a deadly habit and they had to take the horse in for corrective training. With horses, however, habits taught when they're young are sometimes impossible to change--and you eventually see these horses at the auctions through no fault of their own except having practiced bad things from their human teachers.

Last year I started to realize something about myself, I knew how to do a lot of things, but I did a lot of things moderately well. I had focused on quantity rather than quality. That's what made me return to piano. I thought, I want to do at least one thing pretty darn good before I die. It's worth the effort to at least try--then they can say of me,--She wasn't the best, but boy did she put in the effort to learn!

Funny thing though, as I concentrate on piano, guess what happens? The lessons I learn in piano leak into everything else. All of a sudden I see other areas of my life where I have shoddy practices--eating habits, fitness, writing, riding, ....and it could go on and on.

I wasn't born a perfectionist--in fact, I'm the anti-perfectionist--and I wouldn't say that's my aspiration--but there is something powerful to be said about developing good habits through the practice of doing things correctly, or at least as well as we know to do them.

(And thank goodness for teachers, mentors, friends, fellow-bloggers, who help us see these things.)

It's been about seven months since I started piano lessons, and I'm starting to really see the change in my playing. I had worried that, at my age, I was like some of those horses who you seemingly can't fix, and it was too late for me to change bad habits and learn good ones. Apparently, it's not--even my 42 year old brain is capable of developing new pathways with enough repetition!

Is there something you're practicing? Is there something your horse is practicing? I'm wishing you well today as you work toward your goals!


  1. Excellent post and very timely too. At least for me. I am back to taking riding lessons. I have to practice, and at least I know I'm practicing the things that will help me to become a better rider. Do you think this 56-year-old brain could learn to play the piano?

  2. I'm taking riding lessons, too--I need help seeing what I'm doing wrong! I think that's great that you're taking lessons. And absolutely you could learn the piano. When I started taking lessons last winter I thought I wasn't making much progress because of my age, but I think my expectations were too high. Little kids are happy with Mary Had a Little Lamb--adults want to play like Beethoven after a month. LOL. Looking back on this year, I think my old brain is just as teachable as a young one!

  3. You mean...this isn't the news???

  4. Thank you for the very thoughtful post. I've been taking recorder lessons for 3+ years now, from a really excellent teacher, and also play in a group. I had virtually no music background when I started, so it was all new to me. What learning an instrument has really brought home to me is the value of daily, or almost daily, work and focussed attention. Even if you don't feel like you're making progress, if you work with care and attention every day, gradually, day by day, you make noticeable progress. There are also ups and downs, and learning to deal with that one-step-forward, two-steps-back feeling is useful too.

    I've also learned that as I progress, new things become challenges, and things that were difficult aren't any more - there are always new things to learn and ways to improve, even for the experts.

    I think a lot of this has application to horses, and to life. The ability to work hard and focus, and to break a task down into small steps and not be in a hurry, but just keep working, small bit by small bit, leads to progress, sometimes before you notice.

  5. Tracey--I stand happily corrected! :)

    Kate--Good for you--and very well said--I couldn't agree with you more. I've learned the same wisdoms from piano--small bit by small bit--as you say.

  6. I do think that the discipline and diligence that we develop in practicing something does carry over to the rest of our lives. It somehow becomes a part of us.

    And inspiration breeds inspiration, too. You've inspired me today with YOUR post. I've been working on a short nonfiction piece for a few days, and it is complete except for one nagging paragraph that JUST WON'T WORK. I've been fiddling with the sentences for hours, and finally put it down and came blog hopping. Well, thanks for the nudge to practice. I'm off to my work now, determined to rewrite and rewrite until I get that paragraph nailed :)

  7. Joanne--It reminds me of that famous Thomas Edison saying, "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration." You're a diligent writer--so I'm sure you'll have that paragraph done in no time and make it look easy! Happy writing!

  8. Geez, you make me think, Linda! Love your blog, and I definitely agree that reading my favorite blogs start my day off much better than any regular sort of news. But dang...I'm still thinking about the last question you posed about horses' trust versus other animals.

    Anyway, I applaud you for learning the piano. It's something I've always wanted to learn too. I took classical guitar lessons back in the early 90s. I couldn't keep up with it. I don't think it was as much a matter of not being able to learn at that age, as it was just the sheer time and focus involved. At the time I had four kids at home, ages 19 down to 5, held a full-time job, and was pregnant with Alexa. I do remember when I first mastered my first classical piece, though (after about a year of learning scales and modes), and it was a very amazing feeling. Back then, I actually derived more joy from doing children's folk music, playing for my kids, around the campfire, at the school, daycare, and I even played some at some nursing homes. I guess that's the path I take sometimes in my life - finding what brings the most joy and then following that. My beautiful guitar sits in the closet mostly now, but I do bring it out at Christmas and do some simple carols. Maybe I'll get back to it one day.

    These days, I guess the thing that I am practicing the most is working on my horsemanship skills.

  9. Laura, you need to pull that guitar back out!! It sounds like you made a lot of progress! We could be a team--going to nursing homes together!


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.