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Topic: Self-discipline; or, how to practice  (Read 2633 times)

Offline nw746

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Self-discipline; or, how to practice
on: December 26, 2020, 08:41:37 AM
There may not be an answer to this question. But I guess it's always been my problem, and likely always will be.

How does one develop the self-discipline to practice the piano daily and effectively for a reasonably long period of time? (e.g. months or years—not just practicing everyday for a week and then giving up)

As a corollary to this, what is effective practice?

I've never completed learning a piece but I will use for an example Beethoven Op. 109, which I'm working on at the moment. I can approach studying the piece through a number of ways: listening to and analysing in detail recordings by Artur Schnabel, Edwin Fischer and Maria Tipo; reading the musicological literature on the sonata and its origins; studying the metronome markings Beethoven gave his other compositions in order to determine what tempi are appropriate for the sonata; memorising each movement, often by splitting them up into sections (e.g. individual variations in the last movement, or exposition/development/recapitulation in the first two movements); playing through the entire piece in order to ensure the large-scale phrasing is accurate. The one thing I can't do is the one thing that I've always learned was "practicing": i.e. taking individual difficult passages, breaking them down to bars or half-bars and repeating those 50-100 times at half or quarter speed. Sometimes with variations (e.g. playing everything staccato or legato, varying accents, dynamics, etc). I don't have the patience, and as a result those passages never improve. Is there another way to practice difficult passages that can hold the attention better? And if there isn't, how does one develop the ability to tolerate the boredom + psychological difficulty of continuing to do it for weeks or months even when one doesn't improve or gets worse?

I hope this is clear, will try to clarify if not.
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Offline keypeg

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #1 on: December 26, 2020, 10:21:05 AM
I looked at your old posts and this was from a few years ago:
Quote
Even when I was a child, because I could sit down and sightread something, the assumption was that I already had the fundamentals and there was no point covering them.
In a way you probably have the same malaise now.

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The one thing I can't do is the one thing that I've always learned was "practicing": i.e. taking individual difficult passages, breaking them down to bars or half-bars and repeating those 50-100 times at half or quarter speed. Sometimes with variations (e.g. playing everything staccato or legato, varying accents, dynamics, etc). I don't have the patience, and as a result those passages never improve.

You've kind of picked up routines that people write about, like a list, but that's not what it's about at all.  The 50-100 times is totally off.

You start with a purpose, and ways to get there.  Breaking a piece into sections (exp., dev., recap) helps you practise effectively.  If the recap recycles the exp. then if you practise m. 50 - 60, you're also practising m. 650 - 660 - note what changes etc.  You don't have to practise in any given order: you can plan what you practise first.  You probably know this part.

Practising difficult sections first is what I've been advised to do.   So in your play-through, you mark what is difficult.  Then: why is it difficult?  What do you need to do to not make it difficult?  Plan.  It may be in stages.  You do not solve it by playing 100X at slow speed.

As an example - probably being at a different level than you; I worked on a 2:3 (two against 3) passage which I don't have much practice in.    The fingering and hand movements were also both awkward for me.  In fact, sometimes they interfered with the timing.   So over  few days, for the timing I practised tapping my hands, a couple of counting approaches; also worked on the hand motion, made sure fingering was consistent.  Short focused bursts.   10 minutes on a specific problem, knowing how you will be working and why; then let go and do something else.

You may need to schedule yourself to make sure you practise every day, and just make sure you do it.  But if results come in, that starts to be motivating.  Unless other things are more interesting but that's the self-discipline part.

When things come automatically to you, like the early sight reading, then you end up never developing this.

hth

Offline ranjit

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #2 on: December 26, 2020, 10:32:57 AM
You might want to take a look at this:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JUMdlbVJ8KQ

Offline quantum

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #3 on: December 26, 2020, 10:43:06 AM
The goal of practice should be to improve, the goal of practice is not repetition (although it often includes such activity).

You have listed a number of activities associated with the study of music, all of them beneficial.  However, practice at the instrument seems to be disheartening to you.  A question to ask yourself is: what stimulus do all these other activities provide to you that practice does not?

Do you really repeat something 50-100 times?  You should be aiming for efficiency, not repetition or time spent practising.  With the exception of extremely difficult passages, you should be able to achieve the majority of practice goals with only a few repetitions.   Spread across a few weeks 50-100 repetitions is fine, if you are doing this in a single day that would be too much.  If the work unit you selected is so difficult that it needs 100 iterations to become reasonably playable, the size or scope of the work unit is in question.  You might need to break the problem down into smaller chunks, or approach the problem differently. 

Practice should never be boring, and if it is such, something needs to change.  If you are not engaging with your practice material, you are likely not benefiting as much as you can from your practice session. 
Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline nw746

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #4 on: December 26, 2020, 12:11:44 PM
I looked at your old posts and this was from a few years ago:In a way you probably have the same malaise now.

You've kind of picked up routines that people write about, like a list, but that's not what it's about at all.  The 50-100 times is totally off.
That seems likely, yes.

Quote
You start with a purpose, and ways to get there.  Breaking a piece into sections (exp., dev., recap) helps you practise effectively.  If the recap recycles the exp. then if you practise m. 50 - 60, you're also practising m. 650 - 660 - note what changes etc.  You don't have to practise in any given order: you can plan what you practise first.  You probably know this part.

Practising difficult sections first is what I've been advised to do.   So in your play-through, you mark what is difficult.  Then: why is it difficult?  What do you need to do to not make it difficult?  Plan.  It may be in stages.  You do not solve it by playing 100X at slow speed.

I'm not sure what "level" I am in but this is an example of a section that has remained consistently difficult in spite of me playing it repeatedly at slow tempos with various articulations:



The thing is I can't put into words exactly why it is difficult, just that whenever I try to play it at tempo (which is roughly crotchet = 144-152) my left hand in particular cannot play the correct notes in the correct order, and in fact most of the time it just produces complete nonsense. The right hand is slightly more even but has just as many mistakes.

I spent some time at slower tempos working out the most comfortable fingerings for all of the passages in semiquavers (for example, left hand in bar 65, 66 & 67: 3 1 2 3 5 2 3 1), but my fingers don't move quickly enough and are not independent enough to realise those fingerings at faster tempos, and my reaction time isn't good enough to get back on track once I've made the first mistake. But I don't know how those things can be improved, or made less difficult.

Quote
So over  few days, for the timing I practised tapping my hands, a couple of counting approaches; also worked on the hand motion, made sure fingering was consistent.  Short focused bursts.   10 minutes on a specific problem, knowing how you will be working and why; then let go and do something else.
10 minutes (or 5 minutes, etc) at a time seems like an important aspect of self-discipline—I've found I do have a tendency to spend an hour trying to practice one section, just out of sheer frustration at not being able to do it perfectly the first time, and by the end usually feel I'm playing worse than I was at the start.

Quote
You may need to schedule yourself to make sure you practise every day, and just make sure you do it.  But if results come in, that starts to be motivating. 
My experience is that (at least at whatever level I'm at) results don't come in in a way that's noticeable. My playing of Op. 109 for example has improved over time, but I can only hear the improvement by comparing a recording from last month with a recording from six months ago.

I also only practice about once every two or three weeks at this point which is not ideal, but finding a way to not get discouraged so easily will probably help me increase that.

You might want to take a look at this:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JUMdlbVJ8KQ
This is also helpful, thanks.

You have listed a number of activities associated with the study of music, all of them beneficial.  However, practice at the instrument seems to be disheartening to you.  A question to ask yourself is: what stimulus do all these other activities provide to you that practice does not?
I suppose because I generally like pieces of music in their entirety, not bleeding chunks thereof.

Quote
Do you really repeat something 50-100 times?
No, but I've always heard that I should. (I usually get bored after 10 or 15 repetitions)

Quote
Practice should never be boring, and if it is such, something needs to change.  If you are not engaging with your practice material, you are likely not benefiting as much as you can from your practice session. 
Yes, what I'm looking for is ideas to make it less boring.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #5 on: December 26, 2020, 01:44:24 PM
How does one develop the self-discipline to practice the piano daily....
When I teach people who have major difficulties with this I tell them to start somewhere else rather than piano. Start doing something every day that is not normally included in your routine. An exercise routine is a good idea as it will benefit your physical health and train your mental discipline. There is no secret about it, enforce a time which you will practice the piano, ideally that is a daily effort but not everyone can manage that but you can build from somewhere. Start with a very small amount, even  something ridiculous like 1 minute a day, you can easily build from there at least and determine some kind of increment that suits you.

what is effective practice?
That is a very loaded question which has a very complicated response which needs to be personalized according to your capabilities. Effective practice produces noticeable improvement. You can measure exactly how long something might take you to master rather than it being something that requires an unknown time of brute force repetitions. The most efficient way to work with pieces is to be able to sight read it multiple times and automatically much of it becomes memorized. This usually requires that you work with pieces that is lower than your maximum technical capabilities. Improving the synergy between reading/memorization skills is the way to expand your practice efficiency.

Repetitions need to be mindful and always done in a controlled manner. That may require that you drop notes and slowly add them, or alter other parts of the music and slowly build towards the final product. It may use slower tempo controls, controlled pausing between particular patterns, writing out logical statements which allow you to understand a group of notes, observing small changes between groups, the technique found in the fingering and patterns in the fingering themselves, how to play slow but preserve fast movements, so on etc etc etc.

Efficient practice allows you to get through work without worry about the time spent. This is because you are constantly aware of improvement while you are practicing and this grabs your attention. It no longer is merely a mind numbing repeition over and over again hoping that eventually the procedure becomes easier, it may eventually work but it is just masochistic. There is also a danger that you are simply repeating in an incorrect manner so are simply lost in the techincal wilderness.

I've never completed learning a piece
Learn smaller works, not completing something you begin is a very bad habit to fall into and needs to be squashed.

but I will use for an example Beethoven Op. 109, which I'm working on at the moment. I can approach studying the piece through a number of ways: listening to and analysing in detail recordings by Artur Schnabel, Edwin Fischer and Maria Tipo; reading the musicological literature on the sonata and its origins; studying the metronome markings Beethoven gave his other compositions in order to determine what tempi are appropriate for the sonata; memorising each movement, often by splitting them up into sections (e.g. individual variations in the last movement, or exposition/development/recapitulation in the first two movements); playing through the entire piece in order to ensure the large-scale phrasing is accurate. The one thing I can't do is the one thing that I've always learned was "practicing": i.e. taking individual difficult passages, breaking them down to bars or half-bars and repeating those 50-100 times at half or quarter speed. Sometimes with variations (e.g. playing everything staccato or legato, varying accents, dynamics, etc). I don't have the patience, and as a result those passages never improve. Is there another way to practice difficult passages that can hold the attention better? And if there isn't, how does one develop the ability to tolerate the boredom + psychological difficulty of continuing to do it for weeks or months even when one doesn't improve or gets worse?
You are biting off more than you can chew. It is no wonder you feel so stressed out. Why are you submitting yourself to such large scale pieces? There is no need for this and you really should invest your time in smaller scale projects. You need to have a list of completed works which you can control with some mastery, it is no good simply thinking everything you learn is "recreating the technique wheel" and a huge grind to complete. Build your skills and you will have the tools to cut through harder works much easier.
"The biggest risk in life is to take no risk at all."
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Offline nw746

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #6 on: December 26, 2020, 04:48:22 PM
When I teach people who have major difficulties with this I tell them to start somewhere else rather than piano. Start doing something every day that is not normally included in your routine. An exercise routine is a good idea as it will benefit your physical health and train your mental discipline.
lol, I have a long abiding hatred of exercise and it would require very exceptional circumstances for me to do it in the first place. I'll try to come up with something easier though.

Quote
There is no secret about it, enforce a time which you will practice the piano, ideally that is a daily effort but not everyone can manage that but you can build from somewhere. Start with a very small amount, even  something ridiculous like 1 minute a day, you can easily build from there at least and determine some kind of increment that suits you.
When I have practiced regularly, I've usually managed an hour a day, but about half of that gets devoted to sight reading for fun. There are at the moment a few minor barriers which have prevented daily practice (i.e. I have to leave my apartment in order to do it, and ask for permission) but those can be overcome through developing a stronger commitment to practicing.

Quote
That is a very loaded question which has a very complicated response which needs to be personalized according to your capabilities. Effective practice produces noticeable improvement. You can measure exactly how long something might take you to master rather than it being something that requires an unknown time of brute force repetitions. The most efficient way to work with pieces is to be able to sight read it multiple times and automatically much of it becomes memorized. This usually requires that you work with pieces that is lower than your maximum technical capabilities. Improving the synergy between reading/memorization skills is the way to expand your practice efficiency.

Repetitions need to be mindful and always done in a controlled manner. That may require that you drop notes and slowly add them, or alter other parts of the music and slowly build towards the final product. It may use slower tempo controls, controlled pausing between particular patterns, writing out logical statements which allow you to understand a group of notes, observing small changes between groups, the technique found in the fingering and patterns in the fingering themselves, how to play slow but preserve fast movements, so on etc etc etc.
I'm not entirely sure how to apply this to my current situation but appreciate the advice—this does give me more to think about for the next time I practice.

Quote
Efficient practice allows you to get through work without worry about the time spent. This is because you are constantly aware of improvement while you are practicing and this grabs your attention. It no longer is merely a mind numbing repeition over and over again hoping that eventually the procedure becomes easier, it may eventually work but it is just masochistic. There is also a danger that you are simply repeating in an incorrect manner so are simply lost in the techincal wilderness.
Yes, I've never noticed any improvement while practicing—it usually feels like I get worse over time, because my hands get tired, or the keyboard becomes slippery due to sweat, etc. But I also do set pretty high expectations for myself.
Quote
Learn smaller works, not completing something you begin is a very bad habit to fall into and needs to be squashed.
My experience has been that although I might memorise a piece or learn it to a certain level, eventually I get stuck somewhere that I don't see improvements from repetition (e.g. can't get the Arietta of Op. 111 to be quiet enough, or can't play the fast running passages in the left hand in the last movement of Mozart's K 576, or can't play the staccatos in Mendelssohn's Op. 67 no. 2 softly enough, etc) and give up.

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You are biting off more than you can chew. It is no wonder you feel so stressed out. Why are you submitting yourself to such large scale pieces?
The thing is I don't think of 109 as a "large scale piece" (it's about 20 minutes when I play it) and it only has four or five passages that are very difficult for me. I felt it would be an easier piece that once I'd learned it I would then be able to move on to Op. 110, 111, 106 and 120, the latter two of which are genuinely large scale pieces at 35 & 55 minutes respectively, as well as technically much more challenging.

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There is no need for this and you really should invest your time in smaller scale projects. You need to have a list of completed works which you can control with some mastery, it is no good simply thinking everything you learn is "recreating the technique wheel" and a huge grind to complete. Build your skills and you will have the tools to cut through harder works much easier.
I mean, that is fair, but most of the shorter pieces I'd like to play are just as difficult or more so. For example I find more difficult passages in Ravel's Alborada del gracioso (duration 6-7 minutes) than I do in Beethoven's Op. 109, and expect to end up spending a lot more time working on it. I can't think of a lot of genuinely easy pieces that are nonetheless musically interesting enough for me to want to learn them. (The few I've considered: C Schumann Notturno op. 6 no. 2, F Chopin Mazurka op. 41 no. 1 [in c# minor], Scarlatti K 296 [though at 11-12 minutes, not that short], Janáček In the Mists [also not that short], Brahms Op. 117... basically all music on the slow and quiet side lol)

Thank you though, I'll keep thinking about this

Online brogers70

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #7 on: December 26, 2020, 05:48:52 PM
Both Josh Wright and Graham Fitch have lots of youtube videos with good suggestions for practice techniques to use to handle difficult passages.

Here's Josh Wright



Here's Graham Fitch



And here's the two of them talking about practice strategies



These are just examples - if you look around you can find more from them.

I've also seen some videos from Nahre Sol that are helpful.

All of these ideas have made practice a lot more interesting and fun for me. Before my concentration would fail after 2 or 2 and a half hours. Now I keep working away for four hours a day and go to bed thinking about what I'll get to work on in the morning.

Offline quantum

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #8 on: December 26, 2020, 11:25:34 PM
I suppose because I generally like pieces of music in their entirety, not bleeding chunks thereof.

Make an attempt to appreciate the pieces you are studying from different perspectives.  Like looking at a landscape from a distance, walking through the field of flowers, climbing the hill and looking back at where you previously stood.  Appreciate what each perspective brings to your understanding as a whole.  There is a lot more to music than admiring the polished final product.  That polished product becomes more rewarding because of the work required of you to get to that point.


No, but I've always heard that I should. (I usually get bored after 10 or 15 repetitions)

What exactly do you think of when practising and doing repetitions?  Do you set a goal before you start practising?  Do you constantly evaluate if your work is helping you get closer to your goal?  Do you achieve your goal within a reasonable time frame?

If you are just repeating something because you read somewhere it would be effective, sorry but that won't get you far.  You need to engage with your practice.  You need to have a reason for doing work.  You need to be attuned to the feedback loop of playing and evaluating. 


lol, I have a long abiding hatred of exercise and it would require very exceptional circumstances for me to do it in the first place. I'll try to come up with something easier though.

If you are using a similar mindset when it comes to practising, such may be part of the problem.  Sometimes to improve and move to the next level, we have to put aside our personal philosophies and simply make an attempt to do something different.  If it doesn't work you can always go back, but if it does work you have learned something. 

Meaning, when practising you need to make an effort to be engaged with your work.  You need to put your grand vision of the music on the shelf so it does not distract you, and focus on the  essential fundamental work that needs to be accomplished.  Repetition does not do the work for you while you observe as a third party, rather, you do the work for yourself by being an active participant. 

 
Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #9 on: December 27, 2020, 01:09:22 AM
lol, I have a long abiding hatred of exercise and it would require very exceptional circumstances for me to do it in the first place. I'll try to come up with something easier though.
All the better to start an exercise regieme :) Doing something you might not like and forcing yourself to do it is good training, you may even find you can learn to enjoy something you didn't realize you could. A large part of discipline is doing something when you don't necessarily feel like it. Simply working with only subjects that motivate and excite you is not always so good, we don't always feel on a high and we can miss out on a lot by narrowing our perspective like that.

But I also do set pretty high expectations for myself. My experience has been that although I might memorise a piece or learn it to a certain level, eventually I get stuck somewhere that I don't see improvements from repetition... and give up.
Sometimes it is a good idea to humble yourself and lower expectations so you can train with much smaller works and build your skills especially your practice method. You just can't experience it as effectively with pieces which stress out your technical capabilities or provide challenges which take extended unknown time to complete.

The thing is I don't think of 109 as a "large scale piece" (it's about 20 minutes when I play it) and it only has four or five passages that are very difficult for me.
You need to readjust your perspective I feel. Unless you are a highly experienced advanced pianist I don't think a 20 minute piece would be looked at as something that isn't large scale.

I mean, that is fair, but most of the shorter pieces I'd like to play are just as difficult or more so.....I can't think of a lot of genuinely easy pieces that are nonetheless musically interesting enough for me to want to learn them.
Have a look at the smaller etudes from composers like Heller, Burlow, Cramer, Czerny. Think pieces which are no more than 3 pages long. You need to become interested in these if you want to develop your skills effectively. Simply learning pieces with hundreds of bars of music is not a good idea. Practicing sight reading should have you learning many very small pieces every month and they should be possible to play predominantly with mastery without much effort. So here also lies a source of smaller easier pieces you should be completing every day.
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Offline quantum

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #10 on: December 27, 2020, 02:46:22 AM
I mean, that is fair, but most of the shorter pieces I'd like to play are just as difficult or more so. For example I find more difficult passages in Ravel's Alborada del gracioso (duration 6-7 minutes) than I do in Beethoven's Op. 109, and expect to end up spending a lot more time working on it. I can't think of a lot of genuinely easy pieces that are nonetheless musically interesting enough for me to want to learn them. (The few I've considered: C Schumann Notturno op. 6 no. 2, F Chopin Mazurka op. 41 no. 1 [in c# minor], Scarlatti K 296 [though at 11-12 minutes, not that short], Janáček In the Mists [also not that short], Brahms Op. 117... basically all music on the slow and quiet side lol)

I think these long extended works which you are drawn to are providing a distraction to the aspects of playing you really should be concentrating on.  There is a lot of material to work on in long advanced pieces so you are giving yourself an excuse to enjoy the piece by thinking about the work as a whole, while avoiding drilling down and doing fundamental practice work that will enable you to actually play the piece. 

Short pieces that are easily within your ability would allow you to more directly address skill building.  However, you seem to steer away from these.  Tackle your challenges directly instead of trying to find a shortcut around them.  Work on easy manageable music, even if you think it is below your level. 
Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline nw746

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #11 on: December 27, 2020, 03:37:47 AM
If you are using a similar mindset when it comes to practising, such may be part of the problem.  Sometimes to improve and move to the next level, we have to put aside our personal philosophies and simply make an attempt to do something different.  If it doesn't work you can always go back, but if it does work you have learned something. 

Meaning, when practising you need to make an effort to be engaged with your work.  You need to put your grand vision of the music on the shelf so it does not distract you, and focus on the  essential fundamental work that needs to be accomplished.  Repetition does not do the work for you while you observe as a third party, rather, you do the work for yourself by being an active participant. 
That's fair. I think my "philosophy" of practice is derived from long experience of not understanding exactly what I'm doing wrong. e.g. theoretically, the Chopin etude in thirds can be mastered by practicing each bar in the various ways Cortot prescribes, but trying that didn't get me to a point where two fingers at a time could move as a unit, and I always feel uncertain as to whether that's even a skill someone can develop as opposed to just being born with. Similarly I don't understand why my fingers trip over each other whenever I try to play faster than semiquavers at a crotchet = 120 tempo, why learning a fingering at a slow tempo never translates to knowing it at a fast one. So possibly the thing I need most of all is to learn how to identify the causes of mistakes rather than just identifying mistakes themselves.

All the better to start an exercise regieme :) Doing something you might not like and forcing yourself to do it is good training, you may even find you can learn to enjoy something you didn't realize you could. A large part of discipline is doing something when you don't necessarily feel like it. Simply working with only subjects that motivate and excite you is not always so good, we don't always feel on a high and we can miss out on a lot by narrowing our perspective like that.
I've been alive for 29 years and have never developed the capability to do things that don't motivate and excite me. If I had that capability I would obviously not need to start this thread. Behavioural motivations (e.g. rewards, positive self-talk etc) haven't been effective, nor have punishments (e.g. giving myself anxiety). I'm hoping that maybe aesthetic motivations will do the job (e.g. "if you can successfully do XYZ for a month, you will be able to play the triple trill in Beethoven's Op. 111") but so far they haven't been enough to promote discipline (e.g. because I can already fake the triple trill in the traditional manner).

Quote
You need to readjust your perspective I feel. Unless you are a highly experienced advanced pianist I don't think a 20 minute piece would be looked at as something that isn't large scale.
Have a look at the smaller etudes from composers like Heller, Burlow, Cramer, Czerny. Think pieces which are no more than 3 pages long. You need to become interested in these if you want to develop your skills effectively. Simply learning pieces with hundreds of bars of music is not a good idea. Practicing sight reading should have you learning many very small pieces every month and they should be possible to play predominantly with mastery without much effort. So here also lies a source of smaller easier pieces you should be completing every day.
I will try. Not sure about Cramer or Czerny but will look for easier pieces from the repertoire that might be of interest while also still posing one or two technical challenges.

Short pieces that are easily within your ability would allow you to more directly address skill building.  However, you seem to steer away from these.  Tackle your challenges directly instead of trying to find a shortcut around them.  Work on easy manageable music, even if you think it is below your level. 
I guess the other problem is that I don't really know what's within my ability, partly as a result of my history (many piano teachers who all taught in a highly informal and unstructured way). All my knowledge of the piano repertoire comes from listening to music and reading scores, so I don't really know what out there is "easy" or "hard" until I try to play it. I guess there's always the Bach Inventions & Sinfonias though.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #12 on: December 27, 2020, 04:28:02 AM
I've been alive for 29 years and have never developed the capability to do things that don't motivate and excite me.
When something is done well it is often unavoidably becomes somewhat enjoyable. You should challenge yourself to do things which don't motivate or excite you and really do things which benefit your life more than just useless things like practicing to stare at a wall for 2 hours a day.

I do a lot to maintain my house/land even though I don't necessarily enjoy doing it, however when I have people come over for a party or visit I can be proud to show off a neat and tidy place. It also helps declutter and organise my living space which helps me feel more relaxed when at home too. But I don't enjoy cleaning my house and keeping it all in order, I don't necessarily enjoy gardening and watering everything every day but I do it because it will provide an environment which is beneficial to me.

Most long term pianists I have taught do not only do what they enjoy, they also focus on skills that will help them even though it might not be exciting. Sight reading training is full of drudgery for example but these "boring" sessions can even become enjoyable when what you are doing flows right and feels right, doing things correct and with success can bring joy in itself no matter what the subject.
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Offline quantum

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #13 on: December 27, 2020, 04:53:43 AM
That's fair. I think my "philosophy" of practice is derived from long experience of not understanding exactly what I'm doing wrong. e.g. theoretically, the Chopin etude in thirds can be mastered by practicing each bar in the various ways Cortot prescribes, but trying that didn't get me to a point where two fingers at a time could move as a unit, and I always feel uncertain as to whether that's even a skill someone can develop as opposed to just being born with. Similarly I don't understand why my fingers trip over each other whenever I try to play faster than semiquavers at a crotchet = 120 tempo, why learning a fingering at a slow tempo never translates to knowing it at a fast one.

Learning in theory is different to learning in person.  Learning in theory allows one to explore with the perceived barrier protecting one from cost, while learning in person can be messy and frequently not ideal.  However, there comes a time when we have to make the jump to actual learning and skill development, not just what worked for somebody else on paper, but what works for us in reality. 

Learning and improving require that one make oneself vulnerable.  Some may find this more difficult than others.  You need to give yourself the permission to fail, and embrace that failure for the learning experience it provides. 

Taking the example you give above, you have to come to terms that Cortot's instructions are not enough for you to learn the technique.  You must continue the study by being engaged with both your body and your analytical senses to solve the problems you face.  Rather than hiding behind a theory that would ideally lead you to the solution, you need to tackle the problem first hand. 
Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline nw746

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #14 on: December 27, 2020, 02:15:29 PM
Thank you all for the advice.

I suspect I'm not going to get anywhere without someone pushing me, so it may be a good time to resume the search for a piano teacher, even though my living situation is still very much in flux. But some things I will try to do:

- keeping a practice diary seems like a very good idea and I'll try to do this every time I practice
- obviously, practice as often as mentally possible
- when practicing, try to focus on understanding the causes of problems, rather than simply identifying problems in the first place—perhaps diarisation will help with this
- look into shorter repertoire pieces that I can memorise in an hour or two, in order to be able to spend the bulk of my time focusing on technique & perfection
- not try to learn all 32 Beethoven sonatas in a month, or Xenakis's Herma in one six hour recording session or whatever, regardless of whether or not that's what all my professional & MMA/DMA friends can do
- consider adderall

Online brogers70

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #15 on: December 27, 2020, 05:31:30 PM
I'd add another piece of advice. Go easy on yourself. Discipline is not the problem. I doubt anybody learns to play the piano well by gritting their teeth and forcing themselves to practice for hours everyday for years against their own inclinations. If you see somebody practicing a lot and consistently over the long term, you may think it takes a lot of discipline, but it doesn't. What it means is that they basically like to practice and they do it enough that they've ingrained a habit of doing it, and that habit will carry them through the occasional period when they don't feel particularly motivated.

So if you very frequently feel uninterested in practicing, it's not more discipline you need. You just need to find ways to make practicing more enjoyable and engaging. I'd seriously suggest looking at some of those Josh Wright or Graham Fitch videos - they are full of creative approaches to practicing that may make it more interesting for you. And of you find late Beethoven sonatas to be not particularly technically challenging, and Janacek's In the Mist (particularly the 2nd and 4th movements) to be pretty easy, then you are certainly already at a pretty high level. There are almost certainly ways to practice that you'll find more fun that what you're doing now.

Offline quantum

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #16 on: December 27, 2020, 10:39:27 PM
- when practicing, try to focus on understanding the causes of problems, rather than simply identifying problems in the first place—perhaps diarisation will help with this

Following that, work out a solution with your body.  Don't spend all your practice session in your head space, you need to get out into your physical space.  Again, you need give yourself permission to become vulnerable.   Understanding the cause of the problem is only part of the workflow, what comes next is translating that knowledge into something your body can use when playing.


- look into shorter repertoire pieces that I can memorise in an hour or two, in order to be able to spend the bulk of my time focusing on technique & perfection

Focus on improvement not perfection.  From what you have written, it seems that you are already somewhat of a perfectionist, and if so, there is no need to drive yourself further in that direction.  Excessive perfectionism can be a form of distraction.  What you need is momentum to keep going, despite the urge to make everything perfect before moving to the next step.  Goals can help with this.  Have the discipline to tackle your goals, and also have the discipline to stop once the goal is achieved.

I think you should be choosing pieces that you can learn in several days worth of practice sessions.  Don't try to devour an entire piece in a single practice session.  You don't have to do it all in one sitting.  If you leave a defined goal for the next day, you will also have something to look forward to practising the next day. 
Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline Bob

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #17 on: December 27, 2020, 10:41:55 PM
Just glancing at the post, but it sounds like you're answering your own questions.

Develop self discipline.

Make sure the practice is effective.  Don't just put in time (although I think some activity, some repetition is good which is putting in time.  It keeps skills alive even if they're not used in a piece.).

Goal -- Complete a piece.

Either finish the piece off or prep it up as much as you can for your technical limits. 

A teacher can help, but if you're doing it all yourself that's more difficult for working on a piece (unless a teacher would handfeed you).  You get more engrained doing things yourself, but it can take longer and be less efficient than using a teacher.

I've heard of people varying things with a piece, but people who I've met in person always seem to have a final vision of a piece and work solely toward that.  People who work in an ensemble situation talk about being more prepared to vary things like articulation so they're ready for whatever the ensemble needs.


I would say in general "have goals."  That focusing attention and it makes the practicing more effective.  Also throw in some repetition though because staying in shape is needed too.  You could vary some things to make it more interesting, like varying the repetition -- ex. same pattern, different keys, 30 times.  It still benefits the piece but you're not hammering away on the same things over and over.

Boredom?  I haven't found a great solution for that.  If attention isn't needed, I've done things like watch tv, read a book/newspaper, etc.  There is some amount of attention you can force on things, but it's finite.  Taking breaks can help but it's still wearing down willpower.  In terms of progress, some things are like scaling a mountain.  It's straight up.  Progress is that slow or it's pretty much impossible for now.  If there really is no progress, I'd find something that's easier and more of a doable challenge.
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Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #18 on: December 28, 2020, 02:54:04 AM
I'd add another piece of advice. Go easy on yourself. Discipline is not the problem.
Sort of is the problem since the OP admits he never completes pieces. I guess it is being too hard on himself choosing pieces too large scale to complete in time thus the discipline he has is not up to match the difficulty of his chosen works.

I doubt anybody learns to play the piano well by gritting their teeth and forcing themselves to practice for hours everyday for years against their own inclinations. If you see somebody practicing a lot and consistently over the long term, you may think it takes a lot of discipline, but it doesn't.
I don't know about that, you can't just work off your own self motivation and high spirits to drive you work. You do need to bunker down and work hard even during the times you might not totally feel like it. This is at least what higher level pianists I know do, I don't know any personally who don't practice hard and just produce wonderful results that is just not very normal at all but I have heard people admit this is what they do (and I guess we have to believe that without real evidence).
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Offline nw746

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #19 on: December 28, 2020, 07:09:54 AM
I'd add another piece of advice. Go easy on yourself. Discipline is not the problem. I doubt anybody learns to play the piano well by gritting their teeth and forcing themselves to practice for hours everyday for years against their own inclinations.
That's what the professionals I know do—of course they have some initial inclination or drive to become a qualified pianist, but no one feels that way every single day, & yet it is every single day that they sit down to practice for 2-8 hours if they are normal or 10-15 minutes if they are extremely famous.

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If you see somebody practicing a lot and consistently over the long term, you may think it takes a lot of discipline, but it doesn't. What it means is that they basically like to practice and they do it enough that they've ingrained a habit of doing it, and that habit will carry them through the occasional period when they don't feel particularly motivated.
I guess that's fair.

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So if you very frequently feel uninterested in practicing, it's not more discipline you need. You just need to find ways to make practicing more enjoyable and engaging. I'd seriously suggest looking at some of those Josh Wright or Graham Fitch videos - they are full of creative approaches to practicing that may make it more interesting for you.
Yes, I also appreciated the video where the pianist came up with impromptu new compositions that exercised the same figuration she was working on—something with a storied history in classical music obviously, going back at least to the Heller studies on Chopin.

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And of you find late Beethoven sonatas to be not particularly technically challenging, and Janacek's In the Mist (particularly the 2nd and 4th movements) to be pretty easy, then you are certainly already at a pretty high level.
There are some severe technical difficulties for me in the late Beethoven sonatas, but they are in isolated spots and usually fall into three categories: fast running passages in the left hand, double notes, and retaining complete control of the sound at the softest possible dynamic level. I guess I think of them as "less difficult" because most of the bars don't need to be practiced, as opposed to the Hammerklavier or a Chopin etude where almost every bar will be difficult.

Following that, work out a solution with your body.  Don't spend all your practice session in your head space, you need to get out into your physical space.  Again, you need give yourself permission to become vulnerable.   Understanding the cause of the problem is only part of the workflow, what comes next is translating that knowledge into something your body can use when playing.
I'd appreciate an example because I'm not exactly sure what you mean by this.

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Focus on improvement not perfection.  From what you have written, it seems that you are already somewhat of a perfectionist,
That's definitely true, lol

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I think you should be choosing pieces that you can learn in several days worth of practice sessions.  Don't try to devour an entire piece in a single practice session.  You don't have to do it all in one sitting.  If you leave a defined goal for the next day, you will also have something to look forward to practising the next day. 
Worth noting that, as a semi-professional composer, I do have pretty highly developed aural and memory skills. For me learning a piece just means committing to memory all of the notes and expressive markings at the correct tempo, etc. Actually getting the notes under my fingers (probably what other people mean when they talk about learning a piece) takes an order of magnitude longer. So if I've memorised a piece in an hour or so, it will probably then take a few more days of sustained practice before I have a sense for how it needs to be played & can be able to convey this through physical actions. And then from there on it's spot practice of difficult sections for months, years etc. This disconnect is obviously quite frustrating, arguably more so than it would be if I actually had worse memory skills and had to learn pieces line by line over a longer period of time.

Obviously, this is where I give up: I have memorised the entire piece, I know how to play most of it, but there are a few sections that never come together, and then because I spend too much time repeating those sections, the whole thing generally lacks polish and certainly lacks technical accuracy. I don't consider any piece finished until it can be played without any errors (there's obviously also interpretation and musicality and "soul" etc but those are not generally difficult for me). It's impatience mostly, combined with perfectionism and a lack of grounding in the fundamentals, I guess.

I would say in general "have goals."  That focusing attention and it makes the practicing more effective.  Also throw in some repetition though because staying in shape is needed too.  You could vary some things to make it more interesting, like varying the repetition -- ex. same pattern, different keys, 30 times.  It still benefits the piece but you're not hammering away on the same things over and over.

Boredom?  I haven't found a great solution for that.  If attention isn't needed, I've done things like watch tv, read a book/newspaper, etc.  There is some amount of attention you can force on things, but it's finite.  Taking breaks can help but it's still wearing down willpower.  In terms of progress, some things are like scaling a mountain.  It's straight up.  Progress is that slow or it's pretty much impossible for now.  If there really is no progress, I'd find something that's easier and more of a doable challenge.
What I usually do when I get bored while practicing is take a break in order to sightread through something else. That's probably not ideal either but at least it keeps me at the piano.

Online brogers70

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #20 on: December 28, 2020, 11:00:07 AM
Sort of is the problem since the OP admits he never completes pieces. I guess it is being too hard on himself choosing pieces too large scale to complete in time thus the discipline he has is not up to match the difficulty of his chosen works.
I don't know about that, you can't just work off your own self motivation and high spirits to drive you work. You do need to bunker down and work hard even during the times you might not totally feel like it. This is at least what higher level pianists I know do, I don't know any personally who don't practice hard and just produce wonderful results that is just not very normal at all but I have heard people admit this is what they do (and I guess we have to believe that without real evidence).

You seem not to have read my whole post. At least you didn't quote the part in which I answer the objection you raise here. Of course you have to work hard. But nobody can force themselves to work hard for years *against their own inclinations.* Also nobody can work only on the basis of transient enthusiasms, either. People who succeed at it, though, largely enjoy what they are doing; on the basis of that enjoyment they form a habit of regular, good practice; and they use that habit to get them through the occasional times that their motivation falls off. If someone is frequently unmotivated to practice, not just occasionally, then the answer is not better self-discipline, but an approach to practice that is more interesting and engaging.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #21 on: December 28, 2020, 11:17:39 AM
You seem not to have read my whole post. At least you didn't quote the part in which I answer the objection you raise here.
I don't see how it would have changed my response though outherwise I would have quoted it too.

Of course you have to work hard. But nobody can force themselves to work hard for years *against their own inclinations.* Also nobody can work only on the basis of transient enthusiasms, either. People who succeed at it, though, largely enjoy what they are doing; on the basis of that enjoyment they form a habit of regular, good practice; and they use that habit to get them through the occasional times that their motivation falls off.
Forming good practice habits certainly has study which is full of drudgery. For example improving your sight reading to improve your practice method. You need to act against only studying what might excite you and also make time for things which are good and beneficial for your development even though you might not enjoy it. Once you start doing things successfully you can learn to enjoy even these things that you originally didn't.

The amount of "forcing" yourself to do activities you don't enjoy depends on how much you can subject yourself to, of course you don't want to so an amount that sucks up all the enjoyment you possibly can have however to avoid it altogether a bad decision especially if those activities are highly beneficial for you. Even the act of sitting on the piano and practicing a passage when you don't really feel like practicing is a good habit to get into, sometimes after a few minutes you can get into "the zone" and do productive work. To only go onto the piano when you are inspired or want to will leave you with an erratic practice routine.


If someone is frequently unmotivated to practice, not just occasionally, then the answer is not better self-discipline, but an approach to practice that is more interesting and engaging.
This seems to be the answer but I have found in practice that it only offers short term solutions. When I teach students who only function when they are studying something that excites them these students usually lose inspiration to play piano some way down the track since their insatiable need for excitement eventually comes to an end when reality strikes how they have to get there. Sure we can study all the pieces that excite them and they can achieve it, but what if what they want requires a building up on skills which needs a path that includes music that they might not be so excited about? If they cannot subject themselves to that they are really in a losing position especially if they have works which are beyond their ability but they pigheadedly only want to study those works too hard for them because it excites them.

When I teach kids who don't want to learn piano there really is nothing I can give them that will excite them enough to practice. They'd much prefer to play video games or play with their friends. As a teacher then I need to set them up to succeed so that the activity of practicing the piano is not frustrating and they can accomplish the work set for themselves easily enough. Then we push their discipline and increase work loads, this is done differently for everyone. If I merely stick with what the student enjoys and is happy with we will be stuck in the same place for years on end, I need to push them to develop and people who study the piano themselves need to do the same. This means going out of your comfort zones, challenging and expanding you abilities as a whole, it has much to do with how they approach life itself really. It is no mistake that the students I teach who get all A's in school do very well in piano too, that is not because they are talented at music but because of their work ethic. Everyone should strive for that since it will reveal their best capabilities, we are unfortunately prone to being as still as a rock, that's comfortable afterall. 
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Offline quantum

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #22 on: December 28, 2020, 11:37:53 AM
I'd appreciate an example because I'm not exactly sure what you mean by this.

You seem to enjoy thinking things out, nothing wrong with that.  However, playing piano is as much a physical activity as a mental one.  You can't solve all problems in the security of your mind.  That is what I mean by transferring the problem from your head space, to your physical space. 

Say you had a difficult passage in a Chopin Etude where you were working out fingering.  You did your research, you read Cortot, you read how people solved it in online forums, you watch videos of people playing it.  However, you still need to work it out for yourself at the keyboard, using your body, being attentive to the feedback loop of output and response.  You need the physical interaction with the instrument to complete the solution to your problem.  You need the focus to shift from mind to body. 

Worth noting that, as a semi-professional composer, I do have pretty highly developed aural and memory skills. For me learning a piece just means committing to memory all of the notes and expressive markings at the correct tempo, etc. Actually getting the notes under my fingers (probably what other people mean when they talk about learning a piece) takes an order of magnitude longer. So if I've memorised a piece in an hour or so, it will probably then take a few more days of sustained practice before I have a sense for how it needs to be played & can be able to convey this through physical actions. And then from there on it's spot practice of difficult sections for months, years etc.

That makes it more understandable why you are attracted to such large musical works. 

But why devote such energy at the beginning stages of a piece to commit it to memory?  Have you ever considered tackling the technical and physical aspects of a piece before committing to memory?  It is often beneficial to take on the most difficult parts of the music first, then work toward the easier aspects.  What might even be happening is that you are ingraining technical faults into your playing by memorizing them first, then struggling against your memory when you try to work at the passage at a later point in time.  The work on the playing aspect of the music grinds to a crawl because you have committed technical inefficiencies into memory.  It would be much better to work out the physical aspects of playing first, then commit to memory ones those are sorted out. 

Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Online brogers70

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #23 on: December 28, 2020, 11:40:19 AM
I don't see how it would have changed my response though outherwise I would have quoted it too.
Forming good practice habits certainly has study which is full of drudgery. For example improving your sight reading to improve your practice method. You need to act against only studying what might excite you and also make time for things which are good and beneficial for your development even though you might not enjoy it. Once you start doing things successfully you can learn to enjoy even these things that you originally didn't.

Yes, you learn to enjoy things that might have seemed like drudgery. And when you've learned to find interesting ways to enjoy all sorts of things that seem like drudgery,  someone looking from the outside may think you are extremely self-disciplined, forcing yourself through hours of drudgery. But that's not what's happened. What's happened is that you used a basic, modest amount of commitment to get you to stick with something long enough to find creative ways of thinking about and enjoying what you are doing.


The amount of "forcing" yourself to do activities you don't enjoy depends on how much you can subject yourself to, of course you don't want to so an amount that sucks up all the enjoyment you possibly can have however to avoid it altogether a bad decision especially if those activities are highly beneficial for you. Even the act of sitting on the piano and practicing a passage when you don't really feel like practicing is a good habit to get into, sometimes after a few minutes you can get into "the zone" and do productive work. To only go onto the piano when you are inspired or want to will leave you with an erratic practice routine.

Yes, as I said, I agree that you cannot succeed just based on transient enthusiasm. I don't believe I ever suggested that you should only practice what spontaneously excites you. What I suggested is that if you are stuck and unmotivated, you're probably going to get farther by finding more interesting and creative ways to practice than by gritting your teeth and forcing yourself to go back to doing things the way that left you unmotivated in the first place. A person, for example, who figures out ways to make working on clean, fast, pearly scales fun and interesting, is going to make faster progress, and be happier, than someone who dutifully and mindlessly grinds through 30 minutes of scales and arpeggios every day while he daydreams of playing Opus 111.
 

This seems to be the answer but I have found in practice that it only offers short term solutions. When I teach students who only function when they are studying something that excites them these students usually lose inspiration to play piano some way down the track since their insatiable need for excitement eventually comes to an end when reality strikes how they have to get there. Sure we can study all the pieces that excite them and they can achieve it, but what if what they want requires a building up on skills which needs a path that includes music that they might not be so excited about? If they cannot subject themselves to that they are really in a losing position especially if they have works which are beyond their ability but they pigheadedly only want to study those works too hard for them because it excites them.

Well, they may be doomed. But I think it's a better approach to try to find them ways in which building up skills is interesting and enjoyable - it certainly can be. There may be people recalcitrant even to that approach, people with totally unrealistic expectations, but I doubt they'll be helped by just being told they need to suck it up, either.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #24 on: December 28, 2020, 12:05:50 PM
Yes, you learn to enjoy things that might have seemed like drudgery. And when you've learned to find interesting ways to enjoy all sorts of things that seem like drudgery,  someone looking from the outside may think you are extremely self-disciplined, forcing yourself through hours of drudgery. But that's not what's happened. What's happened is that you used a basic, modest amount of commitment to get you to stick with something long enough to find creative ways of thinking about and enjoying what you are doing.
Right, one needs to be wary that they give something that might not be so interesting for them a chance and when they are successful in doing it it can become quite enjoyable. Even if it doesn't it will prove an application which is very helpful for your development, this should provide enough interest to stick with it.

Yes, as I said, I agree that you cannot succeed just based on transient enthusiasm. I don't believe I ever suggested that you should only practice what spontaneously excites you. What I suggested is that if you are stuck and unmotivated, you're probably going to get farther by finding more interesting and creative ways to practice than by gritting your teeth and forcing yourself to go back to doing things the way that left you unmotivated in the first place.
It does help to do things which you find joy in or at least understand its application which will benefit you. In the end if what gets you to sit on the piano is excitement or urge to practice and that is your sole motivator, well I don't think that will last long, inspiration just doesn't burn that long or strong enough. You need to be able to get onto that piano and practice when you don't want to, especially in the situation of the Op who is playing fairly substantial works. The discipline for concert stage pieces requires you to sacrifice otherwise your output is merely fleeting inspiration with little discipline to control your estimated playing.

Changing someones direction in their approach to their music studies however is not as easy as it seems. People get invested with certain works and ways of learning that if they then are told they need to sacrifice their babies and focus their attention elsewhere, they will put up resistance in some way. They may not be open to change what they do and instead what to carry on exactly as they are going but be armed with tools to more effectively get through what they are already working on. Unfortunately to develop tools often requires that you take other paths to develop then come back to your original plans. It can be a very complicated procedure which requires years of small adjustment with some students.

A person, for example, who figures out ways to make working on clean, fast, pearly scales fun and interesting, is going to make faster progress, and be happier, than someone who dutifully and mindlessly grinds through 30 minutes of scales and arpeggios every day while he daydreams of playing Opus 111.
I'm not sure what you are saying here.  Making studying scales arpeggios fun and interesting is better than someone who mindlessly grinds through it? Well mindless is never a good idea everything you do needs some kind of reason and goal in mind. How do you make studying scales and arpeggios fun, I don't know about that one, studying technical patterns is not the most interesting thing you can do, it is of course helpful and should be studied. Knowing how to disect the scales/arpeggios and pull out relevant fingering information is probably the most interest you will gain from them and then finding the application to actual pieces since why study them if you never play pieces which contain it?

Well, they may be doomed. But I think it's a better approach to try to find them ways in which building up skills is interesting and enjoyable - it certainly can be. There may be people recalcitrant even to that approach, people with totally unrealistic expectations, but I doubt they'll be helped by just being told they need to suck it up, either.
Learning the piano needs to be understood is not always fun, it is hard work and comes with a lot of frustrations. I don't want my students to think that because they are not enjoying an activity that something is wrong and it should be avoided. In fact studying piano requires that you actually submit yourself to practice when you don't want to, that is a good skill to get good at for life as you will be able to take on more responsibilities and experience much in life. In the end however if they are not learning and progressing something is wrong and if they cannot find any enjoyment at all then something is certainly wrong.
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Offline nw746

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #25 on: December 29, 2020, 02:55:15 AM
You seem to enjoy thinking things out, nothing wrong with that.  However, playing piano is as much a physical activity as a mental one.  You can't solve all problems in the security of your mind.  That is what I mean by transferring the problem from your head space, to your physical space. 

Say you had a difficult passage in a Chopin Etude where you were working out fingering.  You did your research, you read Cortot, you read how people solved it in online forums, you watch videos of people playing it.  However, you still need to work it out for yourself at the keyboard, using your body, being attentive to the feedback loop of output and response.  You need the physical interaction with the instrument to complete the solution to your problem.  You need the focus to shift from mind to body. 
That makes sense, I think.

The only real tool I have to understand my body is pain; if something hurts, stop doing it, or find a different way. Otherwise, when I play things, the only thing I'm conscious of is whether the results are correct or incorrect. If the latter, and there is no pain or stiffness etc, I usually don't understand exactly why the results are incorrect. A year or two ago I would have said it's because I don't have sufficient control over my fingers, but that in turn has its own cause which I'm unaware of (according to videos posted here & elsewhere, level of finger control is in turn extremely dependent on hand, wrist & arm position and even things like how close or far away from the piano you're sitting, how high or low your bench is, etc).

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But why devote such energy at the beginning stages of a piece to commit it to memory?  Have you ever considered tackling the technical and physical aspects of a piece before committing to memory?
It isn't a huge amount of energy, but honestly, that might be a better idea. I'll definitely try it with the next piece I learn.

It does help to do things which you find joy in or at least understand its application which will benefit you. In the end if what gets you to sit on the piano is excitement or urge to practice and that is your sole motivator, well I don't think that will last long, inspiration just doesn't burn that long or strong enough. You need to be able to get onto that piano and practice when you don't want to, especially in the situation of the Op who is playing fairly substantial works. The discipline for concert stage pieces requires you to sacrifice otherwise your output is merely fleeting inspiration with little discipline to control your estimated playing.

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Learning the piano needs to be understood is not always fun, it is hard work and comes with a lot of frustrations. I don't want my students to think that because they are not enjoying an activity that something is wrong and it should be avoided. In fact studying piano requires that you actually submit yourself to practice when you don't want to, that is a good skill to get good at for life as you will be able to take on more responsibilities and experience much in life. In the end however if they are not learning and progressing something is wrong and if they cannot find any enjoyment at all then something is certainly wrong.
I generally agree with all of this. Playing the piano is only "fun" (or worth doing in general, I would argue) if you have complete mastery of whatever you are playing. Otherwise it is intensely frustrating, because you often know exactly what a piece should sound like, but you can't physically realise that sound, or not completely. And getting to the point of complete mastery requires many thousands of hours of hard and unrewarding work. At a beginner level, and perhaps also once you reach a very high level, practice can be its own reward, because you can hear improvements immediately. But for those of us somewhere in the middle, though various strategies to make practice more fun can potentially help (I'm not sure—I'll try them), it's something that requires... well... discipline. You have to have the ability to work even in the absence of motivation.

That is, ultimately, what I'm asking for help with. I can't work at all unless something is of continuing interest to me or unless I'm forced to by intense anxiety or other external pressures (and in the latter case, the quality of the work is not good, which is why I don't just schedule a recital for myself in one month from now and hope that the anxiety and public pressure somehow substitutes for years of training). I've never been able to hold down a job, or clean my own living space regularly, or exercise regularly, or maintain friendships, or complete schoolwork in subjects that were uninteresting to me, etc. This is a lifelong problem for me and one that needs to be solved. I'm focusing on learning discipline within the context of piano playing because I am very deeply engaged with classical music and therefore I think it's a context where an attempt to learn discipline would have the most success. I just don't know how to acquire the ability to work without motivation if you're born without that ability, and that's what I'm asking for help with.

Online brogers70

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #26 on: December 29, 2020, 12:04:57 PM

I generally agree with all of this. Playing the piano is only "fun" (or worth doing in general, I would argue) if you have complete mastery of whatever you are playing. Otherwise it is intensely frustrating, because you often know exactly what a piece should sound like, but you can't physically realise that sound, or not completely. And getting to the point of complete mastery requires many thousands of hours of hard and unrewarding work. At a beginner level, and perhaps also once you reach a very high level, practice can be its own reward, because you can hear improvements immediately. But for those of us somewhere in the middle, though various strategies to make practice more fun can potentially help (I'm not sure—I'll try them), it's something that requires... well... discipline. You have to have the ability to work even in the absence of motivation.

That is, ultimately, what I'm asking for help with. I can't work at all unless something is of continuing interest to me or unless I'm forced to by intense anxiety or other external pressures (and in the latter case, the quality of the work is not good, which is why I don't just schedule a recital for myself in one month from now and hope that the anxiety and public pressure somehow substitutes for years of training). I've never been able to hold down a job, or clean my own living space regularly, or exercise regularly, or maintain friendships, or complete schoolwork in subjects that were uninteresting to me, etc. This is a lifelong problem for me and one that needs to be solved. I'm focusing on learning discipline within the context of piano playing because I am very deeply engaged with classical music and therefore I think it's a context where an attempt to learn discipline would have the most success. I just don't know how to acquire the ability to work without motivation if you're born without that ability, and that's what I'm asking for help with.

One thing you could try is to break down big goals into lots of little ones. Complete mastery of a major, virtuoso work is a huge goal, and as you say, it takes lots of work and lots of time. For me, the only way to enjoy the process of doing all that work is to focus on a long series of small goals. So, examples from a piece I'm working on. In the Brahms left hand alone arrangement of the Bach Chaconne there's a long section of wide, awkward arpeggios in different formations. That whole section, never mind the whole piece, is a big bit of work, frustrating if I think too much about the whole mass of it. So I pick a couple of bars and the difficult arps in those bars and think of as many ways as possible to work on them, ultra slow, finger staccato, isolating the longest jumps, improvising with other chords in similar formations, paying attention to what feels best, most comfortable and easiest, doing thing to make the passage harder, like putting the top note of an arpeggio an octave higher, so the leap is super difficult and so once I can do that, the original is easy by contrast. After doing that for 4 twenty minute sessions spaced out over a week I've got that particular passage to the point where it feels easy and comfortable. But the main point is that I don't bang my head against the wall thinking that simple repetition of the difficult bit will fix the problem, and I make my goal small enough that I can achieve it and get a psychological boost. Since I'm retired and have 4 hours a day to practice, I can fill up that time will lots of similar little goals that take 20 minutes a day over a few days or a week, to see some concrete success, multiple little successes each day.

You seem to like thinking about problems in detail. That's what this approach involves. You pick a small, limited, technical problem, and try to invent a bunch of different creative ways to approach it. I don't think it's so much a question of forcing yourself to work without motivation as it is a question of learning to find things to motivate yourself with, in the short term, other than the ideal of complete mastery.

Offline ranjit

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #27 on: December 29, 2020, 07:02:37 PM
I generally agree with all of this. Playing the piano is only "fun" (or worth doing in general, I would argue) if you have complete mastery of whatever you are playing. Otherwise it is intensely frustrating, because you often know exactly what a piece should sound like, but you can't physically realise that sound, or not completely.
I just wanted to pitch in to say that even the intermediate revelations which produce improvements in your sound production can also feel inherently rewarding. I'm not a particularly advanced player myself, but I have often spent a couple of days thinking about how to generate a certain sound or produce a certain effect. Then, when it "clicks" (which does not mean that I'm playing as well as I can hear it in my head!), it is inherently rewarding. I've found being immersed in a state of flow to also be inherently rewarding.

Mindless repetition isn't fun, and I've never really found it necessary or useful in my learning until now. I think that mindless repetition can actually be a hindrance to produce the kind of spontaneity in terms of technique which is imperative to be able to play convincingly. At least, that has been true in my experience. I have had times where I was playing octaves for 30 minutes straight because I was trying to figure out the 'bounce' required to play them quickly and efficiently. It was exhilarating -- at the end of the session, I was playing them faster and with more control, and overall it felt better and more ergonomic. At the end, I videotaped what I was doing, in order to go back and figure out what I had been doing which made the difference.

Anyway, that's my personal experience with practice. Make of it what you will.

Offline csindell

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Re: Self-discipline; or, how to practice
Reply #28 on: December 29, 2020, 07:32:42 PM
As an avid amateur I have tried most everything possible to practice effectively, including most systems, practice planners, notebooks, planning lists, etc.  Sometimes I have spent more time getting ready to practice than actually practicing.  Of course, it all fails.  I have found that sticking to the music is the only effective system, and limiting greatly the number of pieces I am working on. I keep my current projects in one notebook and play them everyday in the am, which is productive for me. Also, don't work on pieces that are too hard and keep you frustrated. That is a killer for productivity. Break the pieces up, HS, HT, sections.  Most important, identify the areas that always slow you down and work on just that! I put a red dot next to these "fractures" and play those measures exclusively on many practice days.  So, play pieces you really enjoy, not too much over your skill level, and conquer the hard parts thoroughly before working on the whole piece.  I also stay away from very fast tempos as these require more time and there are too many lovely solos that are at easier tempos.  AND SLOW PRACTICE...if you are making mistakes you are playing too fast and you will never master it. Remember, it is too hard until it becomes easy and that comes from slow practice.  When your practice tempo is holding you back you are ready to increase the tempo, not before.  Good luck to us all!
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