I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy. – Marie Curie
You’re a musician; you understand the struggle to make progress.
You practice every day and try hard to improve. But you’re not certain if things are actually getting better. Perhaps the same issues crop up over and over. Or despite years of study, you don’t really have any music you feel you can play.
Are you making progress? Are you moving toward a higher musical plane, or are you spinning your wheels?
We all understand the loose nature of progress when it comes to music. There’s no simple metric to measure where you are or how far you’ve come. There’s no litmus test for each day’s practice session; if the trip turns blue, you made progress but if the strip turns red, you wasted your time. Thank goodness that litmus test hasn’t been invented!
I think that we feel progress primarily in that feeling of satisfaction that we get from seeing our hard work get results. When we are practicing well and achieving our goals, we sense that we are on the right path.
But when progress feels elusive, we start to lose energy for practice which can be the start of a “slippery slope.” We lose momentum and feel disheartened.
So one of the keys to progress lies in doing the right things to sustain your motivation and keep you energized to practice and play. And I have 3 simple suggestions for staying energized and on the path of progress.
Let’s count them down…
Tip #3: Keep connected.
You will stay inspired when you are in regular communication with friends, colleagues who provide support and encouragement. Keep in the loop by attending concerts, workshops and gatherings that give you fresh ideas.
Tip #2: Do consistent practice.
If every day doesn’t fit your schedule, that’s okay, but cram practice once a week will only keep the rust from forming. It’s not a path to progress. Even finding 15 minutes in the morning before work will help maintain progress. My favorite trick? Don’t do the dinner dishes until after you do some practice. You’ll get your practice in and just maybe someone else will decide to help you out with the dishes.
And the number 1 tip…
Tip #1: Build benchmarks.
This is the missing piece for many musicians. Those big goals and dreams we have can seem elusive and distant. If we create benchmarks along the way to those goals, however, we can see progress. Even better, we can celebrate those wins along the way, which serves to keep our energy level up and motivate us to work toward the next benchmark.
- Do you have a monster piece you want to play? Learn the first page.
- Do you want to play a program of music? Start by playing one piece.
- Do you want a more fluid technique? Set a goal tempo for your scales.
In each of these scenarios, once you have accomplished that first step, the next one is clear and not so overwhelming.
It’s that old saw again: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
And that’s the key to progress. It happens one small step at a time: one practice session, one new piece learned, one technical skill mastered.
A final thought from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:
We live in this world in order always to learn industriously and to enlighten each other by means of discussion and to strive vigorously to promote the progress of science and the fine arts.