Tag Archives: skiing

Practice Makes Perfect? It Depends.

Bulletproof Musician recently wrote this insightful blog post about how to practice effectively.  Perhaps surprisingly, the most important factor doesn’t turn out to be length of practice time, or making few mistakes to begin with.  Rather, improvement made during practice depends on how mistakes are addressed.

Progress appears to hinge on the proportion of times that a passage is played correctly.  Musicians who stop immediately to understand and correct mistakes, drilling the same passage at a slower tempo until they have mastered it, do best.  Those who plow through without taking time to understand the exact nature of the mistake do not fare as well.

This may sound like a basic insight, and it is indeed straightforward.  It surprises me, though, that practice length and willpower (a limited resource) are relatively unimportant.  Rather, awareness, focus, and corrective action are paramount.  If our brains don’t consciously understand what mistake was made, we’ll continue to repeat it.  Only by slowing down and figuring it out will we correct it.

I am an imperfect student of the organ, which has become my favorite instrument.  I have alternated between taking lessons with a very accomplished organist (and very talented teacher) and studying on my own; currently I do the latter.  When I practice, I have some structures in place to keep me honest, such as tracking length of time and the pieces that I practice in a notebook.

I do repeat difficult passages several times, often playing just the pedals, then adding one hand at a time.  I do slow down the tempo so my brain can process what I’m doing wrong, and correct it.

However, full disclosure:  I don’t do these things consistently.  It can be tempting and way too much fun to zoom through Bach preludes & fugues as though skiing on a black diamond.  If I wipe out, I may have no idea what happened to get me there, and often little desire to be a detective about it.

I don’t want to return to the bunny slopes.  I want to go down a double black diamond again like the big kids, whether or not I’m ready for it.

Playing brings me joy.  When I practice today, it’s first and foremost because I love doing it, not because anyone is demanding that I do it.  Playing well, however, also brings me confidence and satisfaction.  My choice lies in how to preserve the joy and spontaneity of playing for fun, expression and enjoyment, at the same time challenging myself to be rigorous and set the bar high.

In July, I had an opportunity to substitute for St. Anthony’s organist and music director in Jersey City  for two weeks.  It was a memorable experience, playing sacred music in support of a full choir.  Playing with the registration to find the right mixture of sounds, choosing interludes, and conducting a cappella motets all come to mind.

What stands out the most for me, though, is that I was able to play Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G Minor as a postlude.  I wouldn’t have been able to do that six months prior.  It felt like a crown, a gift that I was able to share with others.  I wouldn’t have had that to offer if I’d only zipped down the black diamonds like a speed demon.  Methodically slowing down–having the patience, humility and trust to do so–got me to that point.

A confession–I will still play at times like a black diamond skiier.  But the more I realize I have it in my power to play well, the more I want to get curious enough to slow down and figure out the parts of a piece that are befuddling me.

My coaching practice is called Passion + Persistence for a reason.  Identifying what makes us truly alive and sticking with it (rather than getting derailed) enables us to achieve our life purpose.  In the case of music, I could have also named it Practice + Persistence–which apply to so many areas of life!

One reason that I’m challenged to write my blog as often as I did in the past is that I have many creative outlets (such as music).  I’m grateful to say that I feel fulfilled.  Yet it helps to remind myself that like music, there is no “should” about writing.  I enjoy expressing myself through both music and writing, and using them as mediums for connecting with others.

Music, writing, coaching, and connecting with people make me truly alive.  What lights you up?  I’d love to hear from you.

Warmly, Mary

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Falling Down: Adventures in Skiing

After Christmas, my husband and I went skiing for a couple of days in the Poconos.  It was our first ski trip in 7 years, so as you might expect, we didn’t instantly have our ski legs back.  In fact, as we approached the ski lift on our first time up, we were rather unceremoniously knocked to the ground when we mistimed the lift’s arrival.  Well, I think I mistimed it, moved forward too soon, and consequently knocked my husband to the ground, as well.  The guy working the lift made the rather unhelpful comment, “You’ve got to watch where you’re going.”

In spite of a rocky start, it was a wonderful chance to recharge our batteries, now that the flurry of entertaining and being entertained was over, not to mention all of the Christmastime singing and playing that comes with being musicians (6 times over 5 days)!  The Victorian-style B&B with a step-up bathtub didn’t hurt, either.  When else do I take candlelit baths?

However, I was reminded that the gifts didn’t only come when things went smoothly–when I glided down the slopes as if I had been on skis since the age of 4, like quite a few kids we saw on our trip.  The gifts also came from that small opening when things didn’t quite go according to plan, and in the ability to choose my response.

My other notable fall was one I’m proud of.  On our second day of skiing, Kevin and I were feeling pretty confident.  We had navigated all but two slopes, including several black diamonds.  We were exhilarated.  Kevin was mostly in charge of keeping track of which slopes we had skiied (I attribute it to his Master’s of Library Science degree) and shared that we hadn’t tried Mohawk, so we glided over to check it out.

It was starting to get dark.  The sky was a beautiful, deep blue.  We looked over the edge of the cliff.  It was steep.  It had moguls.  Kevin asked, “what do you think?”  I knew if I thought too much about it, I’d lose my nerve, so I said, “I’m going down,” and off I went.

I didn’t last more than 10 seconds before tumbling over a mogul (not knowing the trick was to go AROUND  it), losing a ski several feet up the slope from where I landed in the process.  No twisted ankles, only bruised pride, as other skiiers could see me from the lift above as I fumbled uphill towards my ski.

Yet I knew even in that moment this was a win.  I had ventured something difficult, and was still alive to celebrate that fact.  My fear had not held me back, and the stakes were not really that high.  (If I had feared veering into the woods, I wouldn’t have attempted it–or would have at least considered wearing a helmet!)

How many times do we not try something because we imagine it will be too hard or we’re afraid the results will be messy, imperfect?  Yet there I was, on mogul-riddled Mohawk, the sky growing ever darker, not too proud to accept help from a more experienced skiier who stopped to retrieve my ski.  He helped me reattach it, each of us clumsily balancing with our poles on the steep pitch of the mountain, then off we went our separate ways.  While I did feel slight embarrassment, I focused on my pleasure at making it down the mountain without another fall, and my gratitude for my own bravery and daring.  Not recklessness–but willingness to risk results that were uncertain, messy, an imperfect and fun adventure.

Daring in Webster’s:

1: willing to do dangerous or difficult things

2: showing a lack of fear
I think “showing” is a key word. Acting in spite of fear, not letting it dictate one’s actions.

When have you acted in spite of your fears?  I’d love to read your comments!