I love that January is the time of year for new goals and added resolve. If you are reading this blog, you probably know that taking piano lessons is the very best way to boost brain function and memory, while having fun! But you do have to play regularly to progress, and to enjoy the maximum brain benefits. Research shows that short daily practice sessions are more effective than one long weekly session. If you practice 6 days for 10 minutes a day, you’re going to learn and remember better than if you play one day for 60 minutes. Playing daily, even for a short time, is going to get you the best and quickest results. But I know how difficult it is to make the time to practice! Our Pledge To Play: 10 Minutes a Day challenge will hopefully give you that extra bit of motivation to get you to the keys. Every one who completes 30 days of practice will receive a free gift! Plus you’ll have 30 days of practice tips and motivational emails from me to keep you going. All you have to do to join is to subscribe to this blog (if you haven’t already) and write a reply such as, “I’m in!” You can find the subscription form at the bottom of this post. (Don’t worry, I won’t share your email with anyone.) You’re welcome to report on your progress and I encourage you to make comments whenever you’d like.
The NY Times recently ran an article called “Is Music The Key To Success?” The author, Joanne Lipman showed that many of the most successful Americans play instruments. Alan Greenspan (former chief of the Federal Reserve), Condoleezza Rice (former Secretary of State), Steven Spielberg (filmmaker) and Andrea Mitchell (NBC’s Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent) all play musical instruments. You have probably heard that children who study music elevate their test scores (particularly in math and including IQ) but these highly successful people are convinced that their musical training impacted their professional achievements as well.
The aforementioned luminaries plus many others that were interviewed for the article believe that the years they have spent practicing and focusing on their instrument have influenced the way that they think in general. They have learned how to attack a problem from many angles with imaginative and unconventional solutions. Neuroscientists often recommend that you hang your pictures upside down, change your furniture around and take a new route when walking or driving somewhere, to stimulate your brain to see things in a different way. Similarly, the act of learning a piano piece activates new neural pathways in the brain and sparks the senses anew each time you practice.
The high achievers in the article have learned that working hard on something such as music really does produce results. Sometimes as beginners we think we will never learn to play the piano, but when we practice, we keep improving! That helps us to build confidence in ourselves, and to recognize that we have control over what we would like to accomplish.
Billionaire hedge fund chairman Bruce Kovner says that his investing is influenced by his piano playing, as “both ‘relate to a kind of pattern recognition.’” Finding patterns in our music helps us to learn it more deeply and aids memorization.
Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft says, “music ‘reinforces your confidence in the ability to create.’” James D. Wolfensohn, the former World Bank president believes that playing an instrument restores balance to your life. Sitting down at the piano can bring back that sense of artistry and equilibrium that we sometimes lose in the course of a stressful day.
How has playing the piano influenced the way you are in the world? Have you noticed that you have increased patience and trust that your concentration and self-discipline will bring you closer to your goals? What have you noticed has changed since you have started playing the piano? I welcome your observations! With love and music, Gaili
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If you joined us, what I hope you will take with you is the habit of getting yourself to piano daily or a set number of days per week (i.e. every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 8:30 pm etc.), even if it’s only for a few minutes. Making it a habit to sit at the keys for minutes daily, practicing an exercise or working on a tricky musical passage can make a tremendous difference in your playing over time. We know that the brain remembers best that which it is exposed to daily, so if you are playing regularly, you are making the most of your brain power.
I have heard that when asked what is the secret to a happy, fulfilled life, The Dalai Lama replied, “Routines.” A routine or habit is something we do regularly, such as brushing our teeth or getting dressed in the morning. Routines might sound boring, but actually they are relaxing and can lead to creativity. Beethoven was known to count out exactly 60 coffee beans for his cup every morning before his morning walk to get his creative juices flowing. A leading psychologist of the late 19th century, William James said,
Don’t consider afresh each morning whether to work on your novel for 45 minutes before the day begins; once you’ve resolved that that’s just what you do, it’ll be far more likely to happen.
When people are ill, they often talk about wishing to return to their simple daily routines. The gifts of the normal, healthy day, are many. If you are able to tuck a little piano practice into your daily routine, you will no doubt progress faster than if you play just once per week; Daily piano playing leads to more freedom of expression and beauty.
There are many demands on our time. Besides practicing the piano we are supposed to meditate, exercise, cook healthy meals, clean ourselves and our homes, answer phone calls and emails and be social! But if we are efficient with our time and make a few priorities part of our daily routine, we can get to everything. I hope that you will make practicing the piano a priority and a joyful routine.
If you are taking piano lessons, having a practice plan could help you to reach your musical goals considerably. Might you be willing to try it for even a week just to see if you accomplish more than usual? When we were in school we had assignments with due dates and deadlines that we had to meet. But now as adults, we must discipline ourselves, which is not easy! Here are some suggestions for creating a practice plan:
Keep a chart- It is very satisfying to write in the number of minutes you practiced each day on a chart or calendar page. If you are really motivated, write how many minutes you spent on each piece or exercise. Bring it in to show your teacher, or if you prefer, keep it to yourself and note your progress from week to week. Do you notice a pattern? See what you were motivated to practice the most, and the least. What could you have spent more time on to further your progress? Make yourself a note to get to the things you under-practiced in the following week.
Pair your practice with an event- Rather than setting a strict time to practice, pair it with an event such as: Right after washing the dinner dishes; First thing in the morning after you get up (a great time to practice when your mind is receptive); Or just before bed (another great time to practice; the brain embeds new skills into long-term memory more easily when we go to sleep right after playing).
Form a habit- If you’re usually free on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday evenings, make those your regular practice evenings, and don’t let yourself get waylaid or distracted!
Make a plan- As best as you can, make a practice plan each week when you get home from your lesson. Determine your goals for the week. What needs increased focus? When will you fit in review? Remember to work your exercises into your plan. Exercises improve your technique and help you to understand music structure so that you can read sheet music more easily.
Of course we can’t always stick to our weekly plan, but without a plan we’re less likely to practice consistently. If you have any motivational techniques that help you get to the bench, share them with us! Sometimes the best ideas come from students.
If you are my piano student, then you review a piece at the end of each lesson, as time permits. Although piano teachers are always pushing their students to keep growing and moving on to the next challenge, we also want you to have a repertoire of pieces you can play for friends or family or for yourself whenever you feel like it.
Look through your sheet music and determine which are the popular songs or classical pieces you like the best. Put the pieces together in your binder so that you can flip to your repertoire section regularly.
Whenever you have time, practice at least one of your favorite pieces at the end of your practice session. See if you can keep at least 2 (beginners) to 5 (intermediate/advanced) pieces in rotation each month.
You will find that you will learn your piece more deeply as you review them. As professional musicians know, there is learning a piece, and there is mastering a piece. With time and review you can approach mastery, and be able to play the piece with confidence and emotion. You’ll be able to let go of reading every note, and will be able to play with ease.
Sometimes review might seem boring, but pay attention to the evolution of your piece, how your fingers begin to just know where to go, and how the sound becomes beautiful instead of labored, and hopefully you will feel inspired to continue to review.
Keep in mind that the goal is to be able to just sit down and PLAY!
How are you doing on your 10 minutes of playing per day? We are 1/3rd of the way through the pledge period! Are you finding yourself wavering a little? Are you asking yourself,
“Why do I need to practice EVERY day?”
Scientific research shows that short daily piano sessions are much more effective than one long weekly session. Your brain remembers new musical skills much better when you have daily exposure to the piano than when you spend the same amount of time once per week. If you have been playing every day for 10 minutes or more since September 15th, you are already experiencing the magic of daily practice! What improvements are you seeing in your playing? Leave a reply to this blog, or let me know next time I see you- I love to hear it!!
We don’t expect you to be able to practice daily for the rest of your life, but just for this month, keep the habit of playing every single day, even if it’s just for 10 minutes.
I’ve been thinking about the word, DETERMINATION. Here’s a definition I came up with:
Determination is the ability to persevere in spite of environmental distractions and inner resistance for the sake of an important personal goal.
If you are taking piano lessons, it is because you enjoy the sound of music and the feeling of playing the piano, or you have a mental picture of what it will feel like to someday play the way you would like to. Playing every day will get you to your musical goals much faster than playing occasionally.
Cultivating determination is a wonderful objective in and of itself. Determination is self love; it is believing that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. As the saying goes, “Whether you believe you can do it, or not, you are right!”
I have been determined to write a blog every day, to help motivate you to continue your PLEDGE TO PLAY: 10 Minutes A Day. Even if I can’t get to it until after my lessons at night, I have written something every day, and have been really enjoying the process! It feels easier to write as the days progress, and I enjoy the discipline of following through on my goal.
I hope you are enjoying your PLEDGE and are reaping the benefits of your determination. Anything we want to accomplish in our life becomes easier with regular practice. Thank you so much for taking this challenge with me! Now, go play!!
As autumn approaches each year, I feel the same surge of excitement I felt when I was a kid in school. September has always been the time for new beginnings: new classes, new clothes, new school supplies, new projects, the bountiful fall harvest, and the gradual drawing back within our homes and ourselves as the climate cools. Besides loving the stunning colors of fall I enjoy the quiet time between the busy summer and holiday seasons because it can be an optimal time for focus and intention. If you are like me, “more piano practice” has always been at the top of my fall to-do list. Let me tell you a little bit about my early experiences with piano lessons…
I started taking piano lessons when I was 5 years old with Mrs. Dorothea Waite every Thursday at 6:30, in her dank, dark living room. Her talkative Siamese cat Wolfie (named after Mozart) was a source of great distraction as I tried to stall off playing my pieces for as long as possible. That’s because, even though I loved music and loved playing the piano, I hated practicing, and it showed at every lesson.
Why is it that we love to play the piano yet we hate to practice? For me there were several things that made practicing a drudge. For one thing, my family’s piano was located in our living room which had a nested door at its threshold. Every time I started to play I would hear the door’s scraping sound as someone in my family shut me away from the rest of the house. Another reason I didn’t enjoy practicing was because I was forced to play music that I neither liked nor understood. (That’s one of the main reasons that I became a piano teacher, because I felt so strongly that students should be able to play songs and pieces that they love!) Worst of all, practicing made me face the fact that I had a long way to go before I would gain the mastery over the piano that I desired. But in spite of my suffering I persevered on the piano, and am so glad that I did.
What keeps you from the keys? If you feel that learning to play the piano is an impossible task, let me assure you that I have taught many children as well as adults who have started lessons late in life, and all who stuck with it learned to play beautifully.
If it is a feeling of isolation or wanting to avoid facing a difficult challenge, I have a solution for you! I am launching a new 30-day online support group for students, teachers, and musicians who need a little nudge and a loving community to support your efforts at practicing. It’s called:
PLEDGE TO PLAY: 10 Minutes A Day!
Here’s how it works. You sign up for the program by clicking on the phrase “leave a reply” at the top of this blog post just below the title Pledge to Play…. You will be asked to sign in by typing in your email (which will not be visible to anyone except me, and I will never give out your email to anyone.) You will also type in your first name and last initial (or write in a nickname if you prefer!) It’s completely free and you won’t get any spam. If you don’t mind getting my posts by email (practicing tips and practice motivational messages) click on the bottom bubble below that says you want to get posts delivered to your email. You will then get an email at the address you provided. You can choose the frequency of delivery of my posts, or decline them altogether and just check back at the blog to view the latest practicing tips.
If you commit to sit for 10 minutes every day for 30 days, go to the blog each day or at least once per week and reply with a sentence or two after you play for your 10 minutes. It can be as simple as, “I did it!” Or you can write something you noticed about your progress such as: “Today I was able to play the 2nd and 3rd measures without stopping!” Let your community celebrate with you! You can be honest: “Today it felt difficult, and even 10 minutes seemed long.” We will support your trials as well as your triumphs! But limit your reply to a sentence or two.
When you join our group, I will give you many ideas and incentives for motivation on the blog. Everyone who completes the 30 days will be featured either on my website or in Upper Hands Piano BOOK 3 with a photo of them playing the piano (or will receive a certificate of congratulations if you prefer), and a compilation of the practicing tips I posted during the 30 days. If you post a reply every day you will receive a free Upper Hands Piano book!
First, let me say that you should focus on small goals. Think of improving a small section of a piece you are learning, or some other small goal such as increased flexibility of the 4 and 5 fingers through daily exercises. 10 minutes isn’t very long, but thirty 10-minute sessions add up to 300 minutes (5 hours!!!) of practice by the end of the month. That’s a substantial chunk of time!
We will begin on Sunday September 15th, and keep going until Tuesday October 15th
(OK technically that’s 31 days! So you can take one day off!)
P.S. Even if you already practice every day, or if you practice more than 10 minutes most days, I hope you’ll join our PLEDGE TO PLAY: 10 Minutes A Day community, and leave a daily or weekly reply about what you are working on. It’s a great way to make sure that you get to the piano EVERY day, it will help you keep track of your progress, and you can be an inspiration to others!