Practicing an Instrument consciously - 4 Stages

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As a musician and music teacher I'm really interested in different ways of practicing an instrument. Often times I get the impression that musicians (even professionals) think they can improve their skills by making minor changes on a content level like applying one new practicing method once in a while. This turns out to be a mistake because a new flimsy method is only a change on a surface level. The interesting question that arises from this observation is - what are the different structures of practicing?

In the following I just want to share stages that I've noticed in me and other instrumentalists - but of course this list is highly incomplete and I would love to here your thoughts on this topic (and btw I apologize for my English ;-)). This is utterly personal and only my little perspective. So let's start!

  • Stage 1: Practicing and playing are not differentiated at all. The musician plays the whole piece over and over again. The person does not practice details but simply plays. In my view this is a typical behaviour of children and beginning instrumentalists. After a while no growth can happen on this stage - the music of great composers is simply too difficult for this approach.
  • Stage 2: Practicing becomes a matter brute force. The musician thinks that every piece can be learned by technical drills, isolating the details and playing those chunks over and over again like a machine (people often think that they are using deliberate practice but it is actually a really unconcsious version of it in my view. Ericsson would not love this). On a motoric level huge progress can be made. But there are actually two downsides: 1) It gets really boring!! 2) Brute force is not enough to play in a beautiful way. At this stage you can only learn to play it "right" (in my experiece this stage is home to orange and blue people on the spiral). In search of beauty musicians look for a new paradigm of practicing.
  • Stage 3: Practicing becomes a creative task. The musician knows that each and every piece demands something totally different at that there are no ready-made solutions. The musician realizes that the beauty in practicing lies in creatively overcoming every obstacle in an intelligent way. Every little problem becomes a puzzle - it is not annoying but a challenge. The musician actively tries to grow his/her requisite variety. The musician gets that practicing is like composing - there are so many interesting possibilities, it is just mind-blowing! This new perspective helps the musician to play more beautifully and discover a unique, lively sound. Nevertheless this is only the start of turning practicing in a conscious activity.
  • Stage 4: Practicing becomes a way of expressing the beauty of existence. This stage is not about mastering any particular problem. Instead practicing and using the instrument become ways of tapping into the beauty of reality. Musicians at this stage can practice a single note for an hour and marvel at its beauty. This stage opens up the possibility to play in magical way. The difference between playing and practicing now dissolves again because practicing small chunks or even single notes becomes effortless like playing your favourite melody.

    For sure there are deeper structures of practicing but I don't know them personally. What do think?
Edited by Nils

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Great !

I play the drums, trying to make it for a living. It is my LP.

On 31/08/2020 at 5:38 PM, Nils said:

The musician thinks that every piece can be learned by technical drills,

This is very very comom in drumming, usually people think more notes is better, playing super fast stuff.

This could resonate with orange stage in the spiral,  "be the best ever" , aproaching the instrument like a sport.

On 31/08/2020 at 5:38 PM, Nils said:

creatively overcoming every obstacle

This " tier 2 " understanding of music is seen in the greatest. They aproach music from a creative, unic and effortless mentality. 


But the paradox is that you cannot jump stages 9_9. A great great pianist, who plays 1 single note in a marvelous way, must overcome the brute force fase, is the time when you grow your requisite variety, afterwards you can choose to play a note or 2000.

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@AudibleLocket Agreed. I've been playing the drums for years as a hobby, altough I probably think about it as much as my job.

Capturing the beauty of existence has always been my biggest motivation and reason for playing music, trying to share the ecstasy I feel when listening to great music through my own playing. 

But you cannot get there if you get stuck behind notes. That's why you gotta master the instrument, the medium. And of course, after years of drilling the techniques, you start to transcend them and move into music itself, and practicing also becomes more about music.

I don't think it's a paradox, just as your mind develops step-by-step upwards without skipping a step. It's all important.

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Been playing guitar for 10+ years and I've never felt like practicing. That's all.

Intrinsic joy is revealed in the marriage of meaning and being.

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