Practice with a Purpose!

How often do I start to do something I most certainly love to do, by merely going through the motions with no real actual purpose in mind? No less than almost every single thing I do most of my days pops into my mind when I say this! Auto pilot for me is my ‘regular speed’. Ahem, well, after coffee, that is. Moment of truth! I’m here to admit that being somewhat of a creature of habit, I often find myself ‘going through the motions’ of some activity or task that I typically derive so much joy from, only to realize that I’m nearly finished with it, and when I’m nearing the end of this said activity it can sometimes be a challenge for me to remember what I’ve even done! I find myself asking “what did I actually accomplish during my valuable time spent”? Have you ever felt this way before? Now when my kids were young and all still living at home, I would relish, if not daydream, of times that I would be ALONE for merely just a few moments.

For perspective, I have four kids, who are all ‘out of the nest’ now and amazing and productive members of society! And when they were young, and home, life was often a whirlwind, of the best kind, mind you, but a whirlwind no less! SO…back to the daydreaming of alone time. What would I do with this elusive and infrequent ALONE time you may ask? First and foremost, while the alone time was few and far between, I did enjoy anticipating it! I knew EXACTLY what I would do with this precious gift of alone time once it arrived! My goal typically was so simple and very basic, I was going to just merely use this time to THINK! Such an under-appreciated human need really, I know.

For me, thinking was the luxury of all luxuries and best accomplished with peace and quiet. Oh glorious peace and quiet! The magical thing was, no matter how brief this alone time turned out to be, it was assuredly my tether to sanity and ‘the completion of an entire thought’ and often the only segway to my hopeful success with many, many other mental tasks on my plate, like raising a family of this size! The infrequent possibility of having some complete thoughts without interruption were the equivalent of winning the lottery in my book! Maybe that thought resonates with other parents? You probably know what I’m talking about. When any level of an “unsupervised by grade-schoolers'' opportunity arose to maybe run a quick solo errand (anywhere at all), take the dog for a walk no matter how short, wash the car in the driveway, mow the lawn with headphones, or even hideout in the laundry room to pre-treat laundry (I took my wins where I could get them) I was ON IT with a PURPOSE! My purpose was to take a deep breath, (mentally remind myself of a time when I was still sane), and from there move on to the current pressing matters that demanded my sane mental sharpness. While these times were short and fleeting, I most certainly had a purpose! Those quick solo breaks, with ‘sanity as a purpose’, kept me going, day after day, week after week!

I’d like to add in case any of my kids read this post that I did all of this, only to enjoy the amazing adults they all grew into! (Wink – always a very proud parent!) It occurred to me the other day, that when I practice the piano, I ‘run through my routine’ on my piano bench, and too often I am just merely going through the motions of piano practicing. By practicing this way, I have found that this very fact, me not having a specific purpose to my practice session, is likely what is feeding my ‘what did I do with my time’ mental cycle! Perhaps my aims are still too enormous and dare I say vague? Would I be able to achieve better results with more specific purposes in mind, each time I sit at my piano? My goal is to practice daily, and today when I practiced, I gave myself a specific PURPOSE. I had a new piece of music that I am working on, and you may remember I like to jot myself some nice helpful notes to remind me of pretty much everything all over my music. So today when I sat down to practice, I gave myself the specific purpose of labeling in pencil, the note names on the first two lines of the new piece of music, and next I had to try out the note sequences to work in the ‘fingering’ numbers that felt right with my hands in order to get to those notes to be playable in a reasonable fashion for me and my flow, and then write those finger numbers on the music.

SO, once I identified that this was my first objective this practice session, I honed right in and got the note naming done. Usually note naming gives me a little dread, but like so many other aspects of learning music and the piano, I am working on it! First, I should mention that it did not take nearly the amount of time I had sort of thought it would take, which was by itself exciting, so I went right ahead and decided to label the next two lines on the piece. FOUR LINES instead of TWO! What a Rockstar! Basically, I was accomplishing TWICE the PURPOSE I had set out to accomplish in this practice session. I call this the success of momentum! Next, I thought, I’ll try the right hand alone, and then the left hand alone and see about some fingering numbers. I had spent some time working out the rhythm in my last practicing session, and these were eighth notes. (Look at me talking like a regular musician!) And there was a 4/4 count for the piece. The rhythm wasn’t overly difficult, which helped with my momentum. Sometimes having a more difficult rhythm can really trip me up.

I play very SLOWLY while practicing, so this was working. With my newfound accomplishment of getting twice the amount of work done already with the note naming, I went ahead and set another ‘double purpose’ and decided to work on all the fingering for the lines I’d given note names to. Boom! I just doubled my practice goal! After I accomplished this, I worked through the first four measures, one at a time mind you, to get the entire first line, sort of in my fingering memory. When I had completed the SPECIFIC PURPOSE I had laid out for myself, well not only just the specific purpose in this case, but effectively DOUBLE the specific purposes I had set out for myself in this practice session, all I can say is ELATION!! That is what I felt when I was done! Now not today, but moving forward, the next steps, after I get all of the lines of notes worked out, and all of the fingering, is going to be to get my metronome out, wind it up and work like crazy to get the timing accurate! One thing feels great to me, and that very simple concept is merely that I KNOW where I’m going with this piece, and thanks to some very helpful piano instructors (shout out to Ashlee and Stephanie from CONNECTION EXPERIMENT) when I practiced the piano today with a specific PURPOSE, I came away from this practice session with a sense of pride and accomplishment for achieving exactly what I purposely set out to accomplish this time, not only that, but I was able to do DOUBLE. (Wahoo!! Our new musician blushes as the crowd goes WILD!!)

That little fact is enormous! No dread for me today, I know where I am going with this piece, and I know what I must do in order to get there! Not only did I practice the piano today, (check off that practicing box!) but I headed off two items that aren’t my most favorite part about practicing, the note naming and the fingering work and labeling the finger numbers, and dare I say I am a little bit excited for tomorrow’s practice session! Because tomorrow my specific purpose is to get another line on this piece figured out, and guess what? I already labeled the notes, and have the fingering worked out for the first four lines! Maybe your own musical journey is on a different path than mine, quite possibly in a faster or slower lane even, and just maybe your purposes during your practice sessions are slightly different, but I’m here to tell you the actual purpose of your practice session is not necessarily as ‘important’ as the simple fact that you HAVE the SPECIFIC PURPOSE to begin with. If you know where your WIN lies with your specific purpose, you know when you REACH it. And when you reach it, and you WILL reach it, you too, will feel that sense of pride and accomplishment for being an amazing Rockstar! :)


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