So you’ve practised until you’re finally able to get that passage right. But you still screwed it up on stage! What, you were banking on that 10% success rate??
“Amateurs practise till they get it right; professionals practise till they can’t get it wrong.”
A professionals has to perform. That means he can’t afford to get things wrong. Which means he has to get it right all the time. Which means he needs to get his success rate as close to 100% as possible.
A lot of our piano practice is really just about increasing that success rate. There really isn’t any point over celebrating one successful repetition after nine failed ones. Even if it’s a fiendishly difficult passage. We cannot pray for that 10% on stage.
The questions is, how do you get that success rate up to as high as 99%?
How do you actually practise till you can’t get it wrong?
In life, momentum is something you want to gain as much of as possible. There is positive momentum, and then there is negative momentum. You want the former. And lots of it. You must understand that there is no such thing as being stagnant for anything (perhaps there is, but more often than not, you will be better off for believing otherwise anyway).
If I fail to get my ass outside for a run that I’ve planned beforehand because I’m feeling too darn lazy, my willpower becomes weaker. It becomes harder to exercise it the next time round I have to. But if I successfully manage to go for that run, the opposite effect happens.
It is the same with how I think about piano practice. When you start to believe that each and every mistake lowers your success rate (negative momentum) for the next repetition, you are going to be a lot more careful and focused for each and every single repetition. If you have to, you will practice your repetitions at a slower tempo. Because slow but perfect is always better than fast but imperfect.
You want to minimise mistakes and maximise perfection (positive momentum).
Simply put, you get better for getting things right, and worse for getting things wrong. Regardless of tempo (assuming you use the right motions).
You level up (+1) for defeating a monster, and level down (-1) for being killed by the monster. No, you don’t get to keep your exp / lvl when you’re slain!
Sounds freakin simple in theory right?
If you realise you’re being killed too many times by the monster, you had better switch to an easier fight where you can win (lower the practice tempo for example). Gain some momentum there. Also observe the results objectively, and don’t listen to what you “feel” you’re actually capable of tackling. I speak from experience.
“This passage shouldn’t be a problem for me, why do I keep screwing up!?”
And I choose to continue screwing up instead of lowering the tempo…
Choose a fight you’re confident of winning. You could isolate a problem spot instead of tackling several simultaneously. Or you could tackle several but have the tempo lowered. You could even simplify things by getting rid of the pedal first. Whatever it is, make it something manageable for yourself.
And then keep fighting until you’re OVERconfident. That’s when you start looking for a harder monster to fight. When you’re overconfident with the previous easier monster, then this one will be just about right. Now it’s just rinse and repeat!
The bottom line is that you gotta treat each and every single repetition with great care. Because we only get better or worse from a repetition, depending on whether that repetition was successfully executed or not. We do not ever stay the same.
Stay focused. You only want to move forward as much as possible, and not backwards. So make each and every repetition in your practice session count.
And that is how professionals practise till they can’t get it wrong.
Or at the very least, they are able to successfully get their success rates up to perhaps as high as 99.9%. And might still be unhappy with the last .1%. Heh.
I have found this way of thinking about momentum in my piano practice to be of tremendous help with increasing my own success rates. I’m sure it will be the same for you. :)