My summer holiday reading this year centered on a book called Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin (highly recommended).
The really positive revelation in this book is that the ‘most talented’ people in the world in any pursuit only get there by masses of hard work and careful, tedious, repetitive deliberate practice. Musicians, footballers, runners, chess players – it’s all the same.
Research has categorically shown that it is not just because the most talented people were amazingly ‘talented’ from birth (even Mozart was pushed and pushed to practice by his father from a very young age) and believe this is a really self-affirming finding for any aspiring musician. It means that with the right mentoring and lots and lots of deliberate practice, anything is possible.
The only stumbling block for most people is that this kind of practice is HARD WORK, it takes LOTS OF TIME, it’s probably NOT MUCH FUN, and it generally DOESN’T SOUND VERY GOOD because students are trying to do things they can’t already do. There will be lots of mistakes and lots of frustration at first, but the final outcome will be worth it.
On the flip-side, I think a lot of students think that practice is simply a matter of playing through some things they know, doing a few scales and maybe trying a bit of something new before it gets too hard.
This is not going to get anyone anywhere!
Parents: if you can at least ensure your child’s practice is focused on the goals set (hence reading through my notes each week with your son/daughter) and ensure you are hearing some scales (preferably played in a variety of ways and at different speeds) as well as pieces, we’re on the right track.
If your child’s practice sounds pretty odd, is slow and repetitive and you’re hearing more than just the things you know your child can already play, then it sounds like they are probably now practising (not just playing). This is where the magic happens!
See also my article Deliberate Play v. Deliberate Practice for more on the differences between playing and practising for piano students.
How do you help motivate students to do the hard deliberate practice that’s required?
Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular TopCast show, blogs regularly at topmusic.co and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as pedagogy, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.