Thinking Musically

Piano practice is musical problem solving that combines thinking and physical coordination. In his Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Howard Gardner theorizes that problem-solving skills are a basic component of intelligence. Few young students, though, can solve problems effectively in daily practice because the necessary disciplines – theory, ear-training, sight-reading, and keyboard harmony – are routinely postponed to the college level. Practice without adequate musical tools becomes a matter of trial and error through mindless repetition.

While musical thinking has much in common with thinking in other subjects, it differs in that music is a temporal art. Musical performance involves thinking in motion, attending to several things simultaneously while immersed in an ever-changing interplay of ideas, actions, and feelings. With practice we can develop the deep concentration that enables us to handle the variety of musical threads demanding attention at the same moment.

Teachers often advise students to practice early in the day because a player who is tired or preoccupied may have difficulty concentrating. This does not mean skipping practice when an early time proves impossible, even if everything seems to have gone wrong that day; it is when we don’t practice that things really go wrong. To help stay focused during practice, keep a note pad and pencil on the piano, and if your attention wanders to something unrelated to practice, jot down a word or two to remind you about it later. This rids the mind of the distraction so you can resume concentrating on the music at hand. Use the note pad and pencil to tally even the slightest deviation of attention; this procedure is especially valuable for those who do not realize their concentration fluctuates during practice. In adding the tallies at the end of the practice session , remember that, as in golf, there is no prize for the highest score.

Students and teachers alike observe that when they work on a piece too long, they become bored and have trouble concentrating, particularly if the piece is beyond their current level. Set a reasonable target date for the completion of each piece; stale, unfinished repertoire is a poor practice investment.(Next >>)

Copyright 1992 by Clavier Magazine. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright 2014 by Lee Roberts Music Publications, Inc.