I had a date for the Grade 10 exam, a few months out. Whoa! Piano thoughts dominated my waking hours for the next 90 days.
First thing I learned? Thinking about piano is a form of practice. In my mind I saw myself performing the music. My mind sought solutions to tricky parts I saw coming in the music. I was excited.
Second thing I learned? A firm date quickly eliminated procrastination.
Third thing? This was really exciting. As Los Angeles Clippers’ Doc Rivers said, "pressure is a privilege". This was real, this was difficult, but this was doable with focused effort and lots of practice.
Fourth thing? I started to listen in earnest to both professional recordings of my program and myself. Record, play, listen became my method.
I'd learned how to practice. I nailed it and won a scholarship for the highest mark in my district.
Students often believe that I must have started early in life with lots of natural talent. Let me clear this up.
I am proof practice works.
I made it into Berklee with 4 years of piano under my belt, but it included 2 years of professional gigging in rock and country bands in the North Bay region. A lot of gigs. Plus, my basement jazz band. That made the difference I figure. But who knows, recordings do not exist.
I got through Berklee as a composition major. I thought about being a performance major, but that required serious practice. Something I was not interested in. But I continued playing gigs during those years. A lot of gigs. Some exciting gigs. I was a busy journeyman. I could sight-read just about anything. I showed up on time ready to play. I was pleasant to be around. Where did that put me in the Berklee pecking order? Turns out near the top. I made it one year to the number 2 band.
So, when did I learn to practice?
Signed up for my Grade 10 exam. My very first piano exam ever. I couldn't fake it. I had to play it. I put a couple of thousand hours of focused practice in. I read every book I could find on how to practice. How many books? Chapters bookstore sent me Christmas present. That is how many.
You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.
I'm a professional pianist and music educator in West Toronto Ontario. I'm also a devoted percussionist and drum teacher.