March 5, 2011


What does practice mean?

I have been thinking a lot about practice this year, especially as last year I was involved in a choir and took private voice lessons.  I gave it all up this past September because I wasn't putting in the practice time required to be prepared each week.

To be fair to myself, being the mom of three smallish children is work enough.  Add to that a major renovation of half of our aged, in places literally crumbling, house; a critically ill parent; and a general penchant for disorder, and any time allotted to practice falls way, way down the priorities list.

To further hinder any possibility I would practice, I do not have a great track record for being disciplined.  I was not encouraged to practice in any positive way in my formative years, by parents or teachers.  To let them (only partway) off the hook, I'm pretty sure they had no idea of how to motivate a child to practice, or why, if said child (um, me) was not a natural worker bee. 

When I was in plays, I was never prepared for rehearsals like others were, with my lines memorised or my character's traits flushed out.  My piano teacher harangued me, week after week, with the same lament: "I could have taped myself talking to you last week and played it back to you this week.  You haven't worked on a single thing."  School teachers too bemoaned my wasted talents, for complete lack of my trying.

Well today I don't have the luxury of repeating the mistakes on my children that my parents did with me.  I am better equipped with knowledge of the hows and the whys of practice. I will not tolerate my daughters' (and eventually my son's) reluctance to put in the time if they want to learn an instrument.  And they do.

What I now know to be true is this: As painful as practicing something over and over and over again is, it brings a person a confidence I never knew as a youngster or young adult, an authenticity in the finished product.  I know this from practicing (when I can or choose to) and from solid research I have invested into the subject.

The trick with children is how to motivate and teach them to practice in a way that brings meaning into the thing that they are learning.  Whether it is studying or completing homework, which I believe is a form of practice, or learning an instrument, or manners for that matter, helping a person to develop meaningful practice habits is tricky.  To be blunt, it requires a whole lot of time and discipline on the part of the adult or mentor.  It also requires creativity.  A whole lot of creativity ... oh, and patience -- oh my, the patience!  And diligence.  An ability to bite the tongue!  A thick skin!  And did I mention ... patience?!

Okay.  I'm killing that one.  Moving on.

What I also know about practice is this:  All of life is about The Practice.  Learn to practice something, anything, and life grows infinitely more livable. And enjoyable, with a huge emphasis on JOY.

But that, my friends, is a post for another day.

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