Keeping Your Piano Progress On Target, Ideally or Otherwise

Potluck Creative Arts Lesson LineSimply Music

As mentioned last week, this Lesson Line piece completes a set of nine pieces which form a sort of primer for success with Simply Music piano lessons. It is the last piece being published weekly — look for monthly updates from here forward. To close this primer and set you on your way toward continued progress as well as possible, let’s return once again to a big picture view and ask just what it means to be on target with sufficient progress.

Think, then, of a target, like in archery. Circles within circles. Hitting the bullseye at the center of the target scores you the most points. The next bigger circle scores less, and so on to the biggest, outermost circle gaining you the fewest points, with no points awarded if you miss the target. Every time you pull your bow, you’re aiming for the bullseye. The more often and more carefully you play, the better you get, and the more points you score. The less often and less carefully you play, the lower your score tends to be.

This is, of course, similar to learning piano, simply because it’s another skill to learn, and you learn it better if you practice carefully and consistently. But there is a more fundamental lesson here. Think about what was discussed in your very first lesson, the Foundation Session, about what is ideal in helping you achieve success with your piano lessons. Things like:

  • The playing-based Simply Music curriculum, as opposed to a less effective program
  • Practicing at the same time each day
  • Practicing 15-20 minutes each day, or a bit longer depending on how far you are in the program
  • Using all of the Student Home Materials and all of the learning strategies you’re provided
  • Keeping your repertoire alive
  • Attending and actively participating in all your lessons
  • Seeing your practice routine through the peaks and valleys of your long-term relationship with music

Then think about the questions asked in last week’s Lesson Line piece, covering the issues just mentioned as well as many others. Think about what answers to those questions would best support your learning to play the piano.

Put it all together, and you start to develop a picture of what the ideal situation is for maximizing the likelihood that you’ll maintain music as a lifelong companion. You start to develop a picture of just what you’re really shooting for. A picture of the bullseye on the target that you’re aiming at in striving for progress as you learn the piano.

Will you hit the bullseye every time? Probably not, just as even an experienced archer might not hit it every time. But the archer always aims for the bullseye, and so must you. However, it’s not enough to merely aim for it each time you play. Yet if that’s not enough, and if it’s understood that you won’t hit the bullseye every time, then what is enough?

It’s a question of how often and how carefully you take aim. You’ve got to play the game frequently and attentively enough to, literally, stay on target. The more you do this, the closer you get your practice routine to the ideal, the more effectively you’ll progress as a musician. You’ll hit the target regularly, and you’ll always be maximizing your score. It doesn’t matter how often you hit the bullseye or just what your score is. What matters is that, by playing diligently and aiming for the bullseye every time, you’re doing as much as you can to improve at your own best pace.

What happens if you can’t get to that ideal situation? Luckily, you get points for hitting not just the bullseye. There’s wiggle room for you to still succeed. Can’t get out for as much target practice as someone else? You can still get out often enough and be careful enough to do pretty well. Will you score as much as someone else? Will you improve as quickly or efficiently as someone else? Perhaps not, just as you won’t be doing as well as you yourself could have with a more ideal practice routine. But it’s not a competition, not with anyone else, and not even with some hypothetical you that you find yourself truly unable to be.

The point is that there is a threshold. The outer edge of the target itself defines a threshold. Stay on that target, and you keep scoring points, even if you might not be getting as many points as you would by hitting closer to center. You aim for the bullseye every time, but you can still feel good about scoring even when you don’t hit it every time or even at all.

Likewise, come to target practice often enough, and do it carefully enough, and your overall experience can be on the scoring side of a similar threshold. Even with a practice routine that’s less than ideal, not quite hitting the bullseye, your performance with the bow and arrow can be satisfying enough to keep you coming back for more.

As with any threshold, though, there is a space beyond. When the arrow misses the target entirely, you score nothing. Likewise, the farther your archery practice routine is from the ideal, the more likely you are to get smaller scores and to even miss the target more often. At some point you’re just not likely to want to keep doing archery.

The same goes for piano. There may be no formal scores being kept, but you’ll know from your own experience where things stand. You’ll be stuck in the plateaus and even the valleys of your long-term relationship with music, finding little ability to get out — and finding that your relationship with music isn’t going to last for much longer unless you fairly quickly find a way to get your routine back on target.

Also be aware that your teacher has a similar threshold, a threshold of willingness to keep you as a student. If you are succeeding well enough, your teacher will be happy to keep teaching you. If you are too far from doing what’s been set down for you in the program, your teacher may let you go. Your threshold and your teacher’s will almost certainly be different. You may reach the point of wanting to stop first, and your teacher will be sad to see you go. Otherwise, your teacher may determine that it’s time to stop even though you wanted to continue. It takes only one of you to reach their threshold, and your involvement with your teacher and this method will end. Rest assured, though, that your teacher is always on your side, wanting very much for you to succeed, and being as disappointed as you if you don’t. Don’t feel threatened by the possibility of dismissal, channel your energy into motivation to succeed. That’s what both you and your teacher want.

Nobody can say for sure where anyone’s threshold is. It varies from student to student and from teacher to teacher. On one side is progress that’s somewhere between ideal and less than ideal, but wherever it is, it’s continual and sufficient progress. On the other side is progress that simply insufficient to be sustained. Ideally, you’ll never even discover where that line is for you, because you’ll always stay on the side of sufficient progress.

If you do feel that line approaching, and especially if you cross it, then you must ask yourself if you want to keep music in your life. If you do, you’ve got some work ahead of you to get your practice routine back on target, and the sooner you do it, the better. Whether or not you ever find that line, if you find yourself between that line and the bullseye, it’s always worth asking yourself what more you might be able to do to get even closer to the bullseye. The more you can do, the better your abilities and experience are likely to be.

In the end, the key with piano, as with archery, is to always be clear about where the bullseye is, to always aim for it, and to do so as often and as well as you need to keep progressing. At the same time, be clear that success is not defined by only ever hitting the bullseye. The closer you are to the ideal with your practice routine, the more success you will find. Can’t get to that ideal? Don’t worry too much. If at any point you find yourself in that zone of sufficient progress and honestly able to say that you’re doing the best you can, content yourself with that, and enjoy the companion you have in music.

Leave a comment below.

3 comments for “Keeping Your Piano Progress On Target, Ideally or Otherwise

  1. Mia
    May 2, 2014 at 10:32 am

    Hmmm, I’m finding the first and the last article of the primer not only motivational but very inspirational. Thanks!

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