Monthly Archives: January 2017

Mental Practicing Questions and Answers, Part 3

I hope to again rouse this series from its long hiatus – I am continuing my mental practicing Q&A by discussing the many other benefits of mental practicing. For a more detailed explanation of what mental practicing is, please see Part 1 of this series. For a thorough description of how mental practicing actually helps you in performance, please see Part 2.

What are some other ways in which mental practicing would help me more than just physical practicing alone?

  • I will eventually elaborate on all of these points (some much more so than others). But here they are:
    • You will be able to practice (almost) anytime and anywhere.
    • You will be much less prone to injury.
    • You will be able to practice longer hours than before.
    • You will learn music much faster.
    • You will be able to increase your ability to focus.
    • You will be able to maintain a large repertoire much more easily.
    • You will understand much better how the learning / memorizing process works and why memory slips occur.
    • You will be able to start from any point in your music (provided that you can see the area clearly in your mind).
    • You will have the knowledge to help students learn faster.

What do you mean by being able to practice anytime and anywhere?

  • This is of course the most obvious benefit of mental practicing. If you develop the ability to use your mind to accomplish practicing tasks, you can imagine how useful that ability might be. But it was only when I started doing regular mental practicing that I began to understand its incredible versatility.

What are some examples of the versatility of mental practicing?

  • YOU CAN BE OUTSIDE!
    • Even if you are not an outdoors sort of person, there is no denying the scientific benefits of spending time outside. For starters, being outdoors has been shown to improve focus and general cognitive functioning, lower stress levels, enhance mental health, and strengthen your immunity.
    • Of course, if you enjoy being outside like I do, you already recognize that leaving the traditional practice room is an extremely welcome change of pace. When I think of heading to a park to do mental practicing, I automatically think of enjoying the sunshine, getting a boost in energy and mood, relaxing & letting go of tensions, and refocusing myself through a change in atmosphere. Even on a cold winter day, you can get so much work done just from practicing in different environments.
    • Philosophically, I always think that we are making music in order to make the world a better place somehow. By going out and constantly experiencing the world itself, we are continuously reminded of our deep connections to the world around us. We are also repeatedly inspired by the beauty of nature.
  • I would like to emphasize at this point again the following fact: You can leave the traditional practice room and get serious work done! Being in nature is one of the most wonderful applications of this fact, but in general, I feel that the ability to practice wherever I go has changed my entire life. After being chained to the practice room for so long, the freedom of being able to work wherever I go constantly feels like the entire world has opened up to me.

mentalpractice3

  • You can get exercise while practicing! You can practice while walking, running, cycling, swimming, or doing any other sort of exercise that uses some sort of repetitive motion for a prolonged period of time. Obviously, this type of mental practice would be without the use of the score. I will explain in a future post how to go about doing this. Often, the exercising and mental practicing will act as perfect compliments (with each one acting as motivation for the other).
  • You can practice in a variety of inspiring indoor locations as well. Your practice environments are limited only by your imagination and level of experience. I practice a lot in coffee houses and bookstores and also quite enjoy doing mental practice while walking through museums. I feel like I can read more books, see more art, and generally just experience more culture because I can practice while staying for long hours in these locations. Of course, you can alternate periods of mental practicing with just enjoying being there in the moment.
  • You can practice while on public transit / traveling. This includes subways, trains, buses, planes, etc. The daily commute or long flight can thus become very productive if you want it to be.
  • You can practice if you go somewhere without a piano while traveling.
    • Obviously, if you really want to be on vacation, it is often best to not practice at all for some time! But if you want to do at least some mental maintenance of the pieces (particularly if the trip is long), mental practice can really help, particularly if you have a lot of pieces to remember.
    • If you want to continue to do some serious practice on the trip, you may find that doing pure mental practice for a good amount of time each day may actually cause the pieces to be in better condition by the time you return home (provided that there are not significant technical difficulties that had not yet been conquered).
    • If you are actually going specifically to a piano festival or competition, often there are not enough practice rooms or it may be difficult to practice for the amount of time that you need. It is at these times that mental practice can also be crucial for maintenance of the pieces and for peace of mind.

In the next post, I will continue to talk about the versatility of mental practicing before beginning to elaborate on the many other ways that it can be helpful.

Reflections on the 40 Piece Challenge and the 100 Piece Challenge

A new year means that I had to decide whether to redo the 100 Piece Challenge or to issue myself a new Challenge. It also gives me a good excuse to talk about what I learned last year and to revive this blog yet again. For details about the 40 Piece Challenge I issued my students and the 100 Piece Challenge I gave myself, please see this post from exactly one year ago.

The 40 Piece Challenge was a big success with my students last year! Even though there were also a lot of students who didn’t pass, I can safely that for all of my students:

  • Sight-reading skills noticeably improved.
  • Ability to solve problems (both musical and technical) independently improved greatly.
  • There was a definite increased motivation to both bring current pieces to a high level and to continue to learn new pieces.
  • They became mentally stronger and better able to manage time.
  • Since they were exposed to more rhythms, coordinations, and different musical situations in general, they developed greater stylistic awareness and learned faster overall.

I have decided to continue issuing the 40 Piece Challenge to my students every year. Each student does the Challenge on their own time – in other words, their start and end dates vary a lot and they can restart the Challenge at any time.

With both the 40 Piece Challenge and the 100 Piece Challenge, I used many of the new practicing methods that I have been developing over the past two years. In the case of the students, of course, I taught them these methods in order to help them achieve their maximum potential. I hope to continue revising and strengthening these strategies and to finally write more about them this year. I also have confidence that many more students will pass the 40 Piece Challenge this year since they (and I) have much more experience now.

In terms of uploading the 100th video, I publicly competed the 100 Piece Challenge on October 20th, the 100th Piece being Chopin Prelude Op. 28 No. 15, the “Raindrop” Prelude. I uploaded piece #133 yesterday night (December 31st, 2016) as the final piece of the year. I don’t have a custom YouTube URL, but if you search “david chang 100 piece challenge” on YouTube, you will find all of the videos.

reflections

I have a lot of scattered thoughts and reflections about how the Challenge went. Some of these thoughts will directly address the requirements that I set myself in my post from one year ago. Some of them will ponder over what I learned from the Challenge – both the expected and the unexpected. And still other reflections will be on mental and emotional obstacles, what the purpose of the Challenge actually was, and how issuing a new Challenge is at all useful or relevant in the context of larger goals. Here they are in no particular order:

Regarding my saying in my original post that “I am able to learn music five to ten times faster” than before:

  • This is certainly no exaggeration at all in terms of the number of pieces I ended up learning, but it’s true that the length and difficulty of the pieces in a solo piano recital program are significantly greater.
  • I should also note, though, that in the past it would be months before I felt I could learn and memorize even a simple piece of music. It would take incredibly long to work out the technical difficulties, to make all of the musical decisions (such as shaping and touch), to feel like the memory is solid, and then eventually to get up the nerve to record and listen to myself. And then I certainly wouldn’t share or perform the piece once I had finished learning it. In this sense, the fact that I ended up able to share newly learned pieces so often truly supports my claim of “five to ten times faster” than before.
  • As a result, I feel much more confident now that my methodologies really do work.

In my previous post, I said regarding the 100 Piece Challenge, “I must keep all of the pieces in my memory. This means they become a permanent part of my repertoire.”

  • At the time, I meant that all of the pieces would be ready to play at any time, and indeed, for most of the year, I attempted to have every single piece from the Challenge (and others from before the Challenge) at my fingertips at all times.
  • If I had to have the first 100 pieces simultaneously ready to immediately perform in order to pass the 100 Piece Challenge, then I was in fact not successful last year (though I was close).
  • It is also difficult to give a strict definition of “ready to play”. To me, “ready to play” did not mean that a piece would be played flawlessly, but rather that the piece could be performed musically and convincingly without too many errors. But “without too many errors” can also mean many different things when you compare, for instance, an audience of laypeople with an audience of pianists.
  • As the Challenge went on, I found that I could maintain more and more music in a performable condition (over five hours at some points… for laypeople at least), but it became increasingly difficult to maintain ALL of the pieces while continuing to learn new ones.
  • I now feel that while keeping all pieces “at the fingertips” is possible, it is simply too time-consuming and takes too much energy away from learning new pieces and from achieving other goals.

I am therefore revising “permanent part of my repertoire” to mean “ready to revive at any time” rather than “ready to play at this very moment”.

  • “Ready to revive” could mean anything from 20-30 minutes of review for a simple piece to several days to a week for a major piece.
  • To make sure that the piece is ready for performance, it’s important to forget and re-remember it in sets several times (or many times) as described in my earlier posts, so it’s best to allocate a day or two to be safe if it’s an important performance.
  • I know that a lot of high-level pianists have a similar conception of how to maintain their repertoire.
    • Many learned their pieces well enough that they can revive them in a very short amount of time.
    • Having previously learned (and revived / re-learned) music so slowly, I always assumed that they had some sort of superhuman ability.
    • The way I learned pieces for the 100 Piece Challenge is so thorough, however, that I now feel confident in my short-term revival ability.
      • However, obviously technical difficulties can still arise if I didn’t solve all technical issues in the piece at the time of the learning / recording.

In my next post, I will continue my reflections on the 100 Piece Challenge.