Have you ever thought you have bad technique? I used to have that thought fairly often. "I don't have great technique.That other person is more talented than I am. I'm a more musical player." Those thoughts raced through my mind when I heard the 8th grader next to me shred through a Vivaldi concerto. His "good technique" was impressive and intimidating, and immediately threw me into a fixed mindset. But now, finally, after studying this issue for 20 years, I know it wasn’t talent: good technique is simply the natural result of skilled practice. It was a real, concrete, specific thing that I can improve all along. Why did I have bad technique? I had no idea how to practice.
Practice habits are not only hard to change, but even to describe. “Play dotted rhythms” was about all I knew in high school, and boy does it go far beyond that. Changing practice habits requires change beyond a physical level, on a mental and process level. Because it's so hard to pin down, and some learn these skills at a young age, people just throw out the word "talent" and give up.
When you begin to address your practice, look at things like
How far to go back, how far to go on, how fast to play (both slow and fast)
Ease - does it get easier every time you play it? physically and mentally?
Are you harnessing the subconscious mind or solving and remembering solutions?
Organization - how often do you do run-throughs? What is the final tempo? What parts of the piece do you practice?
Tension and physical technique - too little tension? Too much? How far do your fingers come away? (less is not always better)
Have you tested and strengthened your ability to focus?
Do you solve via fundamentals or specific notes? Scales? Technical exercises?
Do you practice solving technical issues every day?
How do your eyes process the notes? Smoothly and clearly or are you playing by ear?
How is your mindset? Do you quit, give up, or avoid easily? Hesitation and doubt? Confidence and playfulness?
Big problems like figuring out how to practice are often the sum of 100s or 1000s of little changes and insights. The best practicers internalized good practice and don't do it consciously. They don’t know they are doing it, so they don’t talk about it, and so we get the word talent. I’m here to tell you this just isn’t where it comes from. The good technique comes from good practicing. Don’t be put off by professionals making it seem simple. Just start chipping away at little improvements today.
Next time you have a technical problem, look for the cause and solution in your practice. The signal is there, however faint. I know it feels like “I never missed that before in the practice room.” Ok, it’s still your job to figure out what signal was there. Maybe you didn’t miss it but you got shaky there, or you never messed it up because you played it 3 times total. That’s not enough, maybe you would have missed 5/10 tries. Or maybe you got it 9/10 times in the practice room, but in your lesson that will result in 6/10 success, which will rattle you and make you miss. The point is, it’s your job to learn to recognize the signal in your practice and build the solution.
Some people do seem to have a personality predisposition to this type of analytical, deliberate, and will-power-draining work. Again, don’t let that be your excuse. Some people may enjoy this type of work and start snowballing down this path earlier. But anyone really can improve at this. It’s wonderful to realize that technique comes from how you practice. When you do this work on your practice, you will either develop any technique you want, or learn that you actually don’t like doing this type of work at all and go all in on the work you love. Both are a win.
I will cover all of these topics and more in my practice academy blog. Subscribe for more content here:
What are your thoughts and experiences with technique and practicing?