Sunday, December 6, 2009

Practice of Performance

It’s surprising how when you don’t do something for a while, you really lose the facility for it.  I’ve been noticing this in getting back into running.  I haven’t really been “training” for a few years; just running a few miles per week.  I am so much slower than when I was running a heavy schedule and a huge numbers of miles per week.

This makes sense with what we all know about doing being in practice.  Yet it’s definitely strange when you’re on the unpracticed side of it.  For instance, having to run at a slow pace right now, when I remember not that long ago the miles slipping by fast and easy, is quite a contrast.  My mind recalls something my body hasn’t been wired in a while to do.  And the wiring is obviously from practice.

I’ve noticed this as well with the piano.  Ever since I was about seven years old, I took piano lessons and/or played around with a piano consistently.  But since about 1995, I haven’t had a piano or keyboard regularly at my disposal, and so I haven’t had that regular practice piddling around with one.  Yet, on occasion, I have found myself seated at a piano either at someone’s house, at a public auditorium or the like.

What I have found is that I haven’t been able to really recall many of the complex songs in whole that I used to play over and over such as jazz and ragtime tunes.  And yet, I can still figure out a song’s melody and chord structure if given a minute or two since I have always been strong in picking things up by ear.  It’s really the recall of performance that has suffered from lack of practice. 

The good news is, of course, that with regular and structured practice again, subtracting out any age related variables, one can get themselves back up to par in performance.  This is because a person doesn’t lose so easily the knowledge of how to practice and raise themselves up the teirs of performance levels.

Yet this is one unanticipated catch which is that one forgets how much time originally went into reaching that perfection of performance the first time around.  It’s easy to say, “I was a great runner,” or “I was an amazing football player,” or “I played great horn in orchestra” thinking that it wouldn’t be that hard to get oneself into that stratosphere again. 

But when one haven’t practiced for a long while, one forgets all of those long hours of repetitive intervals one did per week on the track, or how many phone calls, spreadsheets and deals one did in a day to become a sharp executve, or how many two-hour practice sessions one did per week of running scales and arpeggios in an isolated music practice room deep in the bowels of a music school.

I think to get on a high level of performance again, the key is not only knowing how to practice, but to find the motivation in you that matches or exceeds that which you had the first time around.  And life gets busier and more complicated, so it’s not an easy task to find that consistent dedication.  You really have to look a what you want, the goal, and then see every practice session that you do as a real and vital step towards that goal.