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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

New Toy, New Obsession and My 1,000 Practice Hours Challenge

"It’s impossible to be arrogant when you’ve spent a lot of your life trying to get good at things that insist on keeping you humble"*

I say this without a shred of false modesty that I was never even remotely competent on the piano even though I thought that I went at it pretty hard for a good, solid five years or so, maybe even longer. I stopped playing more out of despair than lack of motivation on my part. I just felt that I wasn’t improving, or not improving fast enough. I’m older and wiser now (although I was kind of old when I began playing piano years ago). I’ve also learned a lot about mastering difficult skills from my years here in Spain learning Spanish. Learning piano and another language have many, many things in common.

First of all, there is never a finish line. There is no “Mission Accomplished” banner stretching across the bridge of your ship as you sail off to conquer new worlds. Another very important thing to consider is that if you are making any sort of effort to improve then you are improving, even if you can’t recognize that you are getting better. The message is to just keep plugging away.

I also have the added advantage of living in the world of the internet these days, unlike when I was starting out with piano. There are so many resources available to the student of the piano now that weren’t even thought of ten years ago. I’m talking mostly about YouTube where you can find tutorials on just about any aspect of this instrument that you could possibly imagine—and then a 100 more. I’ve been able to download all of the classical music that I used to play from free websites of open source material. It’s also really easy to find cool pieces to play just by clicking around on YouTube in the intermediate piano area.

So I’ve taken to heart something I picked up in a Malcolm Gladwell book about mastering a skill in which he explains that you need 10,000 hours of practice to achieve a high level of success in just about any discipline. I’m shooting for 1,000 hours of practice and I hope to achieve that as rapidly as I can. I figure that it will take me about 100 hours to recover the modest skills I allowed to slip away when I played before. I want to crank out these 100 hours in six weeks. Ambitious, but I have a vacation in March which I plan to use almost exclusively to practice piano and ride my bike. 
*I think the flip side to my aphorism above is that people with a “been there, done that” attitude usually haven’t been anywhere or done anything. 

P.S. I suppose that I'm pretty cocky when it comes to my tomato sauce because it’s the world’s best and I’m not afraid to settle that argument with a fistfight. I’m not Italian but is there any other way to end a discussion about tomato sauce?


  1. Bravo John! Wish I had that kind of discipline. I do have a New Years Resolution to read one fiction book a month this year and I am on my 3rd book already. Minor tow what you are doing.

    1. Ha. Ann, don't count my chickens before they are hatched. I really think that I will stick with it this time and I will practice with more purpose and more effectively.


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