Are you moving up, making progress? Or do you feel like you’re going in circles?
I always visualize progress as ascending a spiral staircase. You move upward, but in a sort of circular way. You keep working on the same skills but at increasingly higher levels.
Beginners practice scales. Virtuoso performers practice scales, too, but theirs are usually faster, more fluid, more athletic. It’s easy to see the results of years of practice.
Although it’s easy to tell the scales of a beginner from those of a professional, it’s not always easy to tell if you’re making progress, moving forward, moving up. Sometimes it feels like your practice is just taking you over the same ground over and over again.
So how can you tell? Usually we look to our repertoire to see if we are making progress. It’s an easy way, if not a totally accurate one, to measure our accomplishment.
If you’re making progress your repertoire will show it in three distinct ways:
Your repertoire will be increasing. You will be playing more pieces and the pieces will be more complex.
You will be learning new music faster than previously.
You will be playing your pieces more smoothly and expressively.
Interestingly, although we see the progress in our repertoire, the repertoire is just the outward sign of the skills we have mastered and the musical knowledge we have acquired.
Our growth in the technical demands of our instrument and in the elements of our musical craft; those are the deciding factors in our progress. If our staircase feels like a hamster wheel, we need more work on our skills. Or if we’ve been working on our skills and still have no music to play, we have a gap in our learning somewhere, most likely in the skills related to playing rather than practicing.
Possibly you have lots of music you can play but you still aren’t playing the music you really want to play. Most likely you have some skill-building to do technically, musically or maybe even in your practice skills.
Here is a quick eight point checklist that will help point your way up the staircase of progress.
Practice regularly, daily if possible.
Learn the important points of your technique and dedicate some time to working on them.
Sightread or review music you like once a week.
Plan your repertoire goals carefully with an eye to increasing difficulty gradually.
Plan to practice a mix of easy, medium and challenge pieces. Too much easy music won’t challenge you. Too much difficult music will frustrate you.
Find music buddies. They will support, inspire and encourage you.
Work through some of the standard study books for your instrument – use the knowledge of those who have been down the road before you.
Find a way to share your music. It’s great motivation to play your music for people you care about.
It's time for you to be moving up!