“Hmmm… I really should go and make that cake I was thinking about yesterday…”
“ I wonder if I could add a PowerPoint presentation to my history assignment…”
“I forgot to schedule the doctor’s appointment…”
“Oops… I can tell I should clean out the kitty litter…”
It’s great that our minds work so well to remind us of the things we need to be doing. It’s not so great that they tend to remind us at times when we should be concentrating on something else! Having your to-do list constantly jumping into your head when you’re trying your best to concentrate on practising the piano is far from ideal. You really need to be focusing on what you’re doing.
Our brains have limited cognitive resources and we can’t be completely productive and engaged if we have baking and assignments on the brain. So what can you do to stop this happening?
Be clear about your intention before you start. Have a plan.
Researchers at Florida State University hypothesized that developing an “implementation intention” – a plan of how, where and when a project would be completed – would help to wipe other thoughts from the mind and make it easier to focus on the task at hand.
After studying 73 students in three different groups (a “plan” group, a “no plan” group and a control group) in a variety of situations, they concluded that the group who had planned their tasks before distractions were thrown at them not only performed better at their tasks, but also remembered more about the distractions. Because they were clear in their minds about what their plan entailed, distractions didn’t bother them as much and their minds were clearer.
However, simply brainstorming your plan doesn’t suffice; the plan needs to be specific. You also need to commit to the plan; the intention to follow through needs to be a big part of the deal.
So where does piano practise fit in with this philosophy? If you sit down at the piano with the simple intention to practise, chances are your mind will be distracted by all the other things you should be doing… cooking, homework, cleaning etc. Instead, decide on a plan of what you intend to achieve for that session. Your teacher may have given you notes at the previous lesson outlining the areas that need work and this is a good place to start. Pick a passage that needs work, or a technique that requires improvement and decide what result you would like. For example, you may need to work on your two-note slurs and your plan could be to play five times an exercise you have been given by your teacher, then transfer that improved skill to your piece and play it three times. Or you may need to work on a list of scales; your plan could be to play each scale until you can play it three times in a row without error. Whatever you know needs work.
- Think about what you need to do;
- Make a plan that is achievable;
- Define the parameters of the plan; and
- Commit to your intention to carry out the plan.
I’m sure you will find your practise sessions more productive and that’s a bonus for everybody!
If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.