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Bodhisattva and Compassion

Image by Tony the Misfit via Flickr

An article in last week’s health section of the New York Times cites research suggesting that people who practice self-compassion have more positive outcomes with losing weight and exercising than those who are more self-critical.

While reading the article, I wondered whether we could look at practicing in the same way.

The researchers found that people do better by engaging in helpful actions rather than criticizing themselves or feeling worse because they slipped.

Most of us have found ourselves in the following situations:

  • not having enough practice time due to interruptions or planning to do too much music in the time available
  • missing too many notes and dynamics
  • playing worse than yesterday, playing under tempo

We have choices

Perhaps we had a maintenance issue at home which took a chunk of our practice time.  Is it helpful to get mad?  Or can we find ways to use the available time well?

Sometimes we practice when we feel tired, affecting our concentration and stamina.  Can we find a way to practice effectively?

Adjustments we can make

We can revise our practice “to do” list for the day.  Fighting the situation is not helpful.  That causes tension, fast playing to make up for lost time, and learning mistakes.

Just for today, why not choose to practice less repertoire?  If we are very pressed for time (i.e. if there is an hour left when we had planned on having two or three), we can choose certain passages or a movement or two.  Even a half hour can be useful.

We can look ahead and realize that tomorrow is another day.  Our abbreviated practice on one day doesn’t have to ruin an entire week.

From time to time, we will find ourselves too tired to practice at all.  It’s important to give ourselves permission to realize that.  Forcing ourselves to keep at it will only be frustrating, and won’t result in learning much music correctly.  Besides, music often “cooks” on its own between practice sessions.

If we are coming down with a cold, it’s OK to pay attention to that.  I sometimes practice when sick, but not with fever.  Choosing slower tempi makes more sense than pushing through at all costs.


In my past lives, I was right up there with the self-criticism.  Learn the music NOW.  No excuses.  California or bust!

But during graduate school, I hit a wall.

I had decided to do a recital of Messiaen‘s songs with a faculty soprano.  We programmed all but the cycle “Harawi,” an hour and 15 minutes of music.

My plan was to learn all the notes over January break.  “Learn” meant knowing all the notes, not necessarily in tempo.

For the first two weeks, my plan worked well.  I learned half the program.

And then… brain freeze!  No more accidentals!

Obviously, something had to change.  I rescheduled the concert for a later date, allowing more time to learn the music.  And I started running to clear my head and develop the stamina needed for the performance.

The concert went very well!  And I learned something about the “all or nothing” approach.

I have yet to visit California.

Do you practice with self-compassion?  Have you experienced brain freeze?  What changes did you make?

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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