Rafael Nadal – Practice Court

Rafael Nadal on the Practice Court ~ Image by James Marvin Phelps via Flickr

When I was about 10 years old, I was slogging through my music for an upcoming piano lesson when my sister shouted from the opposite side of the house, “When are you gonna learn the end?” She had never shouted at me before, so I paid attention. After all, she was in college.  And I had been starting from the beginning with every repetition.

During my undergraduate career, I would practice 8 hours a day as often as I could.

Neither approach worked particularly well. Just playing through things is never a useful option. (What’s the point?) And 8 hours in one day is way too much. How many people can concentrate sufficiently for 8 hours and say that they have actually accomplished something?

Finally, at age 28, I found a teacher who knew how to practice. He loved helping other pianists learn music quickly and well. No more practicing for 6 months to a year in preparation for one performance.

What is practice? What does it mean?

According to Merriam-Webster online, something done habitually can be called “practice.” But I prefer the 2nd definition: “to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient.”

Also from the web site: “to do repeated exercises for proficiency.” This definition would apply to working on the technical problems of an etude or increasing the tempo of a piece.

But repeating phrases for no reason surely doesn’t qualify. What do you expect to accomplish with each repetition? What is your goal for the day? Is there an end date?

A quote from Rafael Nadal

How about this?  Bleacherreport.com published article about Rafael Nadal in 2010.  This sentence, as well as the entire article, was true then and remains true today:

“I go to practice every day not to practice; I go to practice every day to try to learn something and to keep improving my level.”

All of us would do well to replace the “practicing” with “improving.”

How about you?  Do you try to keep improving?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!


Learning a new piece? New program? Back in school? Looking for teaching ideas? This is the perfect time to read “Goal-oriented Practice: How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident Performer!”

Goal-oriented Practice

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