The Practice Notebook

flutist Zara Lawler shares tips on learning music

Why Bother with Good Practice? Part 1


We don’t become musicians (and this applies to amateurs, beginners and professionals alike) because we want to stay at home and practice.  We become musicians because music is awesome, and playing it is a powerful tool for self-expression. When we play classical music, we  collaborate with the composer (yes, even the dead ones!), expressing our own inner understanding of the music to an audience. In doing so, we can reach a transcendent communicative state between ourselves, the music and its composer, and our audience. Seriously, people, it’s the best!

Practice is what makes that expression possible, and good practice brings our actual performance closer and closer to a true representation of that inner thing we want to express.  This is why we practice: to discover the content of the music and our connection to it and to make sure our playing communicates this to the audience, every time.

Now having said all that, can practicing be fun?  Can you like it?

Good practice isn’t just a question of doing everything in the most efficient (fastest!) way possible, so you can get on with the rest of your life already.  It is mindful, attentive, and ultimately, very interesting.  It offers you the chance to get to know the music and the instrument better, but also to get to know yourself on a very detailed and intimate level.  Admittedly, that might fall a bit short of fun, but that process of discovery will carry you through a lot of practice time over the years.

At its best, I find practicing to be meditative:  the focused repetition and exploration of small ideas, one at time.  It’s kind of like combing my brain.

If you can see practice in this light, you are in good company. Here’s what Martha Graham had to say about practice:

I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing, or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated, precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which come shape of achievement, the sense of one’s being, the satisfaction of spirit. One becomes in some area an athlete of God. Practice means to perform over and over again, in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.*

That’s pretty beautiful and inspiring, right?  You already know you want to play as well and beautifully as possible.  Why not learn to practice as well and beautifully as possible? It can only help your playing and your experience of music.

So stop reading this blog and hop to it!

*Excerpt from “An Athlete of God,” written by Martha Graham. From the book THIS I BELIEVE, edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman. Copyright ©2006 by This I Believe, Inc. Reprinted by arrangement with This I Believe, Inc.  To hear Martha Graham reading this essay in its entirety, please visit:

**photo credit:

posted under Inspiration Gallery
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“Why Bother with Good Practice? Part 1”

  1. On January 28th, 2009 at 6:44 pm The Practice Notebook » Blog Archive » Small Sections Says:

    [...] that allow your body (and, at best, your soul) to perform that “dedicated series of acts” that Martha Graham wrote about.  Those neural pathways are best created one tiny bit at a [...]

  2. On May 10th, 2010 at 1:35 pm The Practice Notebook » Blog Archive » Why bother with good practice, anyway? Part 2 Says:

    [...] Why bother with good practice, anyway? Part 2 May10 [...]

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