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Habits, Patterns and Changing

How many times you said to yourself: "Why am I doing this again?" after you listen to your  own recording/ a bad day of practicing/ a frustrating lesson  with a student / a feeling that you are stuck and cannot change actions...

We all have habits: in our daily routine, in our personal behavior and of course in our work. Some of them good (up to a certain time and point) and some are not good for us, however it is very difficult to get rid of them. Being a musician and a teacher forces you to be aware all the time on your habits according to the student. It is almost like a constant mirror in front of you.

Here are some general  habits that we and our students tend to make:

-Excessive and incoherent Rubatos and changing time and rhythm: Rubatos are created by emotional impulses or overcoming a technical difficulty. Sometimes it happens for both reasons. A fixed rubato is the most difficult to change – such as one that you have been doing for days/months/years.

-Warmups : we tend to keep sometimes our daily warmup routine fixed for a long period of time: for example, practicing the scales/arpeggios exactly in the same touch/dynamic/tempo

-Etudes: We and our students tend to keep sometimes the same etude for a long time (also part of warmups)

-Learning  a new piece: each one of us has his/hers own habit of learning new repertoire. Some students are used to learn a piece only separate hands first, some students just tend to sight-read (those who do it fast) and stay in this stage, some students tend to learn note-by-note and not in phrases, etc.

Psychologists state that a habit is a routine of behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously. So, the subconscious is a vicious circle: If we are not aware of what we are doing consciously, we are trapped in the habit all over again. So how do we suppose to get rid of these unnecessary habits?

Maybe the most difficult habits to understand are those of the transfer students. It is difficult to tell first if a habit is formed by a  different teaching, or it is the students' personal ones. Usually it takes time to understand the pattern – to see where exactly it comes from, and then the code has to be cracked. So what did we do in order to get our students to get rid of them in their playing and practicing?

 Again, I try to get some help from psychology: The idea that Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form because the behavioural patterns which humans repeat become imprinted in neural pathways, but it is possible to form new habits through repetition.

Repetition, the word musicians know most…

So , here is some ideas after some thinking:

-Rubatos and swaying with time: It is important that the student will be aware of his habit ,so that   the teacher should play and demonstrate in order to make the student  listen in a new way. Then, one must go to the other extreme in order to break the habit and repeat it every day: practicing with more objective approach, using more the metronome not as a "mechanical" instrument but as a device of indication and as a "conductor"  . Then the teacher and student should look at the composition from a different angle: understanding the structure and rhythm, understanding the harmonic content, etc.  Do not expect fast and big changes. Be patient.

-Warmups: Change the order constantly. If you always start with a scale, then start today with a different pattern: Arpeggio, diminished chord , etc. Change the order every day. Keep the constant change but a little every day.

-Etudes: Keep changing levels, composers and always look for interesting pieces that you never know before. The same book that you worked years ago has many more great etudes- keep reading them and suggest for your students .Do not be afraid to teach a piece that you never played. Learn it and warm up this piece every day for a few minutes.

-Learning a new piece: if the student is used to start separate hands, let him/her try both hands even a few measures and do not give up! Sometimes it can take the whole lesson, but remember – repetition is necessary. If the student is not used to separate hands – insist on doing so (and play with him/her the other hand)

In future  writing  I will relate to physical/technical habits, which are very different and need another approach.

I wish the new Jewish year will be full of constant inspiration and changing, moving forward and that we will throw away some unnecessary habits…off to practice a new piece in a different way:))


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