Why Practice?

Here is master violinist Itzhak Perlman sharing thoughts on practice. He inspired these questions. When was the last time I practiced? Do I practice what I do for my job? Does practice just serve athletes or artists?



The good news, Perlman assures us, we won’t do any better if we up our practicing to 8 hours from 4-5 hours a day. Whew!! Thanks Itzhak!! And, he says we should practice 4-5 hours a day only if we are serious. Then we have Malcom Gladwell who has said don't call yourself a master until you have plied your trade for at least 10,000 hours. Lots of pushback and controversy over that “rule” but essentially, studies have shown that in several talents, the ones considered the best were also the ones who practiced more. 10,000 hours is about 5.4 years of daily practice. Not a bad investment at say age 13.

I would love it if my kids found something they could immerse themselves in at the beginning of their teen years. They would leave high school with a greater chance at a career in whatever they practiced. Or would they?

To that question, Perlman introduced a most important caveat. He said that even 5 hours a day is not good unless you are serious and have a goal - an answer to, “What do you want to practice for?” He characterized it as practicing “musically.” I interpret that as finding the essence of the song as the composer meant it to be heard. It is one thing to play the notes time after time. It's a whole other thing to play the composer's music and grow with each time the piece is played.

How might one learn to play the music and not the notes? Perlman repeats what he tells all young players, “Practice slowly.” I believe he is saying that the music lives outside of the notes. In the vibration of the instrument, our breath, our bodies. Playing slowly, or doing anything slowly, deliberately calls up mindfulness. Mindfulness leads us to become present, and live fully in that moment.

Back to us at our job, or those brushing up a resume as you consider your next move. Ask yourself some new questions, “When do I find the music in my work?.” How might I find the time and the spirit to practice "the music" that makes me special, which will make me stand out? If you don't see it in your current work, ask the question again, “What do I want to practice for?” When you have the answer, start immediately.