As the course in European History progressed, one of my classmates became increasingly frustrated with a fellow student. A conscientious, focused and determined worker, she was spending nearly six hours a night completing daily assignments. Her fellow student was devoting approximately fifteen minutes to the same work, and achieving similar grades. My classmate, while obviously bright herself, only seemed capable of processing this difference as superior intellect, or ‘genius’. The actual reason eluded her: method.
In a culture that rewards time spent, not results, the notion that more effort, more time and more talent may not produce the best outcome is completely mystifying. The arbitrary 40-hour work week is a good example of this. Most people complete their actual work in far less than 40 hours, but are still required to put in the ‘time’. Those who have negotiated remote work agreements can produce results:hours orders of magnitude greater than many confined to a cubicle, but this is beyond the grasp of many employers who are still under the impression that most of the world requires exactly eight hours a day to complete their ‘work’.
If success depended exclusively on effort, time and ‘natural ability’ (I include this phrase in the ‘nurture’ rather than ‘nature’ sense), then there surely would be more concert-level musicians. It is more likely that the concert pianist, whose approach to the instrument often transcends what ‘normal humans’ deem possible, simply has a superior practice method. Piano students who are equipped with highly efficient practice methods can learn in minutes what it takes others months to learn. For the diligent student, playing masterpieces becomes feasible in just a few years, rather than the arbitrary decade normally allowed for such endeavours.
Regrettably, many teachers pass on questionable principles that were given to them from their teacher, and from their teacher, and so on, each new generation enjoying a renaissance of mediocrity. Of course, master educators typically found in renowned institutions are equipping students with the real thing, and I owe most of what I’ve learned to a few ‘giants’ at the Royal Conservatory including Andrew Markow and Boris Berlin. I also appreciate the excellent work of Chuan C. Chang, who has collected efficient practice principles in his book ‘Fundamentals of Piano Practice’.
Generally speaking, students who make rapid progress in the first year are more likely to continue. Hearing and enjoying the results of their practice creates a feedback loop that takes care of most motivation issues, and allows us as teachers to focus, not on persuading, but on teaching.