Anders Ericsson, Brooke Macnamara, piano addict

Does practice make perfect?

WQXR F.M. (NYC based) has posted its latest set of meta-based analyses of “deliberate practice” studies. (A mouthful of confusion to begin with!)

Three researchers teamed up to discount the wise old adage that “practice makes perfect.” (In their probings, they were “virtuosity” centered) The trio concluded that a much smaller percentage of so-called high-powered “experts” in their respective fields were churned out by mega-practicing regimens. (Dr. Brooke Macnamara was their spokesperson)

Yet starting with the simplistic premise that all kinds of “practice” produce high end results is an exaggeration of the truth.

As I listened to the WQXR delivered Podcast I became increasingly confused. It lumped so many ingredients into a befuddled menu and concluded with Moderator, Naomi Lewin, making matters worse by bringing up Lang Lang’s abusive father as the spark of his bedazzling career. Her verbal counterpoint in the music realm, suggested that researchers should add emotional abuse to the virtuoso breeding ground.

The only participant that made any sense, in my humble opinion, was Dr. Anders Ericsson, who addressed the whole matter in the context of high quality student/teacher interaction plus long hours of finite, well-focused practicing. Naturally, innate musical gifts were part of the parcel. (Thank Goddess his 1993 based studies had GRAVITY, WEIGHT, and substance, not AIRY, UP IN THE CLOUDS pronouncements floating away all sense of REASON)

Likewise, comments that followed the podcast were as earthy as Dr. Ericsson’s approach and demeanor. (He had insisted that Millennium meta-researchers failed to isolate the mentoring factor in their “expertise” collations)

Riveting words posted by Emily White, a piano teacher at the Special Music School in New York City, intelligently framed practicing, its context, and value in seeding and growing exceptional musical expression. (Italics, for emphases, are mine)

“Time is important, but there are many functions served by musical repetition toward the attainment of goals that are more efficiently managed by a compatible mentor than by hours of isolated discipline: first, the decoding of notation, the tightening or loosening of strict rhythmic pulse, the incremental building of speed and note articulation, and the solution of the spatial-muscular problems associated with the instrument; but later, the exploration of sound colors and the communication of the world-view and psychology of a composer, the use of imagination and taste in portraying the composer’s theoretical style, and the simmering of meditative processes that will give authority to a performance. A teacher’s pedagogical lineage and personal attention can affect the progress of a student as much as the expenditure of time, shaving hours off the excess hacking mistakenly called practice and interspersing moments of leisure and reflection in order to foster meaningful, healthy playing.”

Ms. White should have been invited to the WXQR studio in the heat of the music-related exchange. After all, why compare Scrabble playing to high level, expressive music-making in the first place?

Examining bulk area expertise and managing to conjoin musical virtuosity into the mix was a half-baked effort at best.

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