I’ve been playing piano for over 23 years. (That’s a rough estimate – both my mother and I don’t remember if I started lessons in first or second grade, but it was at some point after I stopped Suzuki violin lessons.) I’ve taken lessons for most of that time. During that time I also played trumpet (briefly) and euphonium, played in concert and jazz ensembles, and directed many ensembles, from marching bands to small pit orchestras.
My musical résumé isn’t one that movies are made from, but it is nonetheless substantial. And, yet, when I sit down in a practice room, I still find myself struggling. Sometimes I hit a groove and accomplish a lot. Other times I’m struck with “practice room ADD.” Striving for better practice routines and techniques is something I’m constantly doing.
Which is why I found Gretchen Saathoff’s e-book Goal-Oriented Practice: How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident Performer such a pleasure to read.
Goal-Oriented Practice is a well-structured blend between technical ideas and more abstract techniques. Books such as The Inner Game of Tennis and Effortless Mastery are great, but they are theoretical and often intangible. Goal-Oriented Practice offers enough concrete ideas to help improve your playing immediately; there are enough conceptual ideas for you to consider many times over.
Ms Saathoff's writing is frank and down-to-earth. She doesn’t mince words, but she isn’t harsh or scolding. As a reader, you know that she is often speaking from experience. (Her personal stories make her e-book more approachable, as well.) She outlines ways to improve your practice environment, how to warm up and learn music, and how to set practice goals.
Perhaps most importantly, as the book develops, she reminds you of the practice tools you “already own” and encourages you to activate your “self” as you practice. This is a reminder we can all use from time to time. As she writes, “Your best practice guide is YOU!"
Ms Saathoff’s e-book format allows for easy accessibility: the book can be downloaded to your laptop, smartphone, or e-book reader, and can be pulled up in the practice room if you need to reference a section or just want to read something to reinspire your darker practice room moments.
My one complaint though is that the PDF doesn’t include active links to YouTube files or other websites. That can be tricky, as websites are constantly in flux and YouTube videos can now be removed if there’s even a whiff of copyright infringement. Thankfully, Ms Saathoff blogs regularly, and is always coming forth with new ideas, information, and links to the larger Internet world.
Goal-Oriented Practice is geared towards pianists, but has great material for all instrumentalists and singers. Even the best musicians need books to read to inspire and invigorate their playing and practicing. Goal-Oriented Practice is worthy of addition to the list of recommended readings. I know I’ll be keeping it close-by for many years ahead.