Minimalist practicing, part 1: Green Beans Edition

Last night we had green beans with supper.  Not just any green beans, mind you, but Eric’s Green Beans.  He helped plant them in a container on the deck.  He picked them, helped snap them and smelled them all day while they hung out happily in the slow cooker. And then we ate them. And they were yummo!  Even The Dad commented on how much better they tasted than the batch of fresh-from-the-store-imported-from-some-third-world-country green beans I cooked up earlier in the spring.  Normally, I don’t give a whit about green beans.  We happily eat them out of a no-salt-added can. (!!)  But these particular beans were so good that I am now fixated on green beans and solving the crucial question of how can I plant enough to get us through next spring.

And you are asking, so….exactly what do green beans have to do with practicing?

Not a darn thing, really.  But it was a good way to introduce today’s topic.  Penelope Trunk is one of my favorite business bloggers.  A while back, she posted the following:

“One thing at a time.  Most important thing first.  Start now.”

From a practicing perspective, this short, simple mantra can work wonders with organization and actual getting-it-done of your practice time.  I’ve done it myself, but I didn’t have the great phraseology that PT used at my disposal.

Here’s how it works in two simple steps.

Step One: What is the single biggest thing that would improve your playing?  What could you do that would have an immediate impact, something that would produce instant results, if you just did it? Actual practicing?  Intonation?  That pesky high-2, low-2 thing?  Tone production?  Even though there might be several things that fit this schema, take a guess and pick what you think would be The Most Important Thing.

Step Two: Start working on it now.  Not in an hour.  Not next week.  Don’t argue.  Don’t rationalize.  Don’t justify.  Just go do it.  Now.

Can you get much more minimalistic than that?

It’s really really easy to become distracted.  Keep in mind that focus is not something that we do automatically.  It is a learned behavior, and the only way to learn how is to deliberately do it. You learn to focus by ignoring the distractions and concentrating on One Thing.  Distractions keep you from your goal, no matter if it’s a musical goal or something else.  All successful practicing boils down to the ability to focus on one thing until you do it better.

I’ll talk more about One Thing practicing in the next post.  Meanwhile, I have two empty pots on the deck and a little boy who is dyin’ to get dirty.


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