The Practice of Practicing

Peter Wiley, professor of cello at the Curtis Institute and Bard College and Conservatory, and of Beaux Arts Trio and Guarneri String Quartet fame, came in to do a masterclass for my Bridge Online Cello Studio students yesterday.

We were about 15 minutes in when he said this:


“When we perform, we must commit simply to being as musically engaged as possible and to play from our heart and soul.  When we practice, we must commit simply to the process of self-improvement”


He said this to a room full of advanced high school and college students–the kind who are smack in the middle of audition season.  Districts and All-States just behind them, college and grad school auditions happening right now, and summer festival auditions looming in the coming weeks and months.

The music has been learned. It’s memorized. It’s even been performed many many times.

So….now what?


How do you keep going without burning out? How do you keep working on it day after day and keep it all fresh?

Much of my lesson time with these students has been focused on answering that very question.

But it wasn’t until Mr. Wiley so eloquently dropped his truth bomb that I realized that a lot of professional musicians are struggling with the other side of this question right now.


How do you practice when there is no performance


In March, we sat there crossing out performances and rehearsals on our calendars, still hopeful that our summer programs would stay intact.

They didn’t.

In April, everyone started a project.  “I’ll learn all 40 Popper Etudes from memory and record them!”  or “I’ll do a Livestream concert of solo music every weekend!”  or  “I’ll commission short works and record them!”

And we dove into our exciting, fun, brilliant projects with vigor.  There was a collective feeling of “okay, fine. I can’t perform live right now. So, while we wait this thing out, I’m going to do something I’ve always wanted to do but never had the time for!”



And by the time the holidays came around, those projects had wrapped up. We felt proud, accomplished, tired. Like we had made Good Use Of Our Time. Made Lemonade Out Of Lemons, etc., etc.

But the idea of doing another project was a bit too overwhelming.


And then the calendar changed to 2021, but instead of jumpstarting a new year, we had to deal with insurrections, and a volatile political landscape that kept us glued to our screens until a sigh of relief happened as we all watched the fireworks and jumped up on the coffee table to sing along with Katy Perry (no? just me? hmmm…awkward….)


So…now what?


The answer lies in WIley’s wise words.  “In Practicing, we must commit simply to the process of self-improvement”

For my students, it’s to focus not on how best to play the opening of their Dvorak Concerto, but to lean into the process of developing their sound.  It’s not to play a tricky passage full of shifts and count how many times they nailed the shift (or not) but to take out their Starker shifting exercises and improve their form and general shifting technique.  Because by improving each aspect of our playing in a focused way, our performances naturally improve.

For us professionals, it’s to focus on our craft as well.  Now that we have finished playing through every concerto, sonata, and solo piece in our libraries, it’s time to simply commit to the process of getting better at what we do.


Same as a Yoga Practice. 
Same as a Meditation Practice. 



We don’t practice yoga in order to perform it. We just do it.

We don’t practice Meditation in order to perform it.  We just do it.

And if we do them mindfully, we get better at them.


What if you were to pick one aspect of your craft and– without specific goals or deadlines in place– dedicate a month to its improvement through mindful practice. 


And to my  non-musician readers out there: You’re not off the hook.  This completely applies to you as well.

Are you bored of WFH life? Bored with your job? Bored with winter? Bored with the Groundhog’s Day aspect of life right now? Then pick something; one little thing and make it a practice.  One work-thing, or one life-thing. Think of it as a craft, and figure out a process for improving.



No better time than today!  Not only is it a Monday, but it’s also the first of the month (Double Fresh Start).  So pick something to focus on this month, and let me know in the comments what that is.

Good luck!






The Winter Session of my 10-week group coaching program, The Profit Pivot, is FULL (woohoo!) but you can still put yourself on the waiting list by booking a (free) 30-minute ‘Discovery’ call with me to talk about you, your goals and your ideas, and you’ll be one of the first to hear of new programs and launches.

In the meantime, you can join my Tales From The Lane Facebook Community for bonus material, live discussions, and tons of free content and insider info. 

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