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Staying Inspired to Practice

I am always asked by several non-musicians how do I get myself to practice so much? For me, my reasons come from necessity: I present several diverse concert programs and projects in a given year. From that standpoint, I need the time to constantly learn new repertory as well as bringing back old works from the past. But here is a deeper look as to how I keep myself motivated.

For many of us, our productivity is at our best when we have deadlines. The problem with being a performing classical musician, however, is that our work can be irregular. There may be certain years where we may have a couple of concerts, and other years where we have several. How do we stay equally as inspired in developing and mastering our craft while we wait for the next opportunity to arrive? Of course, taking on additional projects and other jobs are ways to keep the inspiration going (and even a financial necessity), but I am talking about how do we tell ourselves to keep practicing when sometimes there are seemingly no deadlines in sight?

I view practicing as an opportunity for self-growth. I am always asking myself how can I improve. What can I do to make myself stand out to be a better pianist and musician? No matter how many times I have performed that same Beethoven sonata, I am always striving to see if there are other finer details that I might have missed. Or perhaps I might have evolved my way of thinking to lead me to another type of interpretation.

This same attitude goes when I am determining what new works I want to learn for a concert or a recording project. Aspiring musicians: if you hear an unfamiliar work that interests you, write it down! Better yet, look it up, study it, and play through it. Curiosity is one of the most vital ingredients you can possess as a classical musician. Always find ways to learn something new and to expand your musical knowledge and experiences, whatever they may be. For me, if I did not do this, I would never have discovered my passion for performing lesser-known works.

I always ask my students how do we justify ourselves in practicing so much? Of course, my question is met with confusion and bewilderment! But for me, the deep root and source of inspiration comes from my fascination in understanding the composer's decisions, writing style, and language. For me, it is like a puzzle, and I enjoy solving them. There is always something more to uncover and learn why I want to (and in some cases not!) continue practicing this work. Everyone has their own reasons and true motivations for why they spend so many hours in developing their skills at their instrument. What are yours?

One of my favorite quotes about motivation and inspiration comes from renowned-concert pianist and teacher, Sergei Babayan: "First of all, that they should not give up if things become difficult. One must believe in what one does. That is absolutely crucial. When you believe in something passionately, fanatically, that is when you reach into that inexhaustible source for your inspiration to continue. Those who quit playing because they did not win [competitions] or became unhappy were not meant to be pianists in the first place. True artists, who are meant to inspire people with their music, will persevere to find their own way. Their voices will be heard. I believe that everyone has his or her place."

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