a playful practice

Musicians, actors, and athletes have developed unique uses for the words “play” and “practice.”  For them, play means performance. Actors don’t practice, they rehearse. Musicians and athletes practice more than they play. Children and people of my ilk think that play means fun, and practice is as much play as play is practice.

In this post, musician Gerald Klickstein shares some redefining insights about what he calls his “playful practice.”

I quote:

To keep the creative juices flowing in my practice, I toy with problems. I’ll try one solution, then another, learning and laughing as ideas hit dead ends. I enjoy the process because I know that I’ll find rewarding solutions in the end.

With every repetition of a phrase, I create something new – a subtler dynamic curve, a smoother legato, a creamier tone. My ears are wide with wonder at the possibilities that each musical gesture contains.

Of course, we rely on repetition to instill mental maps of pieces, but with a playful approach, we can navigate those maps in near-infinite ways. Then, even the titles we’ve performed for years stay fresh.

I’ve made countless such errors, and I find them quite funny, almost refreshing. Not that I like messing up. What I mean is that when I miss something, the error helps me recalibrate my playing.

Transcendence is a core feature of deep practice, and I think it’s a pillar of playfulness.

When I practice, I imagine dramatic scenes, dancers moving through space, whatever. I feel an irrepressible flow of imagination no matter what I work on, be it a scale or a masterpiece.

That playfulness begins as soon as I unlatch a case and lift a guitar in my hands because I never know what I might conjure up.


  1. Alida on May 22, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    As a child I was taught to play the piano. I didn’t really love it, but I learned enough to enter state wide competitions. I developed a deep love for the piano itself although never really for playing it. As an adult, my piano has traveled over 900 miles with me, moving from home to home. Now I have two children of my own. We homeschool, so the kids have a lot of time on their hands to pursue whatever interests them. One day they asked me to play for them and I did. Then they wanted to play, so I showed them middle C and left them to discover and enjoy. A year later, they’ve learned all of book 1 and 2 of John Thompson’s lessons. (The pages are torn and yellowing now.) I’ve had very little input and mostly answer questions. They start off by playing what they know, then play it in different keys, they play with different rhythms and they’ve even made up pieces to go with stories they’ve made up. I think that’s what playing music should be about. Maybe someday they’ll choose to compete and that’s okay with me, but I hope they always have this much fun.

  2. Herman Simmons on May 23, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    Here is where the difficult aspect for the piano teacher comes in: the longest any child can go without forgetting major aspects of their piano training is a month. Once the family resumes their piano studies after 10-12 weeks of absence, the students are rusty and unfamiliar with what used to be so easy for them. Children hate forgetting what they’ve learned—the only thing more frustrating than working through a tough piece of music is relearning it. The issue is not that they will never remember their old piano skills. Instead, the issue is that they will become frustrated with the trying. No one wants to cause their child unnecessary grief and anxiety. Piano playing should be fun, not stressful!

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