Practice, practice, practice

March 26, 2018 | Arts & Culture, Business

I remember the day I learned what it meant to practice.

I was already working toward a graduate degree in oboe performance, so I thought I knew what practicing meant. I didn’t. The lesson was taught by an unknowing trumpet player in the practice room next to me.

The university orchestra was preparing the Ravel Piano Concerto which has an infamous trumpet solo at the beginning of the first movement. My neighbour was furiously working on it. I wasn’t even aware of my neighbour’s frustrations at first because I was fighting my own practice battles. Gradually, though, the trumpet player’s efforts were too obvious to ignore.

It went something like this:

  1. Play the music too fast

  2. Make the inevitable mistake in the same spot

  3. Say in a loud voice: “expletive deleted”

  4. Kick the music stand

  5. Play the music too fast

  6. Make the inevitable mistake in the same spot

  7. Say in a loud voice: “expletive deleted”

  8. Kick the music stand


The concert day came and we performed the Ravel. The pianist did an excellent job. The trumpet player made the same mistake in the concert (minus the swearing and stand kicking) as he did in the practice room. He’d practiced that mistake over and over again.

I am forever grateful to that trumpet player, who inadvertently taught me to practice slowly, to isolate the problem, fix it, then put it back in context. I learned to have a quiet mind while practicing.

The most wonderful and terrible thing is that practicing works. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” We can use our practice time to learn well or poorly; it is our choice.

About the author

Beth Levia is an Oboe instructor in the Conservatory of Music and a member of the Windrose Trio.

Beth Levia Photo

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