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3 Reasons You Can't Finish a Piece and How to Fix It

Why can’t you finish that piece?

Composer Franz Schubert never finished his Eighth Symphony. If you aren’t up on your music history, you might think it was because he died before he could complete it, but that was not the case. Schubert wrote the first two movements of the symphony in 1822, but he lived, and composed, for 6 more years. In fact, scholars cannot ascertain exactly why Schubert stopped work on that symphony, and Schubert isn’t around to answer the question.

So if you have trouble getting a piece of music to the finish point, you’re hardly the first musician to experience that dilemma. 

On the other hand, if you have trouble finishing any piece of music so that you can actually play it, there are some things you can do to fix that. The first step is to explore why you might not be finishing.

You Get Bored: The Greyhound Syndrome

I’ve often used greyhounds and German shepherds to describe the two most common practice styles. Greyhounds are the fast starters. They love to start something new but are less excited about digging into the details; they often find practice dull and they get bored if their progress seems slow. So they will often put a piece away before they finish it, merely because they don’t want to practice it any longer. Does this sound like you?

Truthfully, if all you want to do is play through a piece and you’re not concerned with practicing it until it’s playable, then you don’t really need to worry about finishing. That’s not your objective. In fact, just playing through music is a valuable way to improve your sight reading and to enjoy some of the vast quantity of music available to us.

However, if you get bored with your piece because you find practicing dull, then you’re not practicing correctly. Practice done right is a voyage of discovery, a path that leads you to insights about music, the harp and yourself. It is a creative process.

Focus your practice less on the wrong notes you need to correct and more on what is standing between your playing and the music, the feeling, mood or atmosphere you want to express through those notes. When you try to deepen your expression of the piece, you will naturally become more interested in the fingering you will need to use to make that happen. Similarly, playing the right notes will have more importance to you, not because they are correct, but because they are beautiful.

You Have No Reason To Finish.

We humans naturally respond to the urgency of a deadline. That’s why we are always the most productive right before we go on vacation or why studying daily seems less attractive than cramming the night before the exam.

Sometimes all we need is a little pressure. Want some motivation to practice? All you need is a performance date. If you don’t have a performance coming up or if playing for people isn’t your thing, try scheduling a day to play your music for a friend. There’s no need to make this formal; it can be just an invitation to tea and cookies at your house. Having this on your calendar may give you all the energy you need to polish that piece.

If you have no goal for sharing your music with anyone, you have deprived yourself of one of the greatest practice motivations. You have also deprived yourself of one of the greatest joys of playing music.

You Get Stuck In The “Almost”.

You’re practicing diligently, but those pesky spots won’t get fixed. No matter how much you practice, your piece stays in that limbo between “it’s getting there” and “it’s ready to play.” 

This is perhaps the most frustrating situation that any musician encounters. You’ve put so much effort into your piece and you want to play it. So why won’t your practice yield results? Why does actually turning these notes into music still elude you?

Unless you’ve been part of a music program where performance was an important component, you probably never learned the specific practice strategies that are necessary to move a piece from practice to performance.

Truthfully, many musicians never do the work that is required to play a piece, rather than just practice it. We learn the notes, the rhythms, the fingering, the dynamics, and we work hard to play them correctly. But learning to rise above those elements to forge them into a unified whole is needs a different approach.

If this sounds like your experience, the biggest step you can take toward that next level is this: each day you practice, play all the way through your piece without stopping to fix any mistakes. It will stretch your focus, your stamina, and increase your understanding of the music. You will probably find that on your first non-stop play through you discover gaps in your knowledge, potholes, places where you didn’t expect to stumble. That will show you where your practice needs to focus. And now you’re on the path to finishing that piece!

NOTE: We covered many more specific strategies in our Crash-Proof Performing Challenge last November. Although that challenge is over, you are welcome to join me at the Harp Mastery Getaway Retreat in central Florida, February 23-27, 2019, where we will devote one of our retreat days to the personal, hands-on training that you need to not just play better in performance, but to actually enjoy it! (Yes, it IS possible!) And we’ll round out the day with a little casual performance by me, so you can see how I use the crash-proof techniques. Can’t make the whole retreat? Come just for that day, Sunday, February 24 for the “Crash-Proof 1 Day Intensive.” Find more details here or email me at: [email protected]

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