Matt sometimes tells people that he lives with the person who thinks more about practicing than anyone he knows. I fear this might make me the biggest nerd on the planet.

But lately I have been thinking about practicing more than usual. In two weeks, I am doing three performances of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which means these days I eat, sleep and breath the Goldberg Variations. Apropos of nothing, I find myself saying things like, “Did you know that in the third variation…”

It goes without saying that the Goldbergs involve a lot of practicing. A. Lot. If ever there was a time to be thinking about practicing in all its many forms, this is it.

My students and I talk about practicing all the time. There is no set system of practice accountability that I require and impose; instead over time we create a method together, tweaking and fussing with it as we go. Some kids fill out practice charts with days and minutes. Other kids record sight-reading pages as evidence of their 5 days of practice. Still others do none of this, having proven to me long ago that they could be trusted to work faithfully without keeping a strict daily record.

Practice records are a good thing. I, too, make practice notes, reminding me of what I intend to do the next day with the metronome on variation eight or what variation needs to be practiced with hands separate (Hmmm….all of them, actually.) Some students have developed elaborate systems of record keeping, involving stars and stickers and rewards. Even I have trouble remembering how some of these plans work. Micah’s accountability system involves a daily assessment of up and down arrows to show me how things are going. Generally, I suspect that these little charts are filled out mostly on autopilot and don’t represent a real thoughtful evaluation of his work, but that’s OK for now. The little charts help him to remember to do everything, and he likes the act of recording his repetitions and assessment arrows. For now, it works.

But last week, Micah came into his lesson, set down his practice notebook on my desk and announced, “You will see that the first three days of scales were a terror.” (I can totally relate to this. I have some variations that I think of as “a terror” as well.)

True enough, in each of the first three practice boxes for scales was an emphatically drawn down arrow.

I loved this. This might have been one of my favorite teaching moments ever. I loved this, not for what it represented about his struggle, but for what it revealed about his attention and evaluation of his practicing. This was, my Ed Psych colleagues would say, proof of meta-cognition.

It was also evidence of something else I was even more proud of: It was proof that this young boy understood that practicing was hard and that sometimes things didn’t go particularly well, but that with trust in the work and the will to try again tomorrow, things would get better.

This has been pretty much what the last 35 years of practicing has taught me too.