A five, six, seven, eight!

Back when I was serious about the piano, I’d walk to the practice room weighed down only by a pressure to succeed and a bundle of music: something modern, something baroque, a hymnal for sight reading practice, finger exercises, etc. For each piece, my professor and I created a goal to accomplish by the next lesson, and these goals, too, I’d write out and organize in my three-ring binder. Though I knew I wasn’t destined for piano greatness (I remain at a level where the more I practice, the better I get), my practicing was methodical.

A red plastic metronomeThe only other accessory that routinely weighed me down was my metronome.

The steady tick-ticking is a necessary component of many a musician’s success, allowing the difficulty to be ramped up a few beats-per-minute at a time. It slows you down when you wish to go fast and speeds you up when you wish to slow down. While ostensibly about steadying the beat and evening out the music’s flow, in truth a metronome is about demanding more control from the player, about the player testing him or herself to play each note at exactly the chosen speed without sacrificing rhythm, accuracy, dynamics, musical shape, balance between the hands, and interpretation. Using a metronome is a microcosm of the musician’s need to be of five minds or seven minds or ten minds—conscious of all things simultaneously in the drive towards an effective, moving performance.

Forward to today: That same musician’s splitting could be the source of my many cognitive successes. Alas, those successes sometimes still elude me. Perhaps it’s that I don’t practice as often as I did in college, but I feel just as likely to forget important things as if, yes, mom, television has ruined my brain. The only way I surely remember things now is through rhythm, standing at the door checking each pocket in turn: wallet, keys, phone. Wallet, keys, phone.