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Flow is the Opiate of the Mediocre: Advice on Getting Better from an Accomplished Piano Player

December 23rd, 2011 · 83 comments

The Piano Player Confessions

I recently received a message from an accomplished piano player. Let’s call him Jeremy.

This is someone who majored in piano performance at music school, where he was one of the top two students in the major. He won state-level competitions throughout his college career.

Jeremy wrote in response to my recent article on the surprisingly relaxed lives of elite musicians. He told me that post agreed with his experience.

“I, and the other strong students in my department, did practice less than the weaker students,” he said.

He then went on to explain exactly what he and the other strong students did differently as compared to their less accomplished peers.

I reproduced his explanation below (I added the headings and edited the text slightly), as I think it offers profound insight into the difference between the type of work most of us do and what it actually takes to become so good they can’t ignore you.

As you read Jeremy’s strategies, ask yourself what it would mean to apply these same ideas to your livelihood, be it as a writer, programmer, consultant, student, or professor. When I performed this exercise I was embarrassed by the gap between what I should be doing (if I want to maximize my ability), and what I actually do.

Good food for thought as we roll toward a new year…

Jeremy’s Strategies for Becoming Excellent…

  • Strategy #1: Avoid Flow. Do What Does Not Come Easy.
    “The mistake most weak pianists make is playing, not practicing. If you walk into a music hall at a local university, you’ll hear people ‘playing’ by running through their pieces. This is a huge mistake. Strong pianists drill the most difficult parts of their music, rarely, if ever playing through their pieces in entirety.”
  • Strategy #2: To Master a Skill, Master Something Harder.
    “Strong pianists find clever ways to ‘complicate’ the difficult parts of their music. If we have problem playing something with clarity, we complicate by playing the passage with alternating accent patterns. If we have problems with speed, we confound the rhythms.”
  • Strategy #3: Systematically Eliminate Weakness.
    “Strong pianists know our weaknesses and use them to create strength. I have sharp ears, but I am not as in touch with the physical component of piano playing. So, I practice on a mute keyboard.”
  • Strategy #4: Create Beauty, Don’t Avoid Ugliness.
    “Weak pianists make music a reactive  task, not a creative task. They start, and react to their performance, fixing problems as they go along. Strong pianists, on the other hand, have an image of what a perfect performance should be like that includes all of the relevant senses. Before we sit down, we know what the piece needs to feel, sound, and even look like in excruciating detail. In performance, weak pianists try to reactively move away from mistakes, while strong pianists move towards a perfect mental image.”

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This post is part of my series on the deliberate practice hypothesis, which claims that applying the principles of deliberate practice to the world of knowledge work is a key strategy for building a remarkable working life.

Previous posts:

(Photo by Kofoed)

83 thoughts on “Flow is the Opiate of the Mediocre: Advice on Getting Better from an Accomplished Piano Player

  1. Jay Godse says:

    Interesting. But flow is needed to get you to come back and do more. I agree that real learning happens when you are learning to get into a flow state with something new. But it’s hard to come back to learn more unless you have experienced at least some flow.

  2. Takeshi says:

    I think the point is that flow is not deliberate practice. Being in a flow state and having fun is fine, but don’t do it during your practice time.

  3. Highs and lows balance, so “no pain, no gain” is wisdom, like you said.

    You might indirectly focus on God, to get success in another field. “Seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto thee.”

    God is my muse, literally. I wonder what a piano player makes of those songs.

  4. Bornagainscholar says:

    While I appreciate the thought behind this post I have to disagree to a point. In the context of the series this post is part of I can see the point of flow keeping someone “mediocre” becasue the point of the series is to become world class at whatever it is you are doing. That is, being in the top 1% lets say. But I don’t think mediocre is possible for someone to be who can continually experience flow at one activity. To experience flow you have to have confidence that you can perform the task but you also have to be challenged. If you have perfect equilibrium between challenge level and skill level you will become board and not experience flow. Therefore the more you are experiencing flow the more you are increasing your skill level. But I think the point of the post is spot on with it’s intention. People get comfortable at producing mediocre results (which in contrast to the people they are competing with they are far superior)and their ego is satisfied so they remain, spending their time making themselves feel great when they are in action. To break through they need to experience uncomfortable emotions and feel like they are working. It’s easy to dismiss slogans as being trite, however, the fact remains, no pain no [real] gain.

  5. Tim Daly says:

    See “Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music” by Glenn Kurtz

  6. Lori says:

    I have been a subscriber to your blog for sometime. My children have both come through college fairly unscathed and when my son, part way through fell in love with something completely different, he needed to go an extra year. I encouraged my husband to support him in this endeavor and it was the best decision we ever made for him. As he was struggling to find his place in the world. He went on to win coveted awards and land a job doing something he loves. When they were growing up and having personal and academic difficulties in life, I often told them that life is about overcoming your difficulties and deficiencies. We already know what your strengths are, that’s the easy part for you. It has served them well to be very aware of what they are good at, but also the things they need and want to strengthen. In school we refer to them as “disabilities”. I taught my children to find ways to work around these difficulties and not too buy into any of the psychological crap the secondary schools were bantering about. I really loved this article. Thank you for all that you do. Turning our thinking on its head and taking a new look at how we guide our children and even view ourselves.

    I have a caregiver website as my husband is a cancer patient. I talk about our point of view of things we cannot control. What we can change about our experience in the face of the things we cannot change. This is right up my ally and I enjoyed it very much.

  7. Ahmed says:

    What I understood from these strategies:
    Your type of practice makes the difference. Experiment on your weaknesses/unknown instead of playing with your strengths hence ignoring your weaknesses and wasting your time.

  8. Hi Cal,

    Thanks for the interesting post. I disagree with the point about flow. Flow is the experience of being lost in one’s effort. That can easily happen when one is highly challenged and enjoying the intense effort. There can be a lapse of effort in a flow state, yes, and that’s coasting–which is to be avoided if you’re attempting to get better at something.

    Best wishes,
    Tara

  9. This is very interesting to me. As a (very bad) flute player I agree with what he says about the tendency of mediocre musicians to PLAY pieces rather than practice them. I know I was always guilty of this. I’m having a harder time trying to translate these ideas to my professional job as a writer. What is deliberate practice in writing? I think you were quite off-base with your earlier column on John McPhee. What you were describing there was a different way to attack FORM. Not the same thing as deliberate practice at all. This is an absolutely fascinating idea and you are on the nub of something incredibly important. It needs more fleshing out, though.

  10. Nick says:

    Interesting part in #4- how the weak players focus mentally on the negative, and the better players focus mentally on the positive.
    Really good posts the past couple of days.
    Thanks Cal. Happy Holidays.

  11. davidbriansullivan says:

    Have “met” with your efforts here through twitter (just so you know); last two posts intriguing…btw, has your friend Chris (The Tower)ever farmed? (Most)farmers don’t have time for distraction, so the challenge metaphor doesn’t work for me. And I agree with Robert Wall’s comment in your previous post.

  12. Anon says:

    This is interesting.

    I don’t think those set of strategies can be merely “transferred” to other areas.

    However, I think what sets apart the “excellent” from the “good” is their ability to distinguish their own set of strategies to become the best (and then use deliberate practice as a means of reaching excellence).

    Conscious practice — might be a good topic to delve into.

    Anyway, great case study. Though I worry about readers (like me) who take these case studies, make rash generalizations (a plan of action), and run with those strategies thinking that it will make them better at their profession or passion (such as dancing, singing, or playing an instrument).

  13. Allen K. says:

    This was quite interesting, and accords a great deal with what I know about, juggling. Most especially the dictum to work on something harder; I was never any good at 5 balls until I worked on 7, didn’t get anywhere, but would find 5 a breeze whenever I would drop back down. (I did get 7 — but only by working on 9, which I never got. 11 was too much to hold!)

    There are three things that became clear to me in working on serious numbers (let’s say 5 balls and above) that I haven’t seen suggested elsewhere. If I’ve just been looking in the wrong places please do let me know.

    1. It’s too hard to simultaneously do and diagnose, at first, and the only way to actually succeed at things at the boundary of one’s ability is by accident. So make sure to get many, many attempts at them, to have more chances to do them right by accident. Once that happens, you can get a sense of “what did I do differently then, that made that finally work?”

    2. When I was first learning, as I warmed up I would gradually get better for about 1/2 an hour, then start to get worse. At some point I decided the getting-worse part is a sign that it’s time to consolidate the practice in dream-time. But also, years of doing this made me both better able to know when to stop, and also stretched out the useful practice time, to around two and sometimes three hours.

    3. When doing the same thing over and over, make sure to take a five-second break in between attempts, to fully reset. (Explicitly breaking the flow, I guess?) It feels very unnecessary but has such marked results. My 6-year-old is learning piano and needs to be reminded of this over and over, but each time he remembers to do it the positive effect is so clear.

  14. MB says:

    Cal:
    I don’t understand Strategy #2 – Complicate it. If something is tricky or hard to perform, complicating it does not seem like a good strategy. If you are not understanding, complicating will make things worse, as far as being able to understand, not better.

  15. Chris says:

    Another quality short article by Cal (as expected). I am not yet an exceptional stand out in my class, but I truly believe that he hit the nail on the head with this posting. This advice has inspired me to continue pushing to become a elite student. Thank you for your fine words, Cal.

  16. Alejandro says:

    Cal,

    how do you think the “relaxed” life translate to those of us that are out of college and working? Even though I work in an framework level (software) architecture team, I would not say there is much deliberate practice in the 9 to 5. At the end, working is mostly about producing value, not about increasing the performance of employees. Outside of work, I always wrestle between working on a side project or focusing on a book/skill/etc (more deliberate practice-like, I think). What are your thoughts in keeping deliberate practice post-graduation?

    @Nick: I wouldn’t say “the weak players focus mentally on the negative, and the better players focus mentally on the positive” is true. Notice how #3 is to systematically identify and eliminate weaknesses. This means really looking into the negative, realizing is there, and then working on it.

  17. Elizabeth says:

    Cal, can you elaborate on how you think these apply to the academic setting? The trouble I’m having in thinking about this is that in my academic work, there’s very little distinction between “practice” and “performance.” Sure, there are distinct moments like job talks, but mostly my time goes toward directly doing my own research. I try to arrange my projects so that they are all teaching me skills that I can draw on later on as I tackle progressively more ambitious projects (a lot of my thinking about this has been influenced by this blog, actually), but that’s rather different from what your correspondent is describing. I don’t know how, for example, to “master something harder.”

    Is that the point — that it’s a mistake to think of skill-development as something that’ll come naturally in the course of doing my projects, and I should instead be devising more artificial ways to ratchet up my skills, and hence the ambition of the projects I can do? In other words, is my difficulty in seeing how to apply this advice a clear sign that I’m in the mindset of the mediocre musicians? I’d appreciate your thoughts.

  18. David Delp says:

    I’m confused by your provocative title and what appears to be a contraction in Strategy #1. Flow is achieved by practicing what’s difficult. I study Flow and teach it, and your description doesn’t match what I know about it. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes quite clearly that the Flow channel is about concentration that occurs when your skills are matched by the challenge. Practicing a difficult section over and over is exactly what drops us into Flow, as long as what we have in front of us feels achievable. Or did you mean something else?

  19. Kayode says:

    This is interesting, especially #3 since I’ve started applying it myself. I find that unlike Jeremy, i’m more visual and have a bad ear. So to fix my weakness, I have started blindfolding myself in my practicing. It helps a lot, I didn’t realize that I was playing the piano with my eyes, instead of listening to the music.

    However I don’t think this can be applied to all learning and the pursuit of excellence. Music and performance arts in general require this, but how about the business world? Systematically focusing on weaknesses that are only going to improve incrementally would mean that you are wasting time when you could be improving your strengths. What i’m saying is that you can’t get away with weaknesses in some fields (like playing the piano) but in others, you can. (especially where outsourcing/delegating is possible)

  20. Sarah says:

    I think I have to go with “Yes, But…” Flow is important, and it’s what keeps us going in the hard times when our ultimate goal (i.e. Become a world-class pianist) seems soul-drainingly impossible. However, if it becomes an end in itself, we’re simply chasing the next “high” rather than creating the life that we want, and that may have been the point Jeremy was making.

    For instance, I’m a natural writer, particularly of scholarly stuff. I love the flow that comes when I create something new out of disparate articles and theories mixed with my own ideas. However, my ultimate goal is to use my skills to help adult learners succeed in college, whether that mission is achieved through my day job, my doctoral work, my blog, or something else entirely.

    That means getting out of my comfort zone and forsaking flow for a while as I learn about writing in a new context, not to mention the nuts and bolts backend stuff needed to turn a good blog into a great one. While achieving flow in the new skills that I’m learning will (hopefully!) happen, that’s not my goal in and of itself. However, it’s a clear signpost that I’m on the right track.

  21. Sam says:

    Elizabeth, I think that you’re right in the difficulties you point out, and also the few obvious occasions that you can practice for. However, every talk is important — you are effectively selling your research results, and indirectly the product you. You need the first class research to get a good job, but you will get the job interviews because of someone you know, not because you have a great publication record.

    Writing, just as presentations, is a skill that can be practiced but it’s terribly hard and tedious work. In Cal’s case, there’s an obvious technical part of the research that can be practiced: learning new proof techniques by working on gradually harder problems that are already solved. Hopefully this will allow him to apply the learned techniques to an unsolved problem in his area.

    Learning more tools in general is a good way to allow you to tackle “harder” research problems, and this learning can (should) be done in the form of deliberate practice. The problems might not be that hard objectively, they just happen to be unfeasible unless you have the right combination of skills. In the physical sciences that might be statistical techniques or learning some kind of equipment for measuring.

    Learning new skills is important, but don’t forget to keep doing research and publishing as the major part of your time — if you have long periods without publications on your CV that might be interpreted as being unproductive.

  22. Tony Nassar says:

    I read the OP with pleasure, but isn’t it putting the cart before the horse to be satisfied with “flow”? Flow seems to have become the self-esteem of the millenium: a rather vague effect that’s treated as a cause (and a bit of dubious science that becomes a pop-culture meme). When I’m trying to improve as a guitarist, I do not expect to get into a flow. Just the opposite. I work to be able to play things (say, Bach cello sonatas) that are way beyond me, and that I may very well never be able to play tolerably.

  23. freddy says:

    or like my old band director used to say: “we like to practice the songs we’re already good at”

  24. Something good musicians also do while practicing is playing the piece at a really slow tempo. Beginners think that having the quicker gun in town will take them very far,… try playing Bach’s C minor prelude from the first book of the WTC at 40bmp beginning to end… also try doing that with a metronome… playing tight is a big part of some composition’s periods… specially if you’re not playing alone, and a pretty good way to spot good from bad musicians. Rubato in Schoenberg my ass! Regarding strategy #4…well, let’s just say that some people can’t tell what’s beautiful and what’s ugly (there is some degree of prejudice and subjectivity -just read what Glenn Gould had to say about The Beatles-, but it seems American Idol and Glee sound “beautiful” to a lot of people).

  25. Kelvin chiang says:

    From what i understood about flow, i think he meant being comfortable and just play what you already know and you are comfortale with.

    What many of you refer as flow, id call it momentum. Thats when you are really feeling what you are doing and focused, and feeling full of confidence to overcome any challenge.

  26. Dave Bauer says:

    I am not sure “flow” is used in the right way. I don’t think flow happens unless you are being challanaged. It is “hard fun”. Search for anything by Alan Kay. You are learning and having a great time. I suppose, if you want to be in the top 1% of performers at any task, practicing like that will work, but unless you are actually having fun, why do you want to do that?

  27. velocirapt0r says:

    Day[9] made me do it.
    http://twitter.com/#!/day9tv/status/153619644916310016

    Good article; pretty much the same sorts of things my instrumental and fencing tutors have always been trying to drill into my head. It’s good to know it’s reasonably universal advice and not just my crazy teachers.

  28. mike says:

    I was sent here by day9 who said this could help my Starcraft 2 practice. Mind was blown when most of the text was directly applicable on my SC2 gaming.

    Thanks,
    Aspiring progamer Mike

  29. Amberly Walker says:

    I like the tips because it is easy to focus on easy things and sometimes it is less enjoyable to challenge yourself because it is not familiar but as you can see it can be the most rewarding.

  30. Andrew says:

    I think the comments here are as interesting as the post itself. I think the fact that there are so many conflicting opinions supports the notion that as a student we must be able to change gears. At times we need to have deliberate practice, while other times we need to experience the flow. Many great thinkers have written about the innate and natural learning abilities of children. Do they deliberately practice? No, and of course they only get to a level of mediocrity in most of those tasks, but there is still a lot of value in that simple approach. Great musical thinker Arnold Jacobs was an advocate of song and wind. Have a very clear concept of where you want to go, how you want to sound, then blow. He would make the anology of going to the store, we don’t think about each to do required to make it happen, putting on shoes, going to the car, turning the ignition… We just get up and go. I think when it comes to learning and practicing we can make it as simple or as complicated as we want or need it to be.

  31. Study Hacks says:

    I agree with @Andrew, the comments are more interesting than the post itself.

    A few random observations and reactions…

    I disagree with the point about flow. Flow is the experience of being lost in one’s effort. That can easily happen when one is highly challenged and enjoying the intense effort.

    You might be right. When cultivated, the intensity of deliberate practice has its own type of reward. Though it still remains really hard, which feels different than my understanding of “flow.” Perhaps what we’re missing is a more complex vocabulary for these ideas.

    I don’t understand Strategy #2 – Complicate it. If something is tricky or hard to perform, complicating it does not seem like a good strategy.

    My understanding of this tip is that if you want to be really excellent, push yourself to do something harder. You’ll become okay at the harder skill, but along the way will be able to tackle the actual target with ease. Then again, I’m just guessing here. I’m not sure why it works for that piano player, but it does.

    Cal, can you elaborate on how you think these apply to the academic setting?

    Master techniques (or ideas or philosophies) that are more complicated than you need, identify the steps you gloss over because they hurt your mind, and force yourself to slow down and work on them, slow down your thinking and take notes on each step of the problem-solving process…

    I’m just thinking out loud here as I am in a similar situation. I’m used to the general idea of introducing stretch into my academic work. But how to adapt these specific style of strategies from piano to research…it’s not an obvious question (though it is an interesting one).

    Also, Sam’s response to your comment has interesting ideas.

    I suppose, if you want to be in the top 1% of performers at any task, practicing like that will work, but unless you are actually having fun, why do you want to do that?

    There is great satisfaction in mastering something useful and valuable. But it’s not fun. For example: I spent 4 hours today trying to get a proof to work, systematically stretching my mind past where it was comfortable. This was not flow. I had to wrench my mind back to this task again and again. Eventually I failed. It was not pleasant. But it was also immensely rewarding.

    I think it can be a disservice to teach someone that if they’re not enjoying the moment to moment of something that it’s not something they should be doing.

  32. BrianSJ says:

    Tara has the right of it. ‘Flow’ is not mindless repetition of known pieces.
    Google didn’t find the Mozart quote I was looking for about ‘taking the path of maximum difficulty’ in playing. The practice strategies sound good. Shame no discussion of silent rehearsal.

  33. Kathy Sierra says:

    In trying to relate “flow” to “deliberate practice”, from my take on the research, there is a tiny sliver of overlap on the outer/challenge edge of the flow state. Flow (as defined by Mihaly) requires that there be a challenge, but by definition it must be matched by at least *perceived* skill. Deliberate practice, on the other hand, requires that you work on things you cannot yet reliably perform, but COULD master within a reasonably short time-frame.

    The way I think of deliberate practice in the context of flow is to just call it “edge” practice. You can be in flow at the lower edge of challenge… Which most “playing a song” comes in, but it is at the very top edge where expertise is built. If you go too far off the top challenge edge, you may be trying to practice something you will never be able to “nail”.

    From the research on expertise, I see two simple guidelines for knowing whether you are doing deliberate practice (as opposed to simply “practice”, or “doing”): 1. If it feels fun… Like you are reaping the benefits of your current level expertise, it is almost certainly NOT deliberate practice. 2. To find a good candidate for deliberate practice, choose a representative task in the domain that experts do consistently better than everyone else, *that you could become more reliable at doing within 1 to 3 hours of devoted, specific practice.” Playing a particular passage by slowing it way way down (being excruciatingly precise) or speeding it up, etc. until you nail it is a typical example of the kind of deliberate practice that builds skill in the most effective way.

  34. Phil says:

    I think you misunderstand what the Flow state is (as defined by Csikszentmihalyi). Flow as defined by Csikszentmihalyi is going to be the most productive state that a person can be in. It’s a not achieved when the task is too easy. It’s only achieved when doing a task which is at the edge of your capabilities. Please reconsider your title.

  35. Mike says:

    Great essay. This explains why today I’m a very good amateur pianist, and that’s as far as I would, even if I had majored in piano–something I instinctively knew back in college. I’ve known enough truly excellent pianists, and I’ve observed everything you’ve mentioned, but never connected the dots.

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  37. Mikko says:

    Having practiced dancing with semi-professional effort, for two years now, I can whole-heartedly agree with the points raised in the article, and by commenters. It is good reminder that if you want to get good at something, flow should not be the goal, but continuous growth.

    However, I think the last point may be little bit different when you are practicing something that is improvised.

    For example, some of the social dances are improvised, and you need constant split-second decision making based on the space around you, other dancers, your partner (who you may have never danced with before), the music etc.

    Thus, how the dancing will play out is fundamentally unknowable at the beginning of the dance. What I can do, however, is to have a clear mental image of next “steps”, so to say. And also need to be able to react, when situation arises that I am unable to complete the sequence.

    I could even make a bold claim that when action is completely improvised, you need sometimes to react, and sometimes go towards beauty.

  38. Augusto says:

    I quite agree with Takeshi (post number 2). Flow is about execution, is definitely not about deliberate practice.

    If you’re playing the piano in front of 5000 people, you will want to be in Flow, in order to filter the people and focus on the execution.

    Unfortunately, there are worse things that are actually the opiate of the mediocre.

  39. Gwen Kinsey says:

    What happens when we allow for both and thinking instead of the either or premise your title evokes? If we have both flow (and the messy creative inspiration it may produce), combined with the technical mastery that practice (and dedication to developing core techniques) creates over time, that for me is a truer path to superior artistry than putting your attention strictly with one or the other. Some may see this as compromise but I disagree. Flow is where an artist connects with their inspiration and their individual expression which can be what creates an emotional connection for artist and listener that transends the composition itself. But without technical mastery derived from practice and hard work, the performace might be sloppy,compromised and not enjoyable for anyone.(but your parents who paid for the lessons)

  40. Azzam says:

    Could you please fix the 2nd to last link ‘the principles of deliberate practice’, it seems to add an additional date prefix to the url breaking it.

    Thanks
    Azzam

  41. Daniel says:

    Hmmm. A good article, but I have to agree with some of the comments here that suggest you are not discussing ‘flow’ but ‘coasting’.

    A personal experience. Recently I have been studying very intensely for a post-grad entrance exam (philosophy, in a foreign language). I need to understand and memorise a lot concepts so that I can know I will be prepared for what is thrown at me. Due to time constraints, I can’t fool around and need to keep up a pace where I am going right for the essentials in each small domain (out of dozens), throwing myself at them until I know I have both understood and memorized them. I check/reinforce my memorization by giving mini lectures on napkins during lunch breaks to friends or on a white-board by myself when everybody has gone home for the night. I also confirm my understanding by speaking with relative experts around me about areas I am not sure on. Finally, I quiz myself routinely on what I have already completed using spaced repetition software. On a typical day I will spend about four hours in deep concentration, broken into hour blocks, in between which I might go and do a lap of the stair well (we are on the eight floor). This time is usually buffered by several more hours of lighter work (revision of what I have learned, language study, etc.)

    This kind of study regime is different from what I normally do, which you might better call ‘coasting’. Usually I might read a book over several days, highlight interesting areas, then put it down and mostly forget about it until I need to re-read it for a paper. Being forced to be very ‘deliberate’ with my study, with a clear purpose (understanding/memorization for an exam) has really made a lot of things in the study hacks blog come home to me in a big way. One of the biggest changes I have noticed since starting this exam-training however is that while it is tiring and difficult, I am often left feeling a kind of exhilaration that drives me to keep going. I imagine this effect may be similar to what people experience when they become ‘gym junkies’. After a few deep focus sessions I am almost buzzing on a study high, and like somebody who has limbered up or jogged past the initial pain, I feel the urge to study more. This seems to me to be what people are talking about when they use the word ‘flow’.

    A second hand quote, but apparently John Mighton writes in The Myth of Ability that: “Nothing focuses the attention of children more sharply than the feeling that they are meeting a series of challenges and succeeding brilliantly.”
    (http://www.robinstewart.com/blog/2011/07/there-are-no-excuses-for-letting-children-fail/)

    Surely we can say the same for adults. Too easy and we coast, too hard and we flounder, becoming frustrated/bored. Flow appears to me to be exactly what your piano player is experiencing with his challenging practice regime.

  42. Bill Seitz says:

    Many musicians use the term “woodshedding” for the kind of practice that’s so repetitive and non-flow-producing that you have to do it in a woodshed to avoid torturing your family/neighbors.

  43. java blog says:

    Flow is form of passion which is must to achieve anything in this world.

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