Last night L and I were talking about cross-disciplinary work, and how committing to multiple practices (that is to say, polymathery) can strengthen everything you practice.

Which, naturally, got us talking about Stronglifts 5×5.

“Lifting weights feels a lot more like practicing the piano than doing those online chess lessons,” I tried to explain. “With weights, it’s the same kind of physical work — you’ve got this movement that you want to execute, and you need to focus on precision and form and specificity and breath and hand position and everything else because otherwise you can hurt yourself.”

I am sure I took a breath at that point, and then made another one:

“I mean, you can be a lot less precise about form on the piano, and a lot of us are sloppy about form because we aren’t in quite as much danger of hurting ourselves, though you could still damage your wrists and everything else long-term if you aren’t careful. With weights, you have to try to achieve perfect form every time.”

And then, of course, the obvious realization:

“What if I tried to achieve perfect form on the piano, every time?”

So that’s what I did this morning. It was, as you can expect, a completely different practice. Committing to perfect form — not letting my wrists gank up, not letting my fingers flatten, avoiding that first-knuckle collapse that always happens if you aren’t thoughtful about key-strike and follow-through — made an unbelievable difference in my playing.

Here, you can see it to believe it:

This Chopin performance is the most specific I’ve ever been, and because of that it’s also the most emotionally compelling. Every note lands because I am focused on landing it with perfect form, and I’ve kept just enough of the “playing the piece as if I were discovering each note for the first time” (which I kind of am, since I am essentially discovering a new way of playing each note) that it sounds fresh and — pun intended — striking.

There are a few situations in which my first knuckles still collapse, but those are rare enough that you’ll have to watch very carefully for them. Compare this Chopin to the one I recorded last month, which is a decent performance but, like, half of those top knuckles are weebling and wobbling and falling down:

Working towards perfect form makes a difference.

It all makes a difference.

Which means that I’m going to have to — gladly, willingly — work at making that difference every time I practice the piano.

And, since I’m committed to multiple practices, figure out what the equivalent of “perfect form” is when I play chess. (My guess is that it has something to do with “always knowing the best move,” though I’m nowhere near that level of play yet.) ❤️

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