Your student comes into the lesson, and while he's unpacking his instrument he beams: "I practiced so much this week" "wonderful - let's hear!"
He plays his piece and stumbles, starting over a couple of times. Somehow, it doesn't seem to work. Until he finally gives up, saying "oh but I really could play this at home", and you understand him.
Because this has happened to you, too.
Leaving aside the fact that starting "from the cold" isn't easy, and that well-practiced things usually settle at the second time round, we're standing in front of the well-known "But-I-could-play-this-at-home"-topic. We all know it.
And why does this happen? Some might suggest that the student didn't really practice for enough time to know the piece well. Or, that he really couldn't play the piece at home in the first place and fooled himself into believing so. Or that he's just nervous. Or that his warming-up wasn't enough.
That might or might not be the case, additionally.
Because there's more.
The main reason reason behind "but I could play this at home" lies in the connection between hearing and movement inside the human ear.
Let's go there for a moment.
(source: Wikipedia Commons)
When we hear, soundwaves that reach our tympanus (dark green) are transmitted and amplified by three auditory ossicles called malleus, incus and stapes (all three in blue).
The last bone is positioned in a way that it connects with the hearing organ and the balance organ at the same time (both are purple here - balance organ top and hearing organ bottom). That means that in the inner ear, sound is translated equally into hearing information and into movement information.
After that, it gets even more interesting, the nerves of the hearing and balance organs merge into one single nerve fiber, reaching the brain as the cranial nerve VIII.
Such is the close connection between hearing and movement.
That means, in reverse, that there is access to the motor system, i.e. movement, through hearing.
And when I say movement, it includes of course the whole of our bodies; our arms and fingers and tongue and the other muscles we use to play, sing or conduct a piece.
Now, let's return to the practicing topic. When we practice in one room we will have trained a set of movements according to that acoustic.
The moment we go to our lesson, the surroundings change, the reverberation changes. The ear receives new information and tries to process it, translating hearing into movement, and that disturbs our previously learned movements (unless they were linked to the hearing). And so we feel disoriented. And what we once knew well, suddenly starts to wiggle.
And that's the reason behind "but I could play this at home". Because we could really play this at home. But we didn't train to adapt, we just trained the movements.
This perspective opens up new opportunities for our practicing habits. For example, practicing in as many different surroundings as possible, exchanging practice rooms with colleagues, e.g. practicing in each other's living room will give us the chance to adapt. Training ourselves to listen to our sound in the room and not in the instrument. Having a more 'surrounding' hearing altogether will make our playing and our stage presence more dimensional and subsquently more powerful.
We want to teach our students to practice smarter and not to just practice more and we are always looking for ways to make more of our practice time and use it wisely.
And this can be a new starting point, for them and for us.