On Tempo, and the Importance of Knowing What to Work On

In music, and in chess.

Last week, I told you all that I had decided to start playing Mozart's Piano Sonata Number 12 in F Major, K332 at tempo. I was in the process of adjusting my schedule to accommodate more focused freelancing so I could free up two days for more focused novel-writing, and it seemed appropriate to refocus my practicing as well.

As I explained, in last week's post:

[...] asking myself how can I focus my time to ensure accuracy at 140 and how can I focus my time to ensure I complete five freelance assignments in 2.5 days has really helped me, for lack of a better phrase, FOCUS MY TIME.

This is still true. My practice sessions are much more focused, my freelancing sessions are very very focused, and I've given myself two full workdays per week to devote to my novel-in-progress without cutting back on my freelance work or my piano sessions.

In fact, I've increased the time I'm putting towards the piano, but that's also because I'm spending more time knowing what I want to do and doing it instead of guessing at what might work and then getting tired because guessing takes a lot of mental work and then getting frustrated and giving up.

(This difference between knowing what you want to do and guessing at what you might want to do is significant, btw. It might be the biggest factor in all of this increased focus—that, and the ability to prioritize both work and rest—and I should probably write an entire post about it at some point.)

This week, I spent my piano practice sessions in much the way I spent my novel-revision sessions: by isolating specific problems and specifically addressing each of those problems in turn.

Not at tempo, but at the speed at which I could uncover a potential solution to the problem.

And then I went back to tempo, to see if the solution worked, and then I continued iterating between at-tempo and not-at-tempo as necessary.

You're going to want to see my work, so here's the last movement of K332 at tempo. I spent much of this week working on getting my pinky finger uncurled, and you can see definite improvement there. The performance isn't where I want it to be yet; there are still a lot of problems to be solved, especially in the development section. But it's a lot better than it was a week ago.

This week, I also started spending my chess practice sessions in much the way I spent my piano practice sessions—play at tempo, figure out why you can't play at tempo, adjust until you can.

Playing at tempo, in this case, means playing the hardest Chess.com robot.

Previously I had been doing what you were "supposed" to do, which was playing each level of robot successively until you could beat them (same as what you are "supposed" to do at the piano, which is playing a passage at 40 and 50 and 60 beats per minute before you ever try to play it at 140 or 200), which at this point has grown frustrating because I know enough about chess to recognize when the mid-level robots are making obvious blunders.

But I don't precisely know why I'm still making my own blunders. Otherwise, I wouldn't make them.

So I started playing the Grandmaster-level Robot, and after a few games in which I got my chess handed to me and a few games in which I used Chess.com's "give me every hint" function to win, I settled on a different strategy.

I would play the Hardest Robot until the point when I lost tempo. (Tempo is a music word that is also a chess word, and losing tempo means losing the advantage.)

Then I would resign the game and start another one, and play until I lost tempo again.

I'm going to keep track of the number of moves it takes me to lose tempo, and the types of blunders that cause me to lose tempo, and work specifically on increasing the number of moves and reducing the number of blunders.

This actually reminds me of the early days of freelancing, when I set myself two goals:

  • Increase the amount of money I earn every week

  • Reduce the number of assignments it takes to earn that money

Tracking these metrics was one of the best things I did as a freelancer, because it helped me focus on what I considered to be the most important aspect of freelancing: earning as much money as possible per word. When I began strategizing all of my freelance choices around increasing my income and decreasing my workload, I automatically began seeking out better-paying clients.

I'd like to think that strategizing my chess choices around increasing the number of moves it takes before the Hardest Robot starts winning and reducing the number of obvious mistakes that give the Hardest Robot an easy win will be equally gamechanging—but we'll have to wait at least a week to find out.

Where I Got Published This Week


How to use a credit card

Here’s how to choose and use your credit cards to hit your financial goals this year.

2020 was hard on my finances. Here’s what I’m doing in 2021 to get back on track

In December 2020, Alainta Alcin got laid off a month after buying her first home. Here’s how she turned the situation around and got her finances back on track.

Cash or debit vs. credit: What’s the best way to pay?

Use this guide and think twice before deciding which payment type is best next time you’re in the checkout line.

Credit Cards Dot Com

Capital One Quicksilver vs. Bank of America Unlimited Cash

Both cards offer 1.5% cash back on every purchase – but that doesn't mean they're identical

How to pay for immigration fees

Learn how you can finance these fees with a credit card

Don't Write Alone | Catapult

Job Opportunities for Writers: August 13, 2021

We post roundups of writing and literary jobs once a week. Here’s our list for August 13, 2021.

Upcoming Submission and Pitching Opportunities: August 13, 2021

We post submission roundups once a week. Here’s our list of literary magazines and freelance opportunities for August 13, 2021.