Thursday, June 4, 2015

Your Growth as a Musician - Part 2 - On Progress

Your Growth as a Musician - Part 2 - On Progress

One problem that many of us have with "progress" is our tendency to judge ourselves by our difficulties, by what we cannot do, by the ground we have not yet covered.  When faced with a difficult passage, we think of ourselves as "bad" players, rather than as good players facing a challenging task.  We overlook how far we have come and how well-equipped we truly are. This often occurs due to tackling the task in the same way.  Albert Einstein once described insanity as doing the same thing in the same way and expecting different results. Beware/ Cuidado!

Some musicians imprison themselves in the same mode. To avoid this try thinking of these four modes of memory: 1)  tactile, 2) aural, 3) visual [which includes fingerboard/fingerings and/or the musical score] and 4) conceptual.  Utilizing only one or two is similar to a four-cylinder car running on only two cylinders.  Thought of another way, these four can be harnessed simultaneously and therefore strengthening/buttressing our memory and therefore our confidence.  Mapping is a technique truly worth exploring and I will discuss this technique as well in a later blog entry.

The important point here is to keep exploring different learning techniques enabling us to stay interested, engaged and like a playful explorer in our musical universe.

Another impediment to our progress is reaching a plateau.  

As with any other subject or skill, progress in music is never a smooth arc.  At various times progress flies and at others the plateau comes.  Sometimes we feel that we are regressing and this perception can bring on discouragement. The important thing to remember when feeling this way is that a plateau is a time of integrating and absorbing what you have learned previously and a time of preparation for your spirit, mind and body for the next great leap.  It is a time of harvesting rather than growing.

Here are a few tools one can use to move through a plateau period:

  • Make sure you are using the four tools mentioned above. Use them completely and throughly, going more deeply into the area of your work which has caused frustration. 
  • Be self-aware. Over time we get to know when we are reaching a plateau. Thoughtful anticipation, as with any recurring experience in life, can help us to plan our approach.  The famous American photographer Ansel Adams has said "Chance favors the prepared mind."
  • Learn with friends. I have my students perform each Friday, whereby they perform for each other and give helpful criticism. If there isn't an organized group already available to you, then be pro-active  and organize a group that group yourself. 
  • Have fun!  Play by candle light. Practice in the dark.  Play duets with a friend.
  • Find a new way to do something that you've been doing the same way forever. Be fresh and new!
  • Try moving around the score, rather than staying in one spot. Yes, you'll return to the challenging part, but only when you've got a new idea as to how to tackle it.
  • Treat yourself to articles, books on your interests. Also find new interests!
  • Go to concerts! 
  • Window shop for a 'new' instrument.  Not to buy, but to learn from what that different instrument can teach you about you and how you approach an instrument. Instruments have different qualities and are teachers in and of themselves!
  • Keep a journal.  There is nothing more helpful and truthful about how we are learning than to review old journal entries. You'll see a pattern of growth spurts and plateaus. Use this information to anticipate plateaus and to dig out of them.  You'll also notice both good and bad habits.  A powerful tool. Use it!
Well, I hope this has been of help! 

Next - Mapping and Keeping a Journal!

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