It’s no secret that the person in our mirror is the one that can make the biggest impact on our lives. If you feel like you’re doing everything right, but it’s still not working, this story is for you…
Many years ago, I started karate lessons. It wasn’t something I had ever thought I would be doing, but when my son started karate, it seemed like an interesting idea. I liked the structure, the discipline and the exercise, both physical and mental, that it demanded.
Only weeks after we started, the studio help a “board breaking” event, where all the students were invited to come and be instructed on how to break boards with their hands. Naturally I was a little concerned for my hands, but the sensei (who was also a musician) assured me that I would not hurt my hands and that, yes, even brand-new beginners could do this.
So that evening, the younger students gathered in their circle and the adults grouped in another. I was among the rawest beginners of the bunch. There were weveral black belts and higher leve;l students. As the students before me took their turns, I watched and listened closely and was amazed how effortless it seemed to break these wooden boards.
Except for one student, a black belt candidate and a doctor as well. She tried several times, and was not only unable to break the boards, but hurt her hand in the process. What was different? Not the wood, not the knowledge of karate, just her thinking. It turns out that board breaking is in large part a mindset; your mental vision will either help you push right through the board or will stop your hand just as it hits. The combination of wise instruction and correct thinking is what works for breaking boards.
And that combination works for making music too. If you don’t have the critical information you need, or your mindset is sabotaging your efforts, it’s very difficult to make progress. Below I have listed four common ways that I see music students prevent themselves from achieving their goals. Is one of them yours?
Are you using the right practice techniques to get the results you want?
If you often feel like your practicing is just going around in circles and not solving the issues you’re trying to address, you need some more practice techniques and strategies. This is when you need the wisdom and experience of your teacher. Be sure not to leave your lesson wihtout knowing exactly HOW your teacher would recommend you practice to achieve the results you want. That way when you sit down to practice, you will know precisely what to do and you can be assured that it will be effective. Ask your teacher for three practice techniques that would be effective, and then be sure to follow instructions!
Are you practicing foundational skills?
Remember, it’s not enough just to learn the pieces you want to play. Your ability to play those pieces depends on the strength of your technique and your musicianship skills, things like note reading, rhythm skills and basic music theory. When you work at building your technique and your musicianship, you are opening the doors to playing more repertoire and learning it more quickly. Those exercises and etudes are important.
Are you focused on learning it “the right way?”
This snags more adult learners than just about any other problem. Focusing on doing it the right way, instead of just doing it, might be what is slowing you down. Of course, you want to learn your technique and your music correctly, but don’t miss the fun and the learning that comes from diving right in. Remember that one of the reasons children learn so quickly is because they are fearless. A little bit of playing a piece at tempo even with mistakes isn’t going to ruin your fingering or your technique and it will help you learn so much faster. When you combine some “throwing caution to the wind” with careful intentional practice, your piece will come together mich faster, and you will enjoy it more.
Are you afraid that you will not be good enough?
We all have this fear at times, but if it becomes a frequent mantra rather than a fleeting thought, you need to re-think. After all, who says what is “good enough” for you besides you? Remind yourself why you are playing music, ask your teacher to help you set achievable goals, and above all keep in the forefront of your thoughts that music is something that we love and can share with others. It’s not about good enough. It’s about adding a little beauty to the world however we can.
By the way, I did break my board that evening in karate class. In fact, I was able to break two boards at once and not hurt my hand. Talk about a feeling of power!
Is there a way you are holding yourself back?