Are You Ready to Burst Your Bubble?

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Soap ball in daylight against a background of greenery.

Have you ever thought about a simple soap bubble?

It’s a beautiful and amazing creation, air trapped in layers of soap film, a fragile phenomenon combining surface tension and elasticity. I always enjoyed playing with bubble wands, seeing how big I could make the bubbles and how long they would last. How hard it is to keep that bubble from breaking!

“Living in a bubble” is a common metaphor for being protected and isolated from potentially harmful surroundings. But what if in escaping from the bubble, we actually become free? What if “bursting our bubble” means the release from confining limiting beliefs or habits? What possibilites might exist for us on the outside that we don’t see when we are on the inside?

Imagine for a moment that your musical habits and perceptions are your bubble. That bubble is made of all the positive ways in which you support your musical growth, like continuing to learn and study, regular practice, and sharing your music with others. But your bubble is also made of the negative ideas or habits that limit your progress, things like inconsistent or ineffective practice, self-doubt, or lack of routine.

If you are like many musicians, this month of December is filled with lots of extra music-making, exponentially more than at most other times of year. And although it may feel like a musical “perfect storm,” December will finally come to an end and you can go back to life at a normal pace, life “in the bubble.” But do you really want to? Should you?

I would like to challenge you to try living outside your bubble by showing you how your December musical rush has already helped you to grow beyond the bubble’s limits. In fact, you may already have broken through your bubble without realizing it. See if any of these common statements sound familiar to you:

1. I never seem to be able to finish any pieces.
Make a quick list of all the music you will have learned and performed this month. (You may want to include the last couple weeks of November as well.) All of the music on that list will be finished by the end of December. So what is stopping you from finishing pieces the rest of the year? It might be one of these three reasons:

  • Lack of urgency. When something absolutely has to be done, we get it done. This is like what happens right before we go on vacation. We get an amazing amount of work done and loose ends tied up, simply because these things must be done before we can go away. Clearly we are capable of this kind of productivity; we just need to be able to be more productive on a regular basis.
  • Lack of a deadline. Until you have a deadline for finishing a piece, it won’t get finished. You can’t plan your practice properly without a goal date. Always sety a time frame for learning a piece, and then stick to it. Having some accountability to a teacher or friend can be very helpful, if you need an occasional nudge.
  • Definition of “finish.” Finished doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, waiting for perfection is a waiting game that never ends. Every piece is always a work in progress, reflecting where we are in our studies at that particular moment in time. You don’t have to have your music perfect. Have the courage to let it be “good enough.” Finish it for now, and come back to it at some point in the future, when you can take it to the next level.

2. I am a terrible performer.
How many performances did you do this month? Consider each performance from an outside viewpoint, for instance the viewpoint of the leader of the group you were performing with, or the audience you were playing for. Did these people expect you to get every note correct? What were they expecting from you and did you meet that expectation? Even if you weren’t pleased with your performance, did it bring value to the audience or the group? Most likely it brought more value than you think.

So often we don’t recognize the worth to others of the music we make. We worry about a wrong note or a pedal noise, but the audience hears their favorite carol. We are embarrassed by our shaky fingers, but they see someone whose courage is inspiring. We remember the four measures we totally bombed in the ensemble concert, and forget the rest of the time that our playing was rock solid.

You may not be comfortable with performing, but you’re probably better than you think. And the good news is that the more you perform, the more comfortable you become and the better you play.

3. I don’t have enough time to practice.
Did you manage to practice everything you played this month? You probably found extra time to practice, in between all your holiday errands. Maybe you found little chunks of time that you snatched now and then. Perhaps you had to dedicate time to practice that you usually spend on something else. The point is that somehow you found enough time to meet all your playing commitments.

Don’t lose that momentum. You don’t have to keep up a frantic December pace, but surely you can incorporate some of your December practice habits into your usual schedule. You have already found out what you can get done with extra practice time. Make more practice time a daily habit you take with you into the new year.

Is it time to burst your bubble and break free?

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