As I was practicing this morning, I realized that as I was warming up I was doing the same, or very similar things, to what I have my junior and intermediate students do. It made me stop and think.
Why was I doing these things that I have been practicing for years if I can do them already? Is this a waste of time? Am I bored? I don’t feel bored.
As I thought about it, my answer is: I do those things very well and very easily because I do them every day. If I didn’t spend a few minutes going over all the basics of violin playing every day they would all be much more difficult and I would be unable to successfully perform complex music with the necessary ease to communicate with an audience.
So when we practice we apply knowledge to develop skill. The easier it gets the more precisely we are able to apply the knowledge and the more finely tuned our skills can become.
To quote Shinichi Suzuki “Knowledge is not ability. Knowledge X 10,000 times is ability.
The urge to procrastinate is a good thing! I never thought I would say this, but I have been introduced to a radical new idea thanks to Seth Godin.
In his new book The Icarus Deception (which I highly recommend) he refers to the urge to procrastinate as a sign that you are about to make some really good art. Since creating really good art also makes you vulnerable, it also activates your sense of self-preservation. Your sense of self-preservation then activates your “fight or flight” response, which manifests as an urge to put off making the art. Therefore, the urge to procrastinate is a sign that you are about to create something really good.
That is the best explanation I have ever heard for the common experience of artists, writers, and musicians – that it is a joy to practice your art, but so very difficult to get started. So the next time I feel like procrastinating instead of practicing, I should paradoxically feel a stronger urge to practice because I know I will accomplish something really good.
At his first recital, 5 year old Jimmy was to perform a piece that he had been polishing for weeks. When it was his turn to play, much to his dad’s dismay, Jimmy ran to the back of the hall and hid in the corner, crying. We went on to the next student, and later in the recital I invited Jimmy to try again. This time he made it to the stage, but he didn’t want to play his piece – just took a bow from the edge of the stage. At the next recital he and his dad again practiced his performance; practicing walking on stage, taking a bow, then playing his piece. Again he didn’t want to play when it was his turn, but after listening to more of the other students’ performances he finally came up and played his piece beautifully. Jimmy continued studying violin for many years, performing regularly in festivals and recitals, each time in front of an audience feeling easier and more comfortable. In high school he became fascinated with the technical side of the theatre, and was involved in running sound and lights for many student productions. Now most of his performing is behind the scenes.
Kayla started playing the recorder when she was 2. After a couple of years, she could play a two note song. When she finished Kindergarten, she could play short Mozart melodies. At a Kindergarten concert, she was to play some Mozart, but after hearing all the other children play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, she played Twinkle too, because that was all she could remember when it was her turn after hearing all the others. When she was 8, she was recommended to the Provincial level of the Music Festival for woodwinds 16 and under. The other teenage students at that event fussed over her, patting her on the head and telling her not to be too nervous. She played a movement of the Sammartini Concerto and a Handel Sonata, and won the class and the scholarship. Now a teenager herself, she is including Suzuki Recorder Teacher Training courses and an ARCT recorder exam in her plans for university studies in theatre and visual arts.
Betty had always wanted to play the flute. As a doctor’s wife, she had been a patron of the arts and had always loved music, but she never actually played an instrument herself. When she retired, she started taking flute lessons. After a couple of years, her teacher said “That’s as much as you will be able to learn because you started when you were so old.” Being a doctor’s wife, she sought a second opinion. That is when she came to me for lessons. After a few more years of study, she was playing Handel sonatas at the level of the RCM syllabus grades 6 to 8, and enjoying herself immensely.
Brittany turned to me the other day and said, “When I have kids I am going to make sure they take music lessons. It is so important for them.” Brittany was finishing her undergraduate engineering degree when she said this. As a teenager, she was living with her single mother when various personal issues caused her to leave home and move in with her grandmother. Her grandmother thanked me many times for the stability that I offered Brittany by having her come to my home for her recorder lessons for many years. She learned to play very well.
Luke and his parents started violin with me when he was 4. Every time his mom or I helped Luke get ready to play he would collapse on the floor and roll around under the furniture giggling. Mom or I would catch him and start again with rest position, playing feet, violin position, bow hand, bow on the highway – and again he would fall to the floor just as he was ready to play the first note. Luke is now a teenager and playing very well. I looked at him and him mom in his last lesson and said: “You don’t fall down on the floor anymore!” and all three of us had a good laugh.