Sometimes, after a student finishes playing a piece in a lesson, I have this sudden urge to look him or her straight in the eyes with all the seriousness I can muster and say “well you didn’t get it right this week…you might as well give up and quit now.”
Do I mean it? Absolutely not.
But really, it’s no way near as harsh as the things my students say about themselves during a lesson.
Over the years I’ve heard the following statements from students ranging in age from 6 to 90:
- “That was awful…I couldn’t possibly play that song any worse.”
- “Why am I so stupid?”….popular derivations of this are “why are my fingers so stupid?,” “why is the music so stupid?,” and “why is my brain so stupid?”
- “How can you put up with me? Doesn’t this drive you crazy?”
- “I should quit. I’m horrible.”
It never fails to make me laugh when a student (young or old) tells me that they must be my worst student and that I can’t possibly have any students worse than them. If only they knew how often I’ve heard that…(and usually it comes from some of my best students)!
Every year I have a few young students who come to lessons with an “I can’t do this,” “I’m so awful,” “I’m so stupid” attitude. And each year their problems can be easily traced back to practice issues. With my young students, at least 90% of the time, the problem is of the “too little” variety. With my adult students, at least 75% of the time, the problem is “too much.” 25% of adults do have a legitimate reason for “too little” but I’ll get to all that later.
But for my young students, simply put, how can you expect to get better when you don’t touch your instrument at all between lessons?
**Oh and just in case any of my students reading this post think I’m referring directly to them…remember, I did say earlier that you’d never believe how many times I’ve heard the same thing. This post is not in reference to any particular individual but will hopefully offer some advice to the collective whole!**
Anyway, back to my young students…I have some bad news. You cannot learn a musical instrument simply by living alongside it and occasionally glancing at it once or twice. There is no transfer by osmosis. You do have to put time and effort into the process.
But I do have some good news…with just a little time and effort, you’ll be shocked at the progress you’ve made. You’re so young…your brain is just dying to soak up information as fast it can! And once you have it…you really can’t forget it. Sure, you can get a little sloppy and you can lose some technique here and there; but, if you really HAD it, it WILL come back.
Right now it’s so easy to find time to practice. Even with all the sports, and youth groups, and school clubs (etc.) you really have plenty of time.
- Watching an hour of tv in the afternoon? – Practice during the commercials…it’ll give you almost 20 minutes.
- Doing a few hours of homework? – After an hour of math problems or history readings take a break and practice for 20-30 minutes. You’ll exercise a different part of your brain and you can take out your algebra frustrations on your instrument (was that just me?). That’s what Rachmaninoff and Hindemith were made for!!
- Bored on a weekend? – Practice 20 minutes while you’re waiting for your friend to come over.
- Bonus: When I was younger, I got out of dish duty by agreeing to provide dish-washing background music. (I can’t guarantee that one but it’s worth a try!)
In 15 or 20 years when you’re working full-time and/or driving your own kids to various activities, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning you’ll look back at these times fondly and be shocked at just how much free time you actually had. ALL of my adult students can relate to this…
(Personally, I miss naptime the most…)
So, this is where Goldilocks comes in. You all remember the story…yada yada “too hot,” “too cold,” “just right”….”too big,” “too small,” “just right”. It’s all about finding a balance between extremes.
For my young students (K-12 who are not planning for collegiate music study) 30 minutes of practicing a day is not a lot of time. It’s 1/48th of your day. It’s not too little and it’s definitely not too much. I would bet that for every single one of my students, it’s a totally achievable amount. And for some of my students, it would absolutely blow your mind to discover what you could accomplish with 30 minutes a day (yes I’m talking to those of you who practice 10-20 minutes…a week).
But anyway, back to my opening statement. I would never say “well you didn’t get it right…you might as well give up and quit now” and actually mean it. So I’m not quite sure why my students think that if they don’t get something on the first try that they should just quit and give up altogether. And I especially don’t understand how young students can actually expect to get something 100% correct when they’ve never touched it outside of a lesson.
I don’t expect perfection…and I think it’s unrealistic for any student to expect perfection. I do think, however, that there are ways to strive for perfection. Finding time to practice is the first big step. Goldilocks had it right…you can’t go too little or too big, you have to find your “just right.”
And don’t give up. Find your balance and just TRY.
Trust me, you will NEVER meet an adult who says “I’m so glad my mom/dad let me quit music lessons when I was a kid!” Don’t worry adult students…your post is coming soon! 🙂