Thursday, September 24, 2015

Commitment and Consistent Effort at Every Level

So, you've been in classes for a month now, and the shiny newness of practicing is morphing into the actual habit of music practice. Another of our Let's Play Music Core Values is: We expect commitment and consistent effort at every level. 

How Do I Become a Master?

In a recent blog post, I wrote about helping students crystalize dreams for future musical study by taking them to all kinds of musical performances. They have a chance to hear different instruments and styles and discover what they want to do with music. Those performances are also a sneaky time to open this discussion I hope you'll have with your child: "How do you suppose those performers became master musicians?"

Students are relived when I tell them it's way easier than they think. Becoming proficient at an instrument is easy because, first, you don't have to be born naturally great. There's a load off your mind! I'll admit that there are some who learn things more quickly, but the vast majority of us find a new instrument to be a huge challenge.  No matter! Humans were designed to create music.  You can do this.  As long as your feet are pointed in the right direction, you're on track. Hooray! 

The Magic of One Little Stone

The second reason it's easy to become a master is because any progress is still progress.  I send my LPM students home each week with the confident message that they can accomplish the practice assignments by the end of the week. Parents and students are surprised when we learn Bounce and Roll in the 3rd year of class, and at first I ask them to learn only the first line!  That's so little, they say.  Yes, if every day you get marginally better at playing one line, or one tricky measure, or one drill, you're that much better.  After days and days, these little bits add up. Soon you know several songs.  Then you start learning more challenging songs.

Click here for video
Playing a tricky song (like this Debussy piece by 9-yo LPM grad, Truman) can seem as crazy as moving a mountain.  Here's an analogy for you to share with your child: If you wanted to move a huge pile of rocks from the front yard to... the piano room (no excavating tools allowed), it might seem impossible.  But if you take a small stone or two from the pile each day and carry it to the piano room, and repeated every day for three years, you will have moved that mountain!  

The Hard Part

If everyone started from zero and took increments of progress, everyone would eventually become a fantastic musician. What happens? Other things come along and we forget to save time to practice (or help the child practice).  Often moving single stones is too small for our commitment. The day-to-day progress is too boring, not to mention challenging. "Why should I sit and practice for 10 minutes? I'll hardly improve!? What fun is that?" 

The hard part of mastering any skill is consistency to keep at it, even when the progress is incremental.  It takes commitment and consistent effort at every level to master an instrument.  Looking down at the small stone (or listening to the simple song) might seem hardly worthwhile. And maybe boring. And possibly frustrating. "I'm working so hard, and I hardly seem better."

What we must cultivate is the ability to see past the small task asked of us today and recognize the greater whole it creates.  Perhaps the next time your child want to skip practice, remind her of the analogy of the stones- you may even want to keep a jar of stones in the piano room!  

"It seems like today you don't feel like you can do a boulder, but could you do a 5-minute pebble? It will really help the jar of stones fill up."  "Even if you only have 5-minutes, I bet you could help your fingers get better at playing the chords on this page...and the muscles will be that much stronger." 

I adore recitals (read our post) because they let us look at the hypothetical pile or jar of stones and bask in what has been accomplished! Recitals get students motivated and excited to move the next big pile.  These moments prove to the students that the cycle of effort and reward does work.

Body Building

I just realized that my stones analogy may have a little flaw.  If a student forgot to move one stone per day for several months (or years) he could decide to pull an all-nighter and do nothing but move stones until he was caught up on stone-moving.  Can we catch up on missed piano training?  

Well, we can make practices longer and more frequent, but because piano training involves muscle memory and creation of neural connections (read our post), the repetitive days and months of practicing cannot be replaced by cramming.  Long practice sessions usually lead to mental fatigue and limited learning, anyway.

Weight-lifters can't spend two straight days in the gym and expect to build muscles they haven't worked for months! Neither can pianists.  On the same note, just as a body builder takes a day or two off, pianists can do the same.  During your rest day, your brain assimilates your efforts and commits them to memory.

The take home message? If you have 5 or 10 minutes to practice, do it! If you find 5 or 10 minutes later in the day, practice again! It will be more beneficial  than waiting for a day when you have 40 undisturbed minutes.  Those teeny-tiny pebbles are going to be your key to success!

A Life Lesson
Consistent effort in music, school, and life

Let's Play Music is not just about making every child into a superstar (although that's pretty nice). We also believe in helping educate well-rounded humans.  Music lessons offer a perfect venue for teaching the value of consistent effort applied to long-term challenges. The discipline practiced and learned here can be applied to every pursuit your child chooses to embrace. Embrace this teaching opportunity.

A child who learns to reap rewards from her long-term efforts is, not surprisingly, a better student and worker.  Many recent research articles have delved into the benefits of music lessons and found the ways that the mental workouts achieved in music lessons strengthen areas of the brain and improve a variety of skills. 

Music students are better students, scoring higher on tests and getting higher grades in school.  Is it because the music made them smarter or because their music study helped them learn consistent effort? 

Stay tuned for other articles encompassing all of the Let's Play Music Values.

-Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music Teacher

No comments:

Post a Comment