August 17, 2011

This is hard!

I find many parts of making music are relatively easy (that is, easier than calculating cubic roots in my head or determining the most simplistic way to present the unified field theory to a kindergartner). But less experienced musicians often express frustration and dismay over how hard it is to play the harp.

To these less experienced people, ease seems to be either a sadistic ploy to make them feel badly about their level of experience (it isn’t, I assure you – we’ve all been there at some point) or a cruel twist of fate that leaves some people finding it easy, with others finding it impossible. I will not take up the nature/nurture question vis a vis musicianship but I will tell you something that will (upon reflection) not surprise you -

That apparent ease is a result of…you guessed it…PRACTICE!

The more you practice something, the more often you perform an act, the easier it becomes. This continued, focused practice results in what is called Automatic Processing. The more you practice something, the less you have to consciously think about it to make it happen. And it comes about through practice. If you practice anything accurately you will become better at it (of course if you practice inaccurately, you will become better at doing something incorrectly!). If you practice counting, you will get more proficient at counting. If you practice reading you will become better at reading. If you practice making hand shapes and blocking, this will become second nature – it will become just the way you do it.

You have already mastered many activities and made them automatic – complex tasks like walking, jumping, writing, etc. all once required a great deal of concentration and effort but are now automatic. If you think this is not the case, I recommend you spend more time with very young children – you can watch them find behaviors and practice them. When walking is new, you don’t just wish to walk better – you walk and walk and walk, and fall down, and get up and walk some more – until you can do it all by yourself!

So, if you are working hard to play – whether it is counting, or blocking, having consistent fingering, sitting up straight, or reading – you now know that you just need more practice with those basic behaviors. Strong practice of these basic skills – making them automatic - frees up your brain to do other hard work, like learning new pieces, adding appropriate dynamics, or writing your own!

So, go practice!

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