There are many aspects of music study, so it's impossible to commend a single style of study that applies equally well to every individual and every aspect of learning music. Nevertheless, one thing is clear. Practicing with an inappropriate approach produces little progress and can lead to frustration, repetition without reward.
This suggests that you must find the approaches that work best for you. And that means culling through the techniques that work for most people.
In this article I'll explain steps and techniques for learning physical skills, memorizing repertoire, and for avoiding frustration.
People typically learn new physical skills somewhat slowly. Indeed this is how it goes for most beginning musicians. To a certain extent this is the nature of physical learning. But when a physical skill remains out of reach for an extended period of time, the reason is usually due to:
By understanding and honoring the ways we naturally learn, it is possible to accelerate the mastery of physical skills. This might mean mastering new techniques, or in music, memorizing of a scale or a melody.
Those who develop and assimilate quickly are those who readily adopt the routines and study skills that foster quick acquisition and strong retention. This may occur because they've learned the ropes, or just that they instinctively and unconsciously choose the appropriate path.
American culture doesn't teach us to be sensitive to and honoring toward the pace of the body, and thus many people don't understand how to train the body.
They fail to employ practice techniques that foster quick mastery of new physical skills. They focus on the rudder before hoisting the sails. That won't get them anywhere. Or they're so busy getting their sails up they can't steer their course, so they arrive at some unintended destination.
Many people naturally enjoy the repetition inherent in learning music. Some enjoy the physical sensation of moving through the steps. Some find it soothing to perform a familiar task. They like getting absorbed in it, possibly because it draws their attention away from the cares of the day. Others come to enjoy the repetition. If you're not the former, I hope to encourage you to be the latter.
Some people get along with musical memorization and skill acquisition fine from the start. They instinctively choose a pace and approach (practice patterns) that yield excellent results.
Key steps for memorization are ***:
Bright quick-minded people frequently have little patience for the amount of repetition required in learning a musical instrument. They feel limited by the rate that their body learns and get frustrated, like they're stuck trying to teach someone who just doesn't get it. Though they may have a perfect understanding of what they're trying to accomplish, they mistakenly believe that understanding should suffice in producing mastery over a new physical skill ... or in memorizing a new song, scale, arpeggio, or strum. Often they persist in such wishful thinking, and they do so despite witnessing for themselves that understanding alone fails to produce refined and reliable control over complex physical skills.
If a student becomes discouraged about the naturally required pace and repetition, they usually wish they could somehow get their body to learn faster. ***If you feel this type of impatience you'll need to learn to accept the pace and rhythm of your body. The steps are simple, but they require a sense of inner calm. Steps that are nearly as challenging as sitting still for ten minutes.
Understanding is often instantaneous. Insights and mental clarity often come in a flash of light. *** Implementation is an entirely different experience. In a moment a person may envision floor plan for a house remodel. That is a type of understanding. It's there in an instant, full born, clear as day. But implementing the plan is much different story. Turning the mental image into a sketch takes time. Turning a sketch into a true floor plan requires more work, care and experience. And a full set of architectural plans, that's weeks of work and may require expertise beyond one's realm of experience.
Understanding is a great rudder, but unlike wind in your sails, it affords very little drive. The desire to succeed, and the willingness to try again, to refine and try yet again ... that what provide's the drive.
Frustration is an emotional reaction to a thwarted goal or achievement. We experience frustration even in small daily events, like fumbling or dropping something for the third time. There's something inherence frustrating about repetitive failures, especially when we're in a hurry or we're attached to the outcome.
The acquisition of physical skills requires lots of repetition, and lots of trial and error. There's no way around that. Each day you must arrive at the scene, open to the possibilities, able to select small manageable goals, with a clear understanding of your goals, with the willing to focus on them repetitively and the discipline to observe and correct ... Repetitively.
You can more comfortably allow room for repetition when you expect it. This in itself tends to reduce frustration. You may never eliminate frustration entirely, but if you approach a project with the proper perspective, proceed at a proper pace and use the proper tools, you can keep frustration at a manageable level. When all else fails, take a short break.
Though it may require patience to practice at an appropriate pace at a speed that educates the body there are many benefits in doing so. (Incidentally, "appropriate speed" varies. A slow speed is not always the best speed. Much more on this later.)
We often feel frustrated when we try to do something but can't. When you aim for unattainable goals, when you bite off more than you can chew, frustration will follow. You can avoid frustration by using good practice habits.
Furstration also occurs when we are interupted or when you're exposed to distractions. The mere sound of people talking can interfere with concentration. It's even more distracting when someone is talking to you, giving directions, offering suggestions, and certainly when they openly criticizing your efforts. It's also frustrating to be falsely accused.
Each of us has a type of thinking, voices that we call refer to as the 'inner critic' and the 'good coach.' The inner critic is full of critical comments, which are largely false accusations. When present, the inner critic can quickly inspire a spiral of frustration. Even the good coach can distract us to the point of frustration. More on these charactors later.
Our minds are incredibly adept at learning physical skills. Early skills like speech and walking are learned by imitation and experimentation, and though countless episodes of trial and error. As we grow older, it is assumed that we loose some ability to learn fundamental skills, like speech. indeed, we can learn a new language, but it will take more effort than when we're young ... and in four years we may have accomplished less than a four year old has with his or her native tongue. But aside from a fresh brain and clean slate, a toddler has are some advantages over older learners, so the quick learning can not be attributed entirely to neurological or chronological youthfulness.
A young child has language emersion, a full-time coaching community of family and friends, plenty of rest and sleep. You children also have an undeveloped superego or inner critic, so mistakes are viewed neutrally or with a sense of fun, sparing them reticence, embarrassment and the .
As an adult, our biggest liability is impatience. In most people this is fueled by a harsh inner critic, that demands perfection, yet is unwilling to submit to the amount of repetition required to escort perfection's arrival.
Although the body has an incredible and nearly inexhaustible ability to memorize movement and music, it's important to realize that some approaches are destined to fail.
1) When can only focus on one task at a time.
2) we are very limited in the amount of new information we can hold in memory
To elevate your playing skills, you must free your mental attention from the role of directing movements. Then you can use it to observe the sounds that you create and refine various details of movement. When you use your kinesthetic memory to play, your mental attention remains free for such tasks.
Many people suffer from an inner source of frustration. They have an inner voice that runs rampant within their stream of thoughts a voice that constantly belittles them. A voice with erroneous opinions.
We all have an inner critic. But with some people the critic is overactive, and it becomes particularly vocal in certain circumstances like social settings and learning environments.
One of the hallmarks of maturity is the ability to consciously hear the inner critic, and the ability to dismiss it when appropriate. It's when you fail to notice the critic's presence and message that it has its strongest influence nearly complete control and it causes the most turmoil. Once you've become aware of this voice and readily notice the messages that it sends, you have the option of responding appropriately.
The mature response is simple. When you hear a message from your inner critic, evaluate its credibility. If it is a pointless message of self doubt or judgment, dismiss it, possibly replacing it with a thought that's more accurate and reassuring. Or, if there's any truth in the critic's scepticism, reframe it with a positive tone, and continue on your way toward your goals.
Sensitive people make great musicians. Unfortunately they frequently have overbearing inner critics. To successfully study and perform music, they need to learn to put the critic at bay. This takes lots of practice. Learning to notice is the most important and challenging step.
If the critic operates unconciously, how do we know when it's present and spoiling our fun? Frustration is the tip off. If you feel frustrated when practicing, stop and review your thoughts of the previous minute or two. At first, people usually draw a blank. It takes some practice to successfully peer behind the veil. But you can learn to do so.
When ever you start to feel frustrated when practicing, stop of a half minute and try to remember your recent thoughts. Write them down. Any thoughts: good or bad. In the process you may notice a trend of positive or negative thoughts. You'll have created a log of what the critic says to you. You're list may contain judgmental statements like:
"You should know this by now."
"You're never going to learn this."
"Everyone else can do this already."
"You're so slow!"
People say things to themselves that they'd never say to anyone else. Similarly they tolerate inner criticism that they would never tolerate from another person. So the goal is to respect yourself as much as you respect others.
You can learn to speak positively to yourself, like a parent calming a hysterical child. People do this all the time. After reading the last sentence perhaps you experienced a wave of disbelief, and said something to yourself like, "Right. Me calm myself? I'd never learn to do that!" If so, ask yourself, "Is that your true opinion, or was it just a message of doubt, courtesy of your inner critic?" Even if you think you can't, maybe you can. This underscores the essential point. Messages from the inner critic are spoken, heard and believed unconsciously, they wield the most power.
Sometimes the easiest way of dismissing the critic by ignoring it. You can easily do so by becoming thoroughly involved in the task, by directing your attention toward physical awareness. This siphons attention and away from thinking, which is where the critic lives. Almost sounds too simple, but it really works. Just stop, tune in to physical sensation, any sensation (your feet of the floor, you shirt sleeve on your arm, relaxing your jaw) then hold this sensation in you awareness as your practice. You'll naturally exclude the critic simply by filling your attention with sensation.
The critic often makes exaggerated statements, or excessive and inappropriate demands, like "You need to practice more. You'll never improve unless you practice at least an hour a day!"
Perhaps you should challenge this. Ask yourself, "Is this true?" Maybe at present the opposite is true. Perhaps you'll cause more damage than good by attempting to practice more than you want to! Maybe you have good cause to steer clear of practice. When your practice improves and you start having more fun, you'll automatically want to practice more.