How Changing Your Perspective Can Inspire Continued Musical Growth
How often is it that, as musicians, we find ourselves stuck, seemingly unable to move forward, get better, or grow, simply put: we have reached a “plateau”? The truth is that this is a universal occurrence; there is not a single player out there that has not encountered this regardless if they are a guitarist, violinist or even a conductor. How is it possible then, that one can overcome such a seemingly immense problem? The answer is as difficult as the problem; the reality is there are multiple answers one of which I will talk about over the course of this article.
Recently I found myself with almost no time to practice, I was in the midst of a life change; I had finished grad school, was expecting my first child and was faced with the prospect of finding consistent work to support my growing family. I first crammed in as much teaching as I could and even began working at Home Depot. Needless to say this leaves little time for practicing guitar. As much as it pained me to take as much time away from my instrument as I was, I found myself realizing new things about playing, practicing and how better to use my time, which was essential. This is where I realized a tremendous way to get over the “plateau” hump and push forward into new territory.
Instead of the hours of time I previously had to practice, I now had an hour here and there and either had to just play and enjoy myself or find a way to get better. What I realized is, if I changed how I thought about a passage of music I was working on it made it easier. When I found myself struggling to get something in my fingers I started to look at it, analyze, immerse myself if you will and this is when I realized that if I think of something as “complicated” instead of “difficult” the ensuing work I did was much more stress free. Before dismissing this as simple rhetoric, consider the definitions of these words. As defined by the American Heritage College Dictionary, complicated is defined as containing intricately combined or involved parts. Difficult is defined as hard to do or accomplish; demanding considerable effort or skill; arduous. How much more telling can one get than that?
It is my belief that looking at a piece of music, a phrase, measure or beat as complicated instead of difficult a practicing musician can subsequently set themselves up for success. The results of this mental change for me has resulted in a much deeper understanding of the piece I am playing because I am not simply relying on multitudes of repetitions, believing that “hard work and perseverance” will be the answer. I find myself instead, looking at the most basic elements, what are the notes? What is the rhythm? What is the shape of the phrase? Dynamics, fingerings, both right and left hand events as well as countless other details I know I am supposed to look at when practicing but often times gloss over. Choosing to look at music as
something of a puzzle, both to be put together and taken apart, demystifies it in a way that is far less intimidating and much more enjoyable. The added benefit is that being deeply immersed in a piece, whether it is the Capriccio Diabolico or Sor’s study in B minor, has lasting effects and will carry into the next piece you learn, which, is one of the goals of practicing.
Is Change Your Perspective the Answer
Is this simple play on words the answer? No. Is this one answer? Yes. I do not believe that this will work for everyone, but it did work for me. It has made my practicing much more enjoyable and productive. Instead of looking at the guitar wondering how I can learn this piece, beat it into submission and will it into concert readiness I take joy in finding the loopholes that make it easier. The best players, the ones we all look up to, practice this way, they are not repeating passages endlessly, they are finding the small things to work on, the items that seem negligible, but when added up are huge. Change your perspective; you may like the way it feels, and ultimately, the way it sounds.
It’s great to read about how a small change in attitude has made a big difference for you. I had a similar experience a couple of years ago. I’m a composer, and one day I realized that I should be writing the music that’s there for me to write instead of the music that’s slightly out of reach. This small change of perspective has made a huge difference for me and has made me much happier and more productive.
In the book _Language in Thought and Action_, S.I. Hayakawa discusses the important differences that changing a word can make in your attitude as well as your understanding. I’m not surprised that “complicated” rather than “difficult” makes a difference.
Also, often a more complicated solution to a problem is easier than a simple one. For instance, making two trips rather than a single trip to carry all the groceries in from the car is more complicated, but may be easier if the bags are really heavy — or in woodworking, sanding with three grits of sandpaper is more complex, but will get the job done sooner than doing all the work with the finest sandpaper (which has nothing do do with guitars unless you’re the luthier)
I enjoyed your article very much. As a classical guitarist, also a student of Steve Aron at Akron State in the early 90s, I have frequently encountered similar problems, not having time to practice, working out difficult passages etc. There was a period in my life when I barely touched my guitar for 10 years and when I began to play again it came back to me so swiftly that it seemed that I was working on the music in my mind, almost subconsciously during this time. Sometimes being absent from something we enjoy allows us to see it more clearly when we become reacquainted. I wish you the best and hope to hear you play soon!