The struggle is real

April 22, 2018


I have one wonderful student, a bright, creative girl, who has been struggling all year to fall in love with playing the piano. She has found it more difficult that she thought she would and has struggled to stay motivated. She is both intelligent and creative; an artist, a baker, articulate with words- on paper she should be a star piano student! I think she herself has been surprised by her struggle, and try as I mightI had not yet found the words or techniques to help her overcome the challenge, until this week (I hope!)


In the past I had compared the process of practicing with the process of creating a piece of visual art, which I know she loves to do. You have to work at it, the process is effortful, and then you get the joy of the final product. 'No', she said, 'the process of creating art is fun and relaxing, the process of learning a new piece of music is hard'. This is when I realised, I had my lightbulb moment! I love the struggle of learning a new piece of music! The process is as exciting to me as the end product! 


When I explained this to her, she visibly relaxed a little, as if to say, you mean the struggle is real? I'm supposed to struggle? That's part of it? She thought, she was doing something wrong as she struggled through the piece. Perhaps she has been imagining that other people, when presented with something new, just practice it once and it is good. Learning a new piece of music is a struggle for everyone. Or maybe struggle isn't the right word, perhaps challenge or even, game.


Lets consider, why people enjoy playing computer games? Because they enjoy the challenge! The mastery of something previously unmastered as in exciting prospect.


This is how I feel when I am faced with a new piece. I am excited at the prospect of meeting this new challenge head on, and once I am finally able to play it, after many hours of practice, I get a rush of adrenaline akin to winning a prize! I couldn't do it, I worked hard, and now I've cracked it! I want to shout from the rooftops, I want everyone to know I got it!


What makes me take on the next challenge? What gives me to confidence, the arrogance almost, to believe that I could learn the next piece? A few things spring to mind.


Firstly, my experience with those pieces I have already conquered, tells me that it is possible. Just because when I started learning a piece I couldn't do it, is not an indication of my ability or my limitation. I have bought into the process, the idea that it being difficult does not define or limits me. I believe that success will come at the end of the process. 


Secondly, and perhaps more importantly for this student to understand, I enjoy the challenge. Each bar that I master, each phrase that comes together, it's like doing a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle- you can't finish it in one sitting. It takes patience and the bringing together of many skills- reading the music, manipulating your hands, playing the sensitivity and musicality. There are so many stages and I enjoy them all. 


We have one final term before the end of the year, and whilst this particular student is not continuing with her lessons next year, I have set her a challenge for the next 10 weeks. I asked her to try and see each new piece we learn as a game, as an exciting opportunity, a mountain to be climbed, a puzzle to be completed. I want her to get excited about the process so she can experience the same rush she gets from baking a cake, giving a presentation, or drawing a beautiful piece of art. I'll let you know how it goes.

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