My well-meaning father threatened to pull me out of piano lessons twice in my life. The first time, I was still living in Elizabeth, New Jersey. My fiery, red-headed Cuban piano teacher had given yet another less than stellar review after that week’s lesson. Combined with their observation of my sluggish practicing at home, there came a threat. “Keep this up and no more lessons!” I begged, “No, please, I’ll practice, I’ll practice!!” Something similar happened again when I was a bit older, but living in Florida. Dad had to shake my foundation a bit again to get me focused. In these moments, I realized how much I really did love music and thought wiser than to take my lessons for granted.
In retrospect, those lulls in my practice were normal. I have been the student of two instruments- the piano and the voice. In my experience, the relationship I have had with each instrument has been very cyclical. Similar to any relationship, there are highs and lows. Students sometimes experience frustration with themselves, frustration with their progress and hit a low. People sometimes give up- they decide to stop taking lessons when they hit a low, thinking that they will never get any better. However, if a student is aware that these highs and lows are normal, and really to be expected, one can navigate through a low with patience. One never knows when the next growth spurt is approaching.
My teacher in Sarasota was an angelic, gentle woman. When I was a high school student, she helped hone my skills which in turn earned me spots at both of the music schools at Florida State University and Stetson University. Music aside, she taught an even greater lesson: the importance of optimism and positivity.
I teach at the college level and also in my home studio. I have taught privately for 15 years and I’ve noticed a pattern among many of my students over this period of time. People have a tendency to judge themselves harshly. Sometimes, we are so close to our development that we can’t see our own improvement and progress. Learning an instrument is a process best undertaken with a good deal of patience and kindness towards one’s self. I told a voice student this past week: “While you practice, don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to your best friend.” It is so important to keep a positive mind set. Just because you can’t play a certain passage on the piano perfectly at tempo right now doesn’t mean you never will! Just because that high C at the end of your piece isn’t blooming perfectly doesn’t mean you’re an awful singer!
Whenever one of my students starts to say, “I’m not getting this.” Or, “I can’t do that” – I always make them add the word YET to the end of their sentence. If you add the word “yet”, at least you open yourself up to the possibility that one day, likely very soon, you WILL be able to do it. A wise person recently said to me, “the word is your wand.”
As you start your studies in any instrument, as you progress – do two things: practice your instrument efficiently and practice being kind to yourself. Put together, you will make enormous progress. Just like life, perfecting your art and learning to make music is a process. Be patient with yourself and enjoy it!