I hope you are enjoying the colors, cooler air, and sunny days and grey days alike as we transition into fall. Picking up my violin in the morning and going through warm ups reminded me of my days in college walking across campus to the music building on cold fall and winter mornings and getting started on the day’s practice.
When I was a student, I never understood why teachers seemed frustrated if I didn’t practice. (“Yes, there were plenty of times over the years that I didn’t practice as much as I should’ve, believe it or not!”) It always seemed to me that their job was essentially the same whether I practiced or not, and I didn’t really see the big deal. As a teacher, however, I can now completely understand their frustration – it’s really gratifying to see students making progress and the work that’s put in during weekly lessons and home practice taking root and leading to growth, and it’s equally disappointing when it seems like things aren’t really moving forward.
I don’t think that this frustration is unique to teachers, though. I think students and their families feel the frustration in their own ways, too. “Success breeds success,” and one of the reasons for that, I think, is that overcoming challenges, making progress, and developing new abilities are a reward in and of themselves. Believe it or not, it actually feels good to practice consistently! Similarly, it feels really bad to consistently fail to practice. Students feel at least some small sense of shame at failing to complete their work, and over time the build up of work procrastinated starts to feel so overwhelming that we may wonder, “Why even try?”
The reason I bring this up is that the school year is in full swing. Students’ work loads and extracurricular activity schedules are overflowing, and while on the whole I am still really happy with a lot of the progress I see every week, I’m also seeing an uptick in the number of lessons every week that begin with, “So… I wasn’t able to practice this,” or some similar variation.
Dr. Suzuki was famous for saying things like, “Only practice on the days you eat.” I used to think that those types of sayings were extremely hyperbolic and unreasonable. The longer I’m at this, though, the more I’ve come to realize that it’s almost impossible to actually be completely unable to practice on a given day. In 99.9% of cases, it’s a matter of choice, not a matter of impossibility. The more you get in the habit of making the choice that will lead to growth, the easier it gets to make that choice, and the less you’ll want to let yourself down.
These thoughts come just as we’re starting to head into performance season. Don’t forget, next Tuesday (October 24 from 6:00-7:30 p.m.) is our Halloween Group Performance & Party. Make sure to wear your favorite costume and join us for an evening of performance, snacks, and games. And though it might seem a long way off, there’s actually not that many weeks of lessons between now and our Fall Solo Recitals, which will be held on December 10.
Thanks, and we’ll see you in lessons this week!