Just Go Get Some Work Done

It’s been a challenging day here in my head. Between Tuesday’s start of harp lessons and my accompanying reflections on progress or lack thereof, and Wednesday’s chorus class where I wouldn’t have found an alto line if it had been gift-wrapped and handed to me, I was teetering on the edge of a black hole of discouragement and futility, and contemplating whether I should chuck music and spend the rest of my life watching M.A.S.H. reruns.

But on some days I am exceptionally lucky and the universe sends me exactly what I most need to read and hear.

The first rope to pull me back from the edge was Philip Bradbury’s post on The Write Site, Apple Cider, Doing It Badly and Writing.  If you are feeling discouraged about learning how to do something or about making any kind of change or improvement in your life, read it. He reminded me that whatever I’m working on, “as I keep doing it badly, I keep getting better.” And I can’t argue with this advice, passed on from his father-in-law:

“If you want to do something, even if you do it badly, NEVER GIVE UP!” 

The second rope saving me from a life of television is this week’s practice tip from Molto Music, Do SOMETHING Everyday. Here’s what helped:

Can’t decide what to practice today?  Then, do exactly what you did yesterday.  It doesn’t matter if you feel you are improving or not.  Due to the natural shape of the learning curve, you won’t notice improvement on a daily basis anyway.

By being conscientious and paying attention to the details of your playing, you will be making improvement–whether you recognize it or not!  Much of our practice time is spent building muscle memory, and your muscles need a constant reminder of the sequences they need to go through to play accurately.

Even if you are not consciously aware of this process taking shape, it’s important to give your muscles the practice they so desperately need.

There’s no rule stating you have to or you’re supposed to or you should play through a whole piece flawlessly.  That’s called performing!  Most practicing is about focusing on small details.  Don’t be so hard on yourself.   Just go get some work done.

Let me tell myself again:

It doesn’t matter if you feel you are improving or not. . . . By being conscientious and paying attention to the details of your playing, you will be making improvement–whether you recognize it or not! 

Ok, I think I’ve got it. . . .It doesn’t matter if I feel that I’m improving. It doesn’t matter whether or not I recognize improvements. It matters that I show up for chorus, that I listen well, follow my score, sing when I can. It matters that I show up at the harp and pay attention to the details of producing beautiful rolled four-finger chords and even tremolos. If I keep working, I’ll get better. As I keep working, I improve. It only matters that I don’t give up.

I’m surrendering custody of the remote control. It’s late, and I need to go get some work done.

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9 thoughts on “Just Go Get Some Work Done

  1. Just found you through Philip Bradbury’s.
    As I read this I wondered if it would apply to child-raising. I always felt like every moment was totally important to get it right. I used to say, “You have forever to get the rest of your life right, but you only have now to get ‘now’ right.” I may have been a bit intense?
    But I am thinking . . . the times when my kids shone in tough situations were the perfomances, weren’t they? The fact that they now live free and good lives is the perfomance, isn’t it? When they make a mistake and see the problem and correct it and go on doing better–that is the perfomance, right, like when a virtuoso accidentally finds a wrong note and covers it expertly with an extra few other notes to make it all a lovely flourish of some sort (surprise!)
    And all along, I thought the life, itself, the training of the children, was the performance. Hmm.
    Well, I could go on too much, but thanks, thanks, for this insight! You make me feel a bit like Mr. Holland. 🙂

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    1. I guess it’s hard to see the day-to-day impact of us persisting at our work in all situations, not just in music. But, I think if you’ve raised kids who now “live free and good lives” you’ve achieved the equivalent of a Carnegie Hall debut! Thanks for stopping by. Janet

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  2. Thank you for your very nice words about the Molto Music website. We would like to use your words–with your permission–to help spread the word about our approach to musical achievement. Please send me an email directly at david@moltomusic.com to discuss.
    Thanks again!

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  3. Your response to “Do SOMETHING Every Day” is wonderful!! As someone who has been researching the best way to learn musical instruments for over a decade, and as the writer of the Practice Tips from Molto Music, I’m happy to hear that these words are having a positive effect on you. Thank you for reading (and using) the practice tips, and for sharing these ideas through your blog. I’m including an entire section on motivation and inspiration in my new book, The Ten Minute Virtuoso, which I hope will be helpful for you. Thanks again!!

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    1. Wow! Thank you so much for commenting on my post. Your latest practice tip was just what I needed that day. I’ve been using your practice planner for years, and your practice tip about recording yourself was my inspiration for finally buying a digital recorder and indeed listening to my playing. Your website and practice tips are such a great resource. I hope the link on my blog is leading folks to check them out. I’m looking forward to your book. Janet

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  4. I loved both this and your last post because I so resonate with what you write. Here you have been playing harp for all these years and it seems the doubt never leaves. I need to accept my doubt and keep moving through it and just accept that doubts are part of the process. I am hanging in there because I know I am further each time I practice and look back and “from where I came”. Thanks for your blog!

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    1. Nanci – Your words “accept that doubt is part of the process” are inspirational….more about that in my next post. The looking back from where I started is indeed good medicine when I’m in the midst of doubt. Thank you so much for your comment on this post! Janet

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  5. How nicely You said it:”The second rope saving me from life of television”. I love it. Here in Finland courses started few weeks ago. My wife went again to the course of German. It was a coincidence that in my newest post I just showed photos from all that people are generally learning / making on courses.

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    1. I love it that there’s so many of us trying to live beyond “television culture.” We are creating our very real, creative lives, not absorbing the pretend lives of television shows. I loved the pictures from the courses in Finland. So much beauty created! Janet

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