I am a bad, bad student. I took French for over 12 years and barely speak a word of it. I spent six weeks and 75 of my hard-earned dollars learning to sew last summer, and my curtains are still not finished. And while it's true that I've forgotten more books than many people will read, I've actually forgotten them. Still, when I took up piano/guitar lessons earlier this year, I had high hopes. It wasn't panic-inducing like when I was 7 and had to learn hateful Dvorak (I crapped out before the recital). My new music teacher is FUN and crafts FUN, easy lessons for me to keep me practicing and progressing.
But you know, there's a very real learning curve with anything new, and a month or so into the proposition, I noticed it was getting harder to get myself to practice. An hour? I don't have an hour today. I'll practice an hour tomorrow. Tomorrow is a much better day for practicing. And, well, you know how good a piano player behavior like that is gonna make you.
It doesn't help that Irene, the woman whose lesson precedes mine, is storming through these classical numbers and has only been at it a year.
Anyway, I started finding excuses for cancelling my lesson, or being grateful when real excuses, auditions, colds, torrential rains that closed down the canyon roads, cropped up. Until I didn't feel grateful, or rather, I felt more sad than grateful. Because I really do want to learn piano and guitar (music theory, really); I just hate the vast gulf I see between where I am now and where I'd like to be.
And then an email arrived from my teacher. It was so perfect, I'm reprinting it (almost) in full:
I've been thinking about your phone message the other day.
I think I understand very well how the "not practicing" thing is becoming a burden and the mental blocks are getting stacked very high. I have SOOO been there.
I remember a wonderful bit of advice one of my college French professors gave us years ago. She said we would make more progress if we studied 5-10 minutes every day rather than three hours one day a week. There is wisdom in this.
Rather than waiting for the "perfect time" to practice, or waiting until you have enough time to "make it worth it", sit and plunk for 5 minutes while waiting for a kettle to boil or as you pass the keyboard on the way to the bathroom or something.
In fact, the next time you sit at your keyboard (today perhaps?) PROMISE yourself you won't do more than 5 minutes. Set a timer even. But get your five minutes in. Eventually you can allow yourself to go "over" on days you feel like it (and some days you will feel like doing more).
Then, tomorrow (?) do five minutes of guitar. And, after 5 minutes, know that you have accomplished something, because you will have completed your assignment for the day. It's a much better feeling than guilt about not practicing, yes? This isn't supposed to be about guilt and burdens, it's supposed to be about you being able to make your own music.
Coincidentally, I ran into Irene at an audition today. It took us a second to place each other, out of context as we were, but soon we were thick as thieves. As is my wont these days, I immediately vomited up my ugly hairball of truth, which didn't faze her a bit; she'd been through her own version of it, as well. And she didn't think she was a marvelous pianist at all! (She is; I've stood outside the door unnoticed and listened when our lessons overlapped.)
So...permission to hack. Permission to outright suck. Permission to NOT play by the rules, but just to play. And maybe if I do, I won't just get better, but I'll actually have fun doing it?
Now there's a rule I can abide by.