10,000 times and counting

October 6, 2010 at 10:10 pm | Posted in Short Blogs | 4 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I was working with a piano student this afternoon, going over a passage that challenged her fingers a little.  “Just practice this section about a million times!” was my prescription.  We laughed.  And suddenly I remembered how, years ago, our family explored what it is to do something a million times.

We were driving in the car and someone must have said something about a million – maybe it was Chloe wondering what it was like to have a million of something she wanted, or perhaps a character from one of our books-on-tape said something about a million.  I will have to ask Chloe, because she may remember.  (Rachel was too young at the time.)  Anyway, we set about figuring out how long it would take to count to a million.  I have to admit that the math was way beyond our two daughters at the time, but it was a fun exercise nevertheless.  I have no memory of even a wild estimate.  But I do remember that we had to time ourselves counting pretty far in order to come up with a guess.  And of course it is way faster to say “one” and “fourteen” and even “seven hundred twenty-three” than it is to say “eight hundred seventy-six thousand five hundred eighty-one,” and there are definitely more of the latter than of the former.  So we had to take that into account, and somehow we arrived at our version of an answer.

Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, who developed the Suzuki pedagogy for violin, said that knowledge alone does not equal ability.  “Knowledge plus 10,000 times,” he claimed, is what produces ability.  Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Outliers says that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to develop extraordinary ability.  So though my recommendation to my student is obviously an exaggeration (and goodness knows how long it would have taken her to follow it to the letter – but I’m not going to go there!) it is more on track than off.

It makes me wonder how many hours I have actually put into violin or piano over the course of my lifetime.  And what else have I repeated enough times to be able to put it in the category of expertise?  What internal tapes have I replayed that many times?  What knee-jerk reactions?  And what have I cultivated, as opposed to enacting by default?

I will have to get back to you on this one.

 

On transition

August 16, 2010 at 10:32 pm | Posted in Short Blogs | 4 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Chloe and Rachel are out for the evening, tie-dying and dining with friends, so it is quiet here. I have a violin lesson tomorrow morning and I want to get some more practice time in tonight, but thought I would write just a little bit first.

The weather was cooler this morning, giving us a hint of fall, bittersweet. I love the crisp air, the deepening colors of autumn, the new shade of blue in the sky, but with this prelude a little part of me begins to pull in, bracing for what’s to come. My acupuncturist speaks of this transition time as the fifth season, deserving of its own mark on the calendar. What would we call it? Threshold? Bridge?

Perhaps in truth every day is a transition. We awake with expectations of what it may bring, and are almost always surprised by something before we yield to the night. It is so easy to ride our time on the ship of complacency, believing that the details we enter on our digital daybooks are the important ones. When Chloe and Rachel were little, I was reminded of what really matters a hundred times each day, startled out of the mundane by those young and unconditioned voices. Now our teenagers look up at the family calendar to see what’s coming as often as they open their eyes to see what’s here.

As long as I can remember every August into September has carried the promise of something new. Even after I had graduated from college, I started something in the fall. I took classes in weaving, yoga, Pilates, Jewish history. I took on new students of my own, settling into a rhythm so different from that of the warm summer months. For years I prepared for and embarked on a fall tour, traversing both familiar and unfamiliar territory each time. A couple of times, Dan and I went backpacking in September, feeling even more keenly the chill of earlier sunsets.

Once our children began attending school, August held a new meaning for them. And through the years our family has navigated the path from relaxed breakfasts to rushed, from shorts to sweatshirts, from evenings of leisure to assignments and requirements, with mixed reviews. The older they grew, the more complicated the mire of gains and losses that came with this passage, with Dan’s and my feelings adding to the tangle.

This year we are all more careful and less sure. Every meal together is a little more poignant, every silence loaded. The floor of Chloe’s room is filling with boxes and packages. The contents of her closet grow a little leaner, as she selects what goes with her, what gets handed over to Rachel or me, what gets given away. We are all too, too busy, though maybe the distractions are at least a partial salvation. One week from tonight Rachel will be rehearsing with one orchestra or another (depending on this weekend’s audition results) and Chloe and I will be finishing the last of the packing.

I go up and down every day now, excited with the ripeness of possibility and promise one minute, devastated in the next by the visceral awareness of Chloe’s pending departure. As much as I detest the quiet in our home this evening, it is allowing me to breathe through this new brand of labor pains. I can hardly believe I will make it through the next contraction, but I do. And I make it through the next, and the next as well. It’s transition. ‘Tis the season.

More on tension

July 28, 2010 at 6:36 pm | Posted in Short Blogs | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , ,

After posting yesterday’s blog, questions came to me.

  • How much tension is “necessary” for what I am trying to accomplish?  More to the point, am I adding tension?  If I have habitual tension in my shoulders, and I place my hands on the piano keys, it is likely I am holding myself differently than I would if I tended to move more freely.  When I was working with an Alexander Technique teacher, we spent one session exploring my piano playing.  It took many tries to play one phrase without engaging my neck, back, and jaw, and when I finally accomplished it, there was so much emotion released in that act of free movement, I almost started sobbing!
  • Do I hold any attitudes or beliefs that contribute to my tension?  Can I explore these? 
  • How can I “work on” not being tense?  What an ironic question!  It will not help me to approach this with my usual drive and determination, because that will add unnecessary tightness.  In the aforementioned AT session, I did not sit down to the piano until we had spent a good half hour getting into a lighter and more effortless place with my posture and breath.  I cannot will myself to relax – I have to walk down a patient and conscious path in that direction, every time.  And it is a different path each time, otherwise I am approaching it in a rote way, which I have found to be almost useless.
  • How can I approach this with my mantra of doing it imperfectly?  There are so many days that I have only a limited time to practice.  Is it more important to work on technique as often as possible, or to work on “practice readiness” by walking down my AT path first, which might cost me my practice time?  I don’t have an answer to this right now.
  • I understand that if I practice a piece with tension, I am practicing playing it tense, which is the result I will get.  I also know myself well enough to say that one of the most important things I am learning these days is how to say “This is good enough for now.”

For the present I am going to do my best to dwell in the paradox this last piece contains.  A friend once asked me if I could expand myself enough to hold two (or more) conflicting feelings at the same time.  I have just been given another opportunity to explore that frontier.

Introduction to the short blog category

July 21, 2010 at 10:42 pm | Posted in Short Blogs | 2 Comments
Tags: , ,

Yesterday was the day I finally posted my first blog!  It surprised me how excited I felt about it.  Even in this place of feeling so uncertain about both what lies ahead for me and my family and how I feel about it all, I now have a sense that there is some forward direction, or at least my energy has a little more purpose to it!

When I first thought of taking on this writing project, I was afraid I would not have enough to say.  Having gotten even just this far into it, I am reminded of when I first began to teach music classes.  I was afraid I would not be able to fill a two-hour time slot, so I would start by introducing myself and explaining in detail what we were going to cover and then go into more detail over the content, until suddenly we had five minutes left and I hadn’t covered anywhere near what I had hoped!  As it turns out, having enough to say has never been a problem for me in actuality, only in the mired and complicated neighborhood of my thinking mind.  So one comment I received yesterday pointed out politely that I do not have to offer such long posts.

Since I have this compulsive desire to please everybody, even if Lincoln in his wisdom stated that this is an unreachable goal (was it Lincoln?  I also have a compulsive desire to not make too many mistakes) I found myself with conflicting desires.  I will confess to you that I have already written a few blog entries, stored in My Documents, and they range from long to longer.  And I like them and will want to post them.  On the other hand, I do not wish to scare off any of you who do not have the endless time it will take to read what I post!

Amazingly I did not agonize over this quandary.   (Amazing, because I also have a general desire to have figured out the solution to everything already, or at least immediately.)  I first considered breaking them up and spreading them out over several days, and got a little stuck trying to figure out exactly how to make that work, so I tabled the thought.   And then happily the answer came to me in a flash.  I will post some short blog entries (this is one example) and some long ones.  And you get to choose which to look at. 

This also took care of one blog detail that Dan and I had left hanging when I registered my blog site.  The WordPress structure allows me – in fact, seems to be demanding me – to indicate a category for each post.  This was eluding me, since I had not thought of compartments into which various writings could be filed.  But now I have two categories:  “short” and “long”, which will make it pretty easy for you to make your big Roots and Chords decision whenever there is an announcement of a new post.  If you subscribed.  (That was not a suggestion, just a point of clarification, meaning that you will only receive an announcement if you sign up.)

Many thanks to all of you who took the time to read yesterday’s post.  My intent is to put up three or four per week, which I hope will feel workable for me and readable for you.  But who knows?  I might have too much to say to limit it to that.  As Chloe used to say when she was three years old, “We’ll just have to wait and see.”  Wise words.  So for now, I will say good night!

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.