Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Gigantic Problem and the Simple Solution

The Gigantic Problem

As I mentioned in my introductory Q&A post, there’s a lot of information out there (in music, or otherwise).

When you look at the study of music all at once, you’ll likely be discouraged. Taken as a whole, the quest for knowledge and skill in music can be seen as a gigantic problem.

For example, a music student might be confused by strange Latin or Greek terminology, bored by the histories of old (dead) composers, or discouraged by a seemingly impossible new piece of music assigned to them by their instructor.

And even once you conquer one case of confusion, or overcome one bout of disinterest of a topic, you'll find thatwhile you were solving that problem, a new problem has presented itself. At every step of the way, you keep discovering that there is always much, much, more to learn.

You can look at this as an overwhelming, daunting “gigantic problem,” or you can look at it differently...

It's Good to Have Problems


Many people perceive a "problem" as a bad thing. This, in fact, is often a proper perceptionof course no one wants to have problems (financial, social, medical). Having a problem, in this sense, means that something is wrong.

But in the world of education, a "problem" is an opportunity to learn. In the quest for knowledgemusical or otherwiseit's imperative that you identify problems and take on challenges. Once problems are identified, steps can be taken to think critically and work toward a solution.
It's important to correctly identify the problem at hand!

There's no use in denying the difficulty of the road ahead. It is to our advantage, as learners, to acknowledge that there's a lot to learn. Take Shakespeare's words: "The fool doth think himself wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool." Or take any one of these Bible verse translations expressing the same idea.

Looking at the problem realistically and acknowledging that there's a long road ahead is the first step.

The Solution

The learning process—again, in music or otherwise—requires the ability to clearly identify the problem at hand and to ask the best questions to help guide your learning. As Nancy Willard said, "Sometimes questions are more important than answers." If you haven't identified the problem, you can't begin on the solution.

So, give yourself an honest assessment to identify that which you have already learned, and that which you have yet to learn.

From there, the trick is to take baby steps, and to build slowly upon a solid foundation. Learn each new chunk of information by studying and practicing in a thorough, focused manner. Shortcuts and sloppy practice will not result in a solid foundation. (If you build upon a shaky foundation, the structure as a whole will be unsound and will eventually collapse.)
"Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs."  —Henry Ford
“It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward." —Chinese Proverb
"The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret to getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks and then starting on the first one."  —Mark Twain
As it turns out, a whole slew of successful people  have an affinity for small steps.

Baby Steps in the Practice Room

Although the above advice is nothing new or revolutionary, I have found that it's easy to forget about baby steps when I step into a practice room. I might try to take on more than I can handle, or I might slop through a piece rather than approach it with slow, focused practice.

So, the next time you step into the practice room, keep these keywords in mind:
  • Solid foundation
  • Baby steps
  • Thorough
  • Focus
"What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step." Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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