Starting lessons and working through the initial learning curve

Periodically we meet a brand new student, regardless of age and we hear, “I am so excited to be starting lessons”, followed weeks later with, “I can’t continue my lessons”. Please be aware of the fact that this is a totally preventable situation and that regardless of your age, a little advance knowledge and planning can help you to persevere over all new student hurdles (which will build the exact skills you need to overcome later challenges) and provide you with the satisfaction of keeping that initial state of excitement throughout the learning process.

Perhaps the most important factor in preventing the above crash and burn situation and all of the disappointment it can cause is to begin with realistic expectations. The question is not whether you have time for lessons but rather whether you have time to practice. If you can only eek out the 30 minute time slot you need for your weekly lesson with no residual time to practice then this is not the time to begin to pursue your desire to learn a musical instrument. Much has been written about practicing (finding and making the time as well as the correct methodology) in previous posts to this blog so for now, suffice it to say that you should be able to reasonably dedicate at least 30 minutes of your time, a minimum of 4 or 5 days per week to a practice regiment.

A second reality is that it takes time to learn to play an instrument. We know that the professionals make it look very easy but they all worked long and hard to accomplish the skills that you admire. Allow yourself the gift of learning at the pace that is right for you. Follow your teacher’s advice and you will progress. Expect to take baby steps, not leaps and bounds. Accept that you will make mistakes and that it will take repetitive attempts to work through some of them. You will be building and training your muscles to behave in ways that are unfamiliar, learning postures, hand and finger positions not common to other activities, becoming familiar with the dexterity of using multiple limbs in ways that are dissimilar, or learning to use and control your breath to produce musical sounds. As you repetitively train muscles to become familiar with their new tasks, you will be building muscle memory- the ability to find notes on your instrument without needing your eyes. Muscle memory makes it possible for a pianist to know how an interval feels and explains how a violinist finds the exact finger placement on the fingerboard to produce a perfectly tuned note.

You have already developed muscle memory for countless other tasks that you perform in your everyday life; like getting a fork or spoon into your mouth, texting or even playing video games. Training your muscles to perform musical tasks may be new to you but it is not beyond what you can do, rather it is just a slightly different and more fine tuned way of using what you already have. You will need patience in the beginning while developing proficiency in this new ability but in a short time your rate of progress will accelerate.

Expect to struggle a bit and realize that when approached correctly that kind of challenge can be good for you. You didn’t pick up your first book and begin to read fluently. You weren’t born with language skills. You learned everything you know slowly and by breaking it down into manageable pieces. Learning music is no exception. There would be little satisfaction if the act of deciding to learn a new skill resulted in instant mastery. Recognize that some time and effort will need to be exerted before you have your first “ah ha” moment. Allow yourself the time necessary to arrive at the realization that you are playing your first short piece, that it is recognizable, that you are playing it from the beginning through to the end without mistakes and that you are very proud of your accomplishment – you are realizing the sense of enjoyment that you dreamed of when you began your lessons.

Rejoice in your victories!

 

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