Private lessons are a long-term journey as opposed to a destination. Since the term “better” is in reference to a student’s previous level of ability, this growth is continual. Oftentimes, one may think of lessons as a time to fix weaknesses, in order to be the best person at this audition, or that competition, etc. A more helpful view instead, is that you are on life-long mission to become the best musician you can be. How do you know when you cannot possibly improve anymore? When you die... As morbid as that sounds, it is the truth! I say all of that to make the point that you should never stop striving to become an excellent musician. And when you do reach that point, reset the bar, so that you’re striving to become even more excellent. When you achieve that standard, raise the bar even higher. Can you see where this is going??
To be clear, I don’t advocate the mindset of never being satisfied with your progress. I tell my students all the time, “don’t be so hard on yourself.” While having high standards and pushing yourself to achieve more will eliminate complacency, it is important to have balance. Too much of a perfectionist mindset can be counterproductive. Some weeks, you will improve by leaps and bounds. While other weeks, it may seem as if nothing has changed in your playing. The same is true for certain months, and even years along your journey. The important thing to remember is to look at the big picture of your growth as a musician…
What is the big picture? That will depend on your desires. What do you hope to achieve as a musician in the next few weeks, months, year(s)? What do you desire to accomplish in the next 5-10 years? 20 years? 50+ years? Having a specific plan for each of these mile-markers can be a double-edged sword. So, remember that flexibility within the parameters of a structured plan will serve you best. Once you have your goals written down, brainstorm a few things that will ensure your success at each goal point. For example, your goal may be to identify why you have excess air in your tone in the upper register. Possible courses of action would be to put on a video recorder (almost every cellphone nowadays has a recorder) and play a passage of music containing mostly notes in the upper register. Watch the video later, and analyze what specific behaviors are potential culprits. See my last post for more information about recording yourself. Another course of action would be to read quality literature on the topic.
As I stated earlier, an important component of evaluating your progress is to have balance. Remember that your short and long-term progress will have peaks and valleys. Just be sure to take away meaningful observations from each point along your journey. But most importantly, have fun!
CALL TO ACTION: Consider where you are in your musical journey. Is it time for you to strategically plan how to move to the next level? Or have you just reached the bar that you set for yourself and need to enjoy your new success for a little while before setting new goals? What can you do to make where you are right now the most enjoyable, efficient use of your time?