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One of the books that has most influenced my approach to teaching percussion lessons is Barry Green’s The Inner Game of Music. Based on principles found in the highly championed The Inner Game of Tennis and Inner Skiing, by Tim Gallwey, the book is a beautiful collection of concepts for musicians to apply to their practicing and educating.

Amidst the many terrific ideas Green lays out, are the simple philosophies of:

1. Not telling a student that a section of music, or exercise, is going to be difficult; and

2. Not suggesting that he/she try to get through a passage.

Informing someone that something is difficult, before a first attempt has even been made, is one method of setting them up for failure. I have seen firsthand very real physical tension quickly build up in a student after I’ve spoken something like, “Alright, take this one slowly. This line is super tricky.” Before he’s even given a chance to take a stab at it, he’s already holding his breath, expecting obstacles, and is subconsciously aware that he very well may not be successful. In fact, in some cases, he’s pretty much sure that he won’t be.

I’ve found that just as important as not defining passages as difficult, is not defining them as easy. All it takes is one blunder in the middle of a purportedly “easy” musical phrase, and an otherwise confident player starts to crumble. “I suck. I can’t even play through this easy section.”

yoda - just quit trying already LUKE: “All right, I’ll give it a try.”
YODA: “No. Try not. Do . . . or do not. There is no try.”

Try. That’s another biggie. I’d be willing to bet that you’ve had this experience: you ask someone for help, or to accomplish a task, and their response is, “yeah, I’ll try to get around to that.” And what happens 95% of the time? They don’t do it. Why? Because the word “try” is their out. It’s their escape. “Well, I only said I was going to try to.” Try is a fail-word. They either don’t want to complete the chore at hand, or don’t think that they have the ability to. Either way, a person trying to do something is not a person fully committed- intending, under any and all circumstances, to make it happen. Simply ask someone (a student, child, etc.) to try to do what’s needed/desired, and you’re essentially giving them permission to fail.

While I’m far from perfect at this, I’ve altered my teaching approach to allow my students to experience the exercise, the challenge, the music for themselves. Let them find what they can and cannot do; where their strengths and weaknesses lie. Be a guide to them, but avoid unnecessary pitfalls. When they’re having trouble, rather than saying, “go ahead and try this passage again,” say, “nice job! Play this one a few more times . . . and just a little slower.” Set them up for success from the get-go and everyone involved will benefit.

Can you apply this to your daily life? Hells yeah!

How many times have you been set up for failure by others (or yourself) who focus only on an endeavor’s difficulty and say that that lofty goal is a bit beyond your reach or ability level?

“That guy/girl is just a little too far out of your league.”
Nobody passes the audition for that school.”
“Just get a real job like everyone else. Starting your own business is too much work.”
“Of all ideas you could come up with, you pursue that one? Why not something easier and more realistic?”

How many times have you listened to those words and let them keep you from going for it? How many times did you set out to simply try something for a bit and see how it goes, and then run from it as soon as the going got rough?

I encourage beg you to seriously consider those questions and decide whether there are “difficult” things that you have only merely “tried” to accomplish in your life. Things that, deep down, are truly important to you and might deserve/warrant another honest go.

What would YOU be doing with your life right now if nobody had ever told you it was difficult? What current tries could you become more deliberate about?

Share in the comments below, and let’s support each other in this quest of trying less and doing more!

(photo by yapsnaps)

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