One of my students recently expressed his frustration in a lesson over the fact that – even after three years of diligent violin practice for several hours a day – he still cannot produce a phrase that sounds anything like the sound of a famous violinist, his teacher, or me.
“What’s the difference?” he asked.
It was an interesting question, one asked by beginners and the best, alike.
My first response was to note that three years of practice with the violin is actually very little time spent with the instrument compared to the lifetimes of experience of those he mentioned. Add in the fact that he began his music studies in his late fifties, whereas I started when I was four. It’s unfortunately true that it’s much easier for a young child to pick up an instrument and become proficient at it than for a mature adult.
But here’s the thing that I hope he takes to heart – and perhaps might help you, too, if you encounter similar frustrations on your musical journeys.
In reality, there is very little difference between you and the greatest musician. Much less difference than you might think. Let’s look at some of the similarities, when you’re at your best. These things are within your reach. The best musicians, and the best you, all do these things:
- You know how to think and how to formulate a clear intention. The best musician has had years of experience in refining that intention, but you know how to create one within your capabilities, too. You know what you want it to sound like. You can use your imagination.
- You can discipline your mind-body to NOT think the thoughts and NOT do the actions that interfere with the realization of your intention. This takes extensive self-training to be able to do consistently and under pressure (like when you’re performing and the person in the front row stands up and throws a fit and you keep playing like nothing out of the ordinary is happening). Alexander Technique, by the way, is the technique par excellence for learning how to get out of your own way.
- You are able to create an exquisite sound – if even for just one moment. That is such a precious jewel – do you realize that? Do you enjoy it? Are you aware that you are already able to sound like the best? It is such a gift that you can create a perfect sound from your heart, with love and joy, for just one moment. Just think about it. This is profound. In fact, if you truly realized in all fullness what a miracle one moment of perfection is, you might not ever need more. And if you realize that you can already create that perfection for just one moment, then over time you can expand that moment into several notes, a bar, a phrase, and a movement of music. “Patience and faith are everything.”
- You know why you are a musician, and why you are practicing the instrument. And if you don’t know why, then you’re still like some of the best musicians – a lot of them don’t know why, either – they just do it. I highly recommend that you dive deeply into your heart to find those reasons – they will forever serve as inspiration for you.
- As an artist, you feel deeply. You love music. You are self-critical. You feel negative emotions. You get frustrated. You sometimes get discouraged and want to give up. You don’t feel like practicing sometimes. You can be hard on yourself. There’s always someone who can play something better than you. You know there’s a lot of room for improvement. The best musicians also feel that way much of the time.
- Maybe you experience performance anxiety. So do many of the top artists. And you can learn tools to manage that, turning it into excitement and enthusiasm, and using it as fuel for profound personal growth. [I can teach you how…read more here…]
You’re not so different from the best of them, believe me.
You’re on your path, and they’re on their path.
No need to compete, no need for envy, no need for wistfulness.
The process is the goal, and you’re already there.
Now enjoy yourself and appreciate how far you’ve come.
I’d love to hear comments!
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