Can we just take a moment to think about all the fabulous desserts that you have ever had? I mean oooey ,gooey, messy melt in your mouth hot desserts like Pioneer Woman’s peach cobbler, or Hot Apple Pie, or that Butter Cake I had with Rob in Las Vegas last month or for that matter every Death by Chocolate I’ve ever tried. So far not dead yet…so I’m going to keep on trying them. Or what about those cold confections like Chocolate Lovers Trash Concrete from the Dip, or Southern Living’s Banana Pudding or O’Charleys caramel pie. Let’s not forget good ole NYC Junior’s cheesecake, or that Chocolate Mess I had with Kellie the other day. I love, love, LOVE desserts and I just thought of another while I’m typing…I can’t forget Tiramisu in NYC - but my favorite recipe was definitely when Kim and I had to make pans and pans of it for a youth event years ago. Remember that? Ok now lets go ahead and name our favorite veggies - go…um…hello? Anyone? Bueller? Why are there so many crickets? I like fried okra, and corn on the cob. Green beans and broccoli aren’t bad…but I just can’t get excited about them like I do dessert. Am I listing the greatest veggies at the greatest restaurants I’ve been to? I mean do any of these sound as good as any of the desserts I listed before? Let’s be honest…even my favorite people who love their veggies have to admit, these don’t sound nearly as wonderful as the Chocolate Mess or hot Peach Cobbler.
Well this next blog post is really a no brainer all right…I mean I’m not being extremely original here. If you are like me and have had that piece of cheesecake before dinner - yes I have, and I guarantee you’ve done it too - you know you never do get around to getting the veggies eaten. They just don’t seem appealing anymore if you have already inhaled all that sugar. I’ve had to work on this lesson in the studio before and yesterday was no exception. Let me describe a scenario for you - a student arrives having prepared several things really well, hiding one or two things behind the rest of the books. It’s kind of obvious to me already what’s going on , but I let them do what they do. I try really hard to keep a variety of music in front of my piano students. Depending on their age and level, I try not to overcomplicate it, but we usually have a book of some technical/scale type exercises, a lesson book and a book of fun songs and sometimes a hymn/worship song book. If they are a little further along, I will add in a composition/music writing book and/or chord instruction book to go along with lead sheets or fakebooks. Inevitably if they are struggling to practice consistently, it becomes painfully obvious early on.
Some weeks I start with the warmups, and then move through the different books..but sometimes I like to change it up and ask them to play the song they enjoyed the most that week. Always the song they enjoyed the most is the one they practiced the most. Go figure…where they spent their time is what improved the most and in return becomes their favorite. Who doesn’t love to sound good - so it’s pretty easy to want to play something that sounds good! Eventually in every lesson though, a song or two is exposed for the little amount of time practiced. There’s usually a common thread..it is the hardest piece, it’s not as much fun or it’s the hardest piece so it’s not much fun right now. So we struggle through a performance of a piece that in all reality may have been played through at home for a week from top to bottom or maybe not at all. I say “we struggle” because the student struggles to play it, and I struggle with listening to something I know is unprepared. As a teacher, striking a balance between critique and encouragement is a HUGE challenge. Sometimes we just have to encourage the student to keep making things better, letting them know where they improved already, and reminding them that there’s still more to do. That’s usually my first angle…I am incredibly perfectionistic, so I have to temper my expectations many times, and though I insist on clean rhythms regularly, some other things may have to just be ok. But if after repeated encouragement things don’t improve, sometimes my tactics have to change. In order to be inspired to be better, sometimes we need to know that we have missed the mark and we need to work harder and smarter to make the progress necessary. So then I have to be tough and ask some hard questions - “how much time did you put into this piece?” If that one is met with a positive amount of time, then the next question is “How did you spend that time - what did you do?” But truthfully 9 times out of 10 the question is answered with not very much time at all. I usually follow up with a why question to try to understand what is really going on. Sometimes it’s the piece itself…sometimes the music just isn’t pretty or fun or interesting, but again 9 times out of 10 it’s “too hard.”
When I’m met with the “too hard” response I try to analyze quickly whats going on. Do they have multiple pieces at one time that are all challenging…meaning the repertoire just doesn’t have a healthy mix of difficulty levels.
Do they have a legitimate complaint…is this piece just too far beyond them.
Or…and this is especially if they asked to play the song in question - is it just that when they look at the page they believe it to be too hard so they wait until the end of their practice times each day and “run out of time” to practice it and the piece never really gets worked.
Yesterday was just such a case. The student had asked to play a song from Tangled and its definitely cute and the difficulty factor is just a bit beyond the student, but manageable if practiced well. So the problem was more that, during her practice time she was spending her time playing the things that she could easily get ready for her lesson this week - the exercises and short lesson book songs, but always waiting to the end of practice to play this piece. In this case, nothing ever happens because at the end of a practice session even if it’s 15-20 minutes you are just not as fresh as you were when you first got started. So instead of practicing this difficult piece each day when she practiced through the week - it either barely got a glance at the end of practice, or got set aside for another day “when there is more time”. So what’s the life lesson here for the broader spectrum of our lives..because it’s really important that we get this! Do the hard things first! This is true in any task we try to undertake in our daily lives. If you are a college student - do your hardest assignments first and knock them out. Mentally you will feel as if a huge burden is lifted and you’ll be able to finish the easier assignments quickly and have more free time. If you are trying to clean your house - clean the worst mess first! Start a load of laundry, run the dishwasher, set the oven to self clean and start working on the pile of papers overtaking the office. Or the laundry that seems to be replicating on the bed. And no I am absolutely not talking about myself right now…ha!
If we don’t force ourselves to act on the difficult things, the mind will play terrible games with us and render us powerless for the task at hand. I don’t care if you are trying to play a difficult piece on the piano, sing an Italian aria, take a College Psych class, do a backflip or clean out a closet. The mind will dwell on the difficulty of the task, and in very short order we will decide that we can’t get it done. Whether you “CAN’T” do it because you are not capable, don’t have the knowledge/understanding, or the right tools, or enough time - it doesn’t matter. Don’t put it off - take on the challenge head first and get the hardest jobs done first…you will find you have MORE time at the end of the day versus getting psyched out over the big job and doing all the little things first and excusing yourself for running out of time. And in case you miss it, there never is MORE time…we have 24 hours in a day - every one of us. Once it’s gone, it’s gone..don’t waste time obsessing about needing more time - just go do the Hard things that you have been procrastinating about - I promise it’ll work - just DO it!