Friday, July 13, 2012

Do you have "friends?"

No, really. Do you have friends? 

I was asked this question my senior year in college by my 18-year-old piano teacher, a Spanish kid named Alvaro. I had decided sort of last minute to complete a few extra credits to get my Percussion Performance degree (in addition to Music Education), and that required another semester of piano lessons.

Alvaro, a young prodigy from Spain, was my assigned teacher. He was an amazing player and effective teacher, and part of that was his ability to be very direct and frank (honest) with his students. Such was the case with me.

About six weeks into the semester, I was working a difficult piece of music. There were several sections that I really liked, and I played them fairly well. But there was one small section - only about two measures - that I absolutely hated. Couldn't get it right, even after weeks of lessons and practice. As a result, each time I had to perform that section at my lesson, I sort of rushed/fumbled/plowed through it to get to the section after - one that I loved and could play well.

Well, I wasn't the only one getting frustrated with that short section of music. The conversation went something like this. (Remember to read Alvaro's lines with a Spanish accent, and with plenty of 'tude.)

Alvaro: Keith, do you have friends? 

Keith: What?!

A: No, really. Do you have friends?

K: (Indignant) Of course I have friends. 

A: Well, how do you become friends with those friends?

K: I dunno. Hang out, I guess? 

A: That's right, Keith. You have to "hang out" with this section long enough that it becomes your friend. 

I was dumbfounded. Shocked, even. The implications for practicing were immediate and clear.

We tend to, "hang out," with the music, skills, concepts and styles that we like. And we usually like what we're good at. It's called a, "comfort zone," and we all have one. So, how to solve the problem? Simple. Not necessarily easy, but simple: Spend time with them. Good, high quality, focused time. Work at making them comfortable and fun.

As musicians, we will expand our comfort zone by identifying the areas, skills, etc. that we're comfortable with and those that we aren't. I know that I definitely have some things that I hate playing, and I know it's because they're not comfortable for me.

Well, I took Alvaro's advice. I decided I was going to turn that weakness into a strength, and I did. By the next lesson, I was playing the difficult section with confidence. It's still amazing to me how much my attitude toward those two short measures changed just by spending enough time to get to know them very well and know that I was going to play them accurately.

By the way, this concept works for more than just music. Sports, food, people, cities, etc. Try to be friends first, and you'll find that you have fewer, "enemies."

Happy drumming!

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