At a pre-performance lesson, 12-year-old Tim played through his piece from start to finish, then shook his head. “No, that wasn’t good. Let me try again.” The piece was Fur Elise and he had invested a lot of time and effort into learning it. As his teacher, I wanted to go over a few points with him, but instead I agreed to listen again.
This time the piece flowed and Tim played with a confidence that had been missing before. As he played the final chord, he looked up grinning. “I did it!”
“Congratulations!” I said. “How did you do it?”
“I just imagined there were a million Julies in the room, all supporting me and cheering me on.”
It was a startling vision. The room crowded with a million me’s. Did he come up with this idea all on his own?
“One of my teachers told me about it,” Tim said. “You see, when the audience is with me, I go up – up – up” – he sat taller and raised his hands over his head. “But when they’re not with me I just go down.” He slumped in his seat. Tim performs on stage in theater productions so he’s quite tuned in to audience response.
It was brilliant. No matter what mood the audience was in, Tim found a way to always have the support he needed to give the best performance he could.
As a teacher I spend plenty of time guiding my students through the nitty-gritty details of learning a piece. I also have my bag of tricks to help them enjoy playing expressively. This experience with Tim has made me aware of another element in the mix –the support and encouragement that we give to each other.
Most students receive encouraging comments, smiles, and hugs from parents, friends, and relatives. Adult students also need encouragement, and if it isn’t forthcoming they can create their own support group by letting friends know what they need.
When students receive support like this regularly, their confidence grows. They’re able to accomplish their goals, play the music they want to play. Many students love to try on the role of teacher by showing siblings and friends how to play a song on the piano. They will mimic the kindness and patience they have received from their own teacher. The loving energy of support gets passed on down the line.
At some point though we all need to learn how to support ourselves. Others will not always approve of us or be there at the exact moment we need them. This is why this visualization is so valuable. Through the power of imagination we can transform the support we’ve received and multiply it by a million. Our belief in ourselves rises up and suddenly it’s happening. We are playing the way we always knew we could.
We all have innovative solutions like Tim’s just waiting inside us. The next time you come up with one why don’t you spread the word so we can all benefit from your brilliance?
On a TED program percussionist Evelyn Glennie talked about her first college-level snare drum lesson. A professor told her to take the drum home for a week – without sticks, without music and without a structured assignment. All she was to do was get to know the instrument –tap it, beat it, drum her fingers on it, explore every inch of the instrument and every nuance of sound she could make on it. She said it was one of the most valuable activities she’d ever done.
How often do we take time out to really get to know our instrument on its own terms – without the musical score coming between us? And without an outside goal that a teacher or we have imposed on us– a goal that affects our relationship with that instrument.
Don’t get me wrong, goals can be good things and reading music is a valuable skill. But summer is stretching out before us – an ideal time to get to know our instrument in a way we never have before. Small children explore the piano and any other instrument they can get their hands on in this way. They touch every inch of it and listen to every sound without judgment. They invent new ways of making sounds.
Evelyn Glennie was fascinated by music as a child. Because she is deaf, she learned to listen through her fingers and through her whole body. Through her intense listening, she can distinguish the differences between notes a half-step apart and she can play unbelievably complex marimba pieces.
Music students who want to expand their skills while relaxing their minds might spend time exploring their instruments this summer. See how many different ways you can make sounds – the sound of thunder, of rain, of snow. How about a rushing river, trees in the wind, a person breathing? Get into the guts of the piano and pluck the strings, gently knock on the wood and listen to the layers of sound. Listen with your fingers, take your shoes off and place the bottoms of your feet against the body of the piano to perceive the sounds. Break all the rules; thoroughly get to know this instrument we all take for granted.
Then, come September, let’s see how your playing has changed. Will it have more colors, more depth, more dynamic range? Will your playing be different when you’re reading from a music score? You can only answer these questions after spending a summer adventuring with your new friend and really, really listening.
Here’s the link to Evelyn Glennie on TED: www.ted.com/