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Blog 61 Opurtunities, The one that got away.)

November 9, 2015

Problem Solving
Lots of parents want their children to learn music. Today there are also lots of companies purposefully looking for and employing musicians into nonmusical roles. Because of the skill set that is gained through learning music. Many people want to take up music simply to expand the mind and for these reasons and many more my colleagues and I often have a full list of students that we teach music to every week. Just recently over coffee with one of my musician friends I worked out that between our two studios we teach near on ninety students (She works harder than me) and that is just two teachers in Hataitai. So what are all these skills?

Well there are many; improvisation, pattern recognition, the ability to work hard, the ability to following instructions accurately. I could go on but one blog is too small for such value and I want to get to the topic of the moment which is problem solving. This is a huge skill to develop and also a difficult one to develop. Partly because the skill set required is dictated by the problems rather than by an artificial structure that has been placed in a book or some school curriculum somewhere.

When it comes to problem solving everything is dictated by the problem. So a large part of the skill set is in attitude. Courage: We first have to admit that there is a problem. This is not always easy to do. We have to put our accurate ears on remove our imagination from the sound. Really listen to what is happening rather than what you want to be happening or imagine is happening. Our minds have lovely ways of filling in the gaps and smoothing over the cracks so to speak but what we want is real objective listening. A good way to achieve this is to record our playing and then listen objectively. Another effective way is to encourage your teacher to be full and frank with you. This will happen if you display the ability to accept a fail but if you get emotional or argue when corrected, you will receive less feedback. Of course if you don’t have a teacher you are really learning the slow way if at all. No matter how fast that ap or on line tutorial will convince you are going. The real proof of playing is do you sound good and you need to be honest here.

So the first really useful life skill a good musician gains is courage. Something that serves us well in life as individuals and as communities. Just think of where we would be as a global community if we actually had the courage to acknowledge our problems. Tempting to get into examples but then I may not stop and blogs shouldn’t be too long.
The next life skill I want to talk about is focus. It is important to focus on the problem itself and not go off on some tangent. Like hiring climate skeptic scientists to tell us all that everything is just all tickety boo whilst we have ice flows floating up past the South Island and winter in the middle of summer. (opps tangent) Focus!

When working on your piece and you have found your problem spots, stick to it. Have a think, how many of us start our practice at the top of the piece then play up to that problem area only to make the same mistake we made last time. This habit tends to mean that we are practicing mistakes and wasting large amounts of time practicing what we already know. Quote from other teachers “Would you clean up a coffee spill from the other side of the room?” Well of course not, so why try to fix a problem in bar 20 by starting at the beginning. The reason that we do this is actually because people that learn music enjoy the music and therefore playing well draws us in. I get that, but we need the perseverance to stick at the problem. The tenacity to stop time wasting and keep working at the piece slowly from bar 20. Really put the energy into finding out exactly what is wrong and learn the correct actions to make the music work. With slow deliberate discipline, practice those actions until they are natural and then slot them back into the piece. This is real self-discipline and a hugely valuable skill to have in the workplace, the community and life in general. We can reward ourselves after some good focused problem solving practice with a play through the piece of music we are working on. And oh what a difference. We can apply this same attitude to any aspect of a project that is not working. It may even seem slow and frustrating at the time but again. Oh what a difference.

Of course coming up with solutions to problems often requires the courage and creativity to improvise with solutions. Not every problem is going to come right just by looking at it. We have to try different things experiment with fingering for example or perhaps try a different chord voicing. Take some time to look at problems in a different light rather than just those few bars that get right up your nose. When the solutions present themselves go back to the focus on slow deliberate practice and incorporate this into your playing. It will pay huge dividends for your growth as a musician. The buzz of playing a piece really well and I mean really well is huge.

In life we have problems that just won’t go away as well. Such as that person in your life that pushes all your buttons and turns into those few bars that just get right up your nose. When you look at this problem in a different light you may find the solution to the problem is to learn to like them. This will also take slow deliberate practice but give you great personal growth. And hell they may turn out to be alright after all and become a real friend ,you never know. Just another one of those life skills that music makes available for us. Bye for now.