The challenge of studenthood

Sometimes I get all nostalgic for the times when my students had nothing to do but practice. Ok you’re right that time never existed. But really it’s tougher than ever to focus on any one thing and devote yourself to becoming masterful at it. We all know how challenging it is to fend off those nagging obligations to all that stuff that gets in the way of us playing music for 8 hours a day!

A handful of us will still block out all else and fervently pursue musical perfection, but for most people our goals need to be tempered with a healthy dose of reality.

You are not going to become a great musician in 6 months.

Hardly anyone is satisfied with where they are now. This is just the nature of existence, I suppose. And so we make these little bargains in our mind… “I’m going to give myself 10 weeks of lessons and if I don’t get anywhere I’m never picking up my guitar again.”

People don’t admit to thinking these things but I can see them happening. Chronic disappointment of your goals and timelines leads to quitting. Who’s at fault? You, for being so lazy and untalented? The world, for getting in the way of your plans and aspirations? The music and the instrument, for being challenging?

Get over it. This is the life of modern humans. You’ve got all this junk going on in your life. Unless you want to deal with the massive undertaking of re-evaluating all of your pursuits and the rather painful experience of trimming the unnecessary fat from your life (which I fully support if you have the guts – see if you want a heady dose of that reality) then you’re going to have to accept that whatever time frame you set for yourself, you will probably not fulfill it.

Now breathe a sigh of relief…

Because it doesn’t matter how fast you go or where you’re headed. In music, it’s the experience that matters. You miss all the best stuff if you’re plowing ahead with the blinders on. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from the process of endlessly repeating the same impossibly hard passage thousands of times over years and years. Often I learn something important about myself or how to work with my mind and my limitations and this is more valuable than any tune I could be trying to tackle.

How many times over how many years do I pick up the same Prelude from the same Bach lute suite and get stuck on the same fingering that has messed with me since 1999? There’s a certain quality of acceptance that is required here, a mindfulness, an experience of the present moment.

Don’t run from the experience of confronting your limitations. Don’t try to be somewhere you’re not. You are where you are. If you’re a beginner, be there! All learning is available to you!

You will always have more on your plate than you can digest at any one time. This is just the nature of being a student. Everyone goes through the feeling of being overwhelmed by what they don’t know. Everyone goes through the moments of doubt about whether their time and money is being wasted on this thing that is not ‘productive.’ That kind of thinking might apply to your job or business or other work, but it is counterproductive here.

Kids deal with this stuff much better than adults. If their parents keep paying, they keep showing up, practice or no practice. You’d be amazed how a non-committal student with mediocre talent can become a formidable player by just sticking with it. Hey, I think I’m describing myself there… 😉

Enjoy your studenthood. Accept your limitations and learn how to manage them. The study of music has so much to offer you through its rewards AND its challenges.

For more tips on how to effectively confront your limitations, see my article on Effective Practice.