Tag Archives: practice

A GUIDE TO TEACHING CHILDREN MUSIC – Principle 2: “Self-Initiated Learning vs. Imposition”

“Children learn best when the learning is self-initiated, arising from their own curiosity and interests, rather than imposed on them.”

– Aletha Solter, Ph.D., “Principles of Learning”

Godfrey Kneller's portrait of IsaacNewton, 1689
Godfrey Kneller’s portrait of IsaacNewton, 1689

Newton hit the nail on the head with his third law of motion: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Try verbally or physically trying to make a child do something will make them resist even more.

Examples:

  • Try forcing green vegetables into a kid’s mouth and they will refuse to open their mouth or immediately spit out whatever you put in there.
  • Yell at a child to get in bed and they’re be riled up and less tired or willing to sleep.
  • Try physically removing a child from doing or playing with something they like and they will kick and scream.

When we apply this to music and helping children develop the habit of practicing, negatively forcing a child to play a specific instrument or practice at specific times for specific lengths of time may produce results—BUT, on the other hand,  they might sap away a child’s desire to play over time. This happens especially if those measures result in reluctance, resistance, indifference, apathy, or rejection of musical activities or practice.

There are two types of motivation:

  1. Intrinsic motivation, or an inner desire or interest to do something, usually for the sake of enjoyment or self-satisfaction.
  2. Extrinsic motivation, or a drive to accomplish something in order to receive a reward or recognition from an outward motivator. Motivators include threats, bribes, prizes, fame, competition, pressuring, etc.

In teacher Lara Hansen’s article “The Inherent Desire to Learn: Intriniscally Motivating First Grade Students,” she says,

“When people are intrinsically motivated they feel interest and enjoyment in what they are doing. They also feel a sense of capability and determination. What they don’t feel is tension, stress, and anxiety.”

In general, people tend to enjoy activities more when they can enjoy the experience and develop a personal passion for what they are doing. Any trauma introduced to an activity in the form of external motivators can lead that activity becoming stressful instead of a pleasure to perform.

As teachers and parents, we can provide opportunities for a child learn an instrument, but imposing, pushing, or bribing a child will create resistance and perhaps kill the child’s original curiosity and interest.

But don’t worry! We all have negative experiences with music, like playing a bad concert or being pressured to practice because of an assignment or impending performance. External/extrinsic motivators naturally exist and aren’t all bad unless they kill our passion for music.

And even if desires and passions dwindle, they can be fed and nurtured back to life. Just because a child throws a fit and doesn’t want to go to a music lesson one day doesn’t mean all is lost—you may find the same child excitedly getting their instrument out to show a friend the next day.

They say curiosity killed the cat, but perhaps killing the curiosity in the cat is the sadder scenario. Let’s keep the desire to learn alive and well!

A GUIDE TO TEACHING CHILDREN MUSIC – Principle 1: “The Ability and Desire to Learn”

“All children are born with the desire and the ability to learn.”

– Aletha Solter, Ph.D., “Principles of Learning”

THE ABILITY TO LEARN

Young students come to lessons at Kennedy Violins with minds like blank slates.  From the start, children are born with brains like sponges—you’ve heard the comparison before. Sounds, sights, movements, and smells engage the brain as it makes neurological connections. Every experience is absorbed, defining a growing child’s understanding of the world around him. 

Music is a language, so the ability to learn, read, and make music can be compared to language acquisition. From birth, and even in the womb, infants are extremely cognisant of sounds. A baby recognizes the specific tone of her mother’s voice. Pitch recognitions allow a child to recognize high and low tones.

The sound of music, which does not have to be deciphered, decoded, or read, can absolutely captivate a child of any age. Children stop in their tracks to identify the sounds around them like a bird chirping, a plane flying overhead, or the playing of a piano upstairs. Musical sounds are expressed in a universal language of melodies, to which language humans are programmed to respond from the very beginning.

301108_10151191406259312_28703616_n

A DESIRE TO LEARN

Because music is inherently fascinating to children and adults, it can be introduced and immediately engage a child’s interest, filling him or her with an intrinsic desire to hear, learn, and experience more. A parent or teacher can take this golden opportunity to feed a child’s natural interest in music by recognizing his or her specific desires and creating a learning environment to satisfy the child’s hunger for more — more music, of course! 

A child’s natural curiosity leads to questions like

  • What happened?
  • What is this?
  • What was that sound?
  • Who is that?
  • Why? Why? Why?
  • Are we there yet?

Kids want to learn. As parents and teachers, we have the great opportunity and responsibility to provide an education to satisfy a child’s thirst for knowledge. Hand a child an instrument, and they will want to play with it and on it.

Therefore, music need not be forced upon a child to produce interest—in fact, forcing children typically repels their interest. Read more about imposed learning with Principle Two: “Self-Initiated Learning vs. Imposition.”

A GUIDE TO TEACHING CHILDREN MUSIC: An Interpretation of Aletha Solter’s “Principles of Learning”

Orchestra students at the Mitch Carter school play instruments from Kennedy Violins.
Fifth grade students at  M.I.T.C.H. Charter School play instruments from Kennedy Violins.

As parents, teachers, and musicians, we hope to guide both our children and students to learn in the most effective way. But how can we encourage

  • a desire to learn
  • discipline to practice
  • enjoyment
  • and a sense of accomplishment

when teaching children to play an instrument?

Quite often children

  • equate practice with punishment,
  • experience boredom during lessons and practice sessions,
  • don’t understand what is being taught,
  • resist being encouraged (or forced) to practice,
  • lose interest in their instrument,
  • and/or don’t believe music can be enjoyable.

How can we keep children from these pitfalls and stumbling blocks during what could otherwise be a fulfilling, effective, and FUN learning experience?

Understanding how children learn is absolutely imperative when you are a teacher or parent introducing a child to music. Parental involvement is very important in the process, which is why all private instructors at Kennedy Violins encourage parents to participate in and be aware of their child’s learning experience.

The following series is a guide expanding upon eleven points from “Principles of Learning,” an article excerpt from Helping Young Children Flourish by developmental psychologist Aletha Solter, Ph.D. This series will expand on the eleven principles of learning in terms of how children can learn to play a musical instrument.

___________________________________

Please check back as sections of “A Guide to Teaching Children Music” are added to this series!

  1. “The Ability and Desire to Learn”
  2. “Self-Initiated Learning vs. Imposition”
  3. “Hands-On Self-Discovery” – Coming Soon
  4. “Learning Through Play” – Coming Soon
  5. “Appropriate Stimulation” – Coming Soon
  6. “Inspiring Imagination and Creativity” – Coming Soon
  7. “Children Learn at Their Own Rate” – Coming Soon
  8. “Children Have Different Learning Styles” – Coming Soon
  9. “Screen Time: Stifling Creativity” – Coming Soon
  10. “Stress Interferes with Learning” – Coming Soon
  11. “The Parent/Child Relationship Affects Learning” – Coming Soon

The Masterclass: Learning in a Group Setting

There are many ways to prepare for a performance, including taking your practice out of the practice room and into a masterclass setting. (Photo by David A. Wolfe)

At Kennedy Violins we often offer people tips on how to practice more efficiently or sightread or learn music theory. But it’s hard to teach someone how to become a better performer. Why is performing so difficult? Probably because as musicians, we spend far more time playing for ourselves, alone, than we ever do playing for other people.

I mean, this makes total sense. Say you spend 100 hours practicing a piece before it’s “performance ready.” But once you’ve worked on a piece, having played it for yourself and for your teacher, does that mean you’re ready to take it to the stage in a recital or concert setting?

Perhaps. But there’s another step, another place and setting where you can “perform before performing,” and prepare yourself even more effectively for your upcoming debut. That setting is in a masterclass.

What is a Masterclass?
A masterclass is a session where a group of students have the unique opportunity to perform for and critique each other. Typically, a masterclass is a gathering of all the students under the tutelage of a single teacher. At each masterclass a few students will perform a piece they have been learning in their private lesson. After the performance of their piece, the teacher and/or students will offer their commentary, critiques, suggestions, and (if you’re with nice people) praise and encouragement!

Guest Artist Masterclasses
You might have the opportunity to attend a special masterclass with a guest artist. Accomplished performing artists often offer a masterclass in conjunction with a performance held. For example, an artist might perform a recital at a university, then conduct a masterclass with music students at the school. This allows students to gain an even broader perspective from a musician other than their private teacher or professor.

Where are Masterclasses Held?
Almost all college and graduate schools incorporate masterclasses as part of the music curriculum. Younger and older students who aren’t studying in a conservatory setting may have the opportunity to attend masterclasses through their schools, private studios, youth symphony programs, camps, festivals, or other music forums.

The Benefits of Performing in Masterclass
Performing in a masterclass is one of the best ways to conquer your nerves, overcome performance anxiety, and stand up to perhaps the toughest audience you’ll ever have. I’ve often felt more intimidated to play in a masterclass of five students who play my instrument than to play for an audience of 100 people who may have never even heard a string bass solo. But that’s the beauty of the masterclass: you get the best tips from people who understand what you’re doing and how to do it.

Masterclasses offer you extra sets of ears to hear things you don’t hear, different perspectives on the interpretation of the music, and a “practice audience” who will give you extra-useful feedback on your performance. A thorough critique of your performance by a group of musicians may be hard to swallow, but it will help you develop as a musician far more than the 100th “Good job!” someone says after your recital.

Of course, those “good jobs” are so, so worth it to hear because it means you accomplished something AMAZING by performing live music! And attending masterclasses can be a huge help towards the successful accomplishment of that great task.

The KV Concert Series: Upcoming Workshops
Speaking of guest artists and masterclasses, we invite you to attend the first performing in our fall concert series! Dan Levenson will be performing on Friday, September 27 at 7:00pm in our recital hall at Kennedy Violins (508 SE 117th Avenue, Vancouver, WA 98683) and conducting workshops on Saturday, September 28 at 4:00pm and 6:00pm.

Hope to see you there! Visit kennedyviolins.com/concerts for more details.

How Young is Too Young?

As a violin teacher, with a pretty good size studio, I think the question I get the most is, “At what age should I start my child?”  There are several responses that I could have with this question, but I will go with the two that I feel most strongly about.

463769_10150744801834312_1340379933_o

First, what is best for your child?  In this day and age it is not uncommon for a child to have an extra activity every day.  From soccer to acting class kids’ schedules can be crazy.  If you want them to play an instrument, not have to practice with them, and just have fun, then starting in 5th or 6th grade is probably the best option.  At that age, kids can be pretty self-driven and if they like the instrument will practice.  You may need to be flexible, however,  because your child will probably want to switch as they get exposed to different instruments.  For a child to try violin one year and cello the next is great, but as a parent can be frustrating.

384889_10151247395169312_1416937106_n

Second, what is best for you as the parent?  If you want to start your child on violin at the age of three, that’s awesome, but realize you will have to be very dedicated.  Practicing with the child every day, enduring tantrums when practice gets difficult, and having a slow and steady approach to learning the instrument.  I love it when a young child gets a grasp on music early.  The students I have that started at the age of three or four have a way better understanding of music then a child that starts in 5th or 6th grade.  They have been around music longer, appreciate it, and see music almost as a second language.  It is a beautiful thing, however, it is not an easy thing to accomplish as a parent.  If you are not the type of parent that wants to dedicate yourself to learning the violin and practicing with your child every day then hold off on starting them young.  It will cause you more grief than joy.  So, unless you are a bit of a “tiger mom” it may not be best for you.

301108_10151191406259312_28703616_n

I started the violin at the age of three.  There has never been a day, in my adulthood, that I have regretted starting the violin at such a young age.  It is why I love teaching younger students so much.  By the way, all of the children’s pictures in this post are students of mine.

Starting children young can be very rewarding.  My mom was an amazing, dedicated woman and she said there was nothing more rewarding then seeing her children come alive while playing music.  My mother also came up with the best quitting rule when it came to music.  If we ever came to our mom and said that we wanted to quit she always said that was just fine and we would mark the calendar for 6 months from the time that we asked to quit.  If 6 months later we still wanted to quit the instrument, we were allowed to do so.  You would be amazed at how often quitting an instrument is associated with an upcoming performance, current frustration with a technique, or just pure laziness. Often, after 6 months, we would not even remember wanting to quit.  I still use this rule with my own students.  It works brilliantly.  In ten years of teaching I have only had one student quit.

In closing, a child is never to young to begin to experience music. Singing to and with your child, playing music for your child, and being intentional about learning different instruments and their sounds can go a long way towards teaching your child to appreciate music. Music is not so much a talent but a gift and like all art, should be deeply appreciated.

I would start by watching the “Goat Rodeo” sessions on YouTube with your child. Totally entertaining and lively. They will love them.  You can click here to see what I’m talking about. 🙂

Music Theory Basics (Part 2)

In Music Theory Basics (Part 1), we discussed the musical staff, clefs, and note names.  Today, we will cover the basics of rhythm and note duration.  There are lots of charts in this one!

The term rhythm has come to mean several different things in today’s culture, but for our purposes, we will use the following definition:

Rhythm: The controlled movement of music in time usually divided into strong (or accented) and weak (or unaccented) beats in a piece of music.

  • Beats: The regular pulse of music.  Often, beats are dictated by accents in music, a metronome, or a conductor.
  • Strong (or accented) beat: The effect that occurs in music when one note or syllable is stressed or emphasized more than others.

Duration: The length of time that a note is sounded. This length of time is determined by the note value.

  • Note value: is the duration of a note in the context of a measure/bar of music as determined by the time signature.  Here are some common note values.

Common note values chart from Music Theory Basics (Part 2) on blog.kenneedyviolins.com.

To avoid confusion with note names, it is important to think about them in relationship to a whole note.  A half note is half the value of a whole note, a quarter note is one-fourth (or a quarter) of a whole note, and an eighth note is one-eighth the value of a whole note.  Here is another chart to break it down.

Note Values Chart #2 from Music Theory Basics (Part 2) on blog.kennedyviolins.com

  • Measure/Bar: a term that signifies the smallest division of a piece of music marked by vertical bar lines on the staff.  Each measure contains a fixed number of beats.  The number of beats is determined by the time signature.

Picture of Measure and Bar Lines from Music Theory (Part 2) on blog.kennedyviolins.com.

  • Time Signature: A symbol placed at the left side of the staff indicating the meter (or measure of time) of the piece of music.  A time signature is made up of two numbers.  The top number tells you how many beats are in each measure and the bottom number tells you which note is the beat.

The top number is pretty straightforward. It always signifies how many beats are in a a measure.  If it’s a 4 then there are four beats, if it’s a 6 then there are six beats, and so on.

To “crack the code” of the bottom number, you need to be familiar with factions.  The bottom number is the denominator of the fraction of the note that it represents.  For instance, a quarter note is one-fourth or 1/4 the value of a whole note. So, if the bottom of a time signature is a 4 then the quarter note gets the beat.  Likewise, an eighth note is one-eighth or 1/8 the value of a quarter note.  So, if the bottom of the time signature is an 8 then the eighth note gets the beat.

Here is a chart of common time signatures you will run into.

We will stop there for now.  You can now take the concepts we have learned in these first two parts and apply them too some of the basic songs in the repertoire!  Why not try this part of “Jingle Bells.”

 

Music Theory Basics (Part 1)

Music is a language and like any other language it has a written form.  The parts that make up the written form of music and the rules for writing is are know as music theory.  No matter your age or experience level, reading music and understanding music theory is a valuable skill.  Not yet music literate?  Now is the perfect time to learn!

Let’s dive in!

Staff:  The musical staff is the foundation of modern musical notation.  The staff is made up of five lines and four spaces.  Each line and space represents a specific note.

  • Note: Short for “notation”. Depicts the pitch and duration of a musical sound.
  • Pitch: represents the perceived fundamental frequency of a sound.

Clef:  A clef is what assigns individual notes to certain lines or spaces.  There are several type of clefs, but the most common are the Treble clef (aka G clef) and the Bass clef (aka F clef).

  • Treble clef:  Treble is a term for higher sounding notes.  The treble clef gets its name because it represents the high notes.
  • Bass clef:  Bass is a term for lower sounding notes.  The bass clef gets its name because it represents the low notes.

Note names:  In modern music, there are 7 letters that make up the musical alphabet.  A, B, C, D, E, F, and G.  The letters are used to denote the pitch of each note.  The note names are assigned in alphabetical order (i.e. B comes before C, etc.) and once you reach a G the alphabet starts over again (i.e. A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C…).  This patten can repeat an infinite number of times.

Let’s put this all together with this handy chart!

Since this handy chart won’t always be available, let’s go over how to remember note names.  The best way, that I have found, is to use mnemonic devices.

On the treble clef, the notes in the spaces (from bottom to top) spell FACE.  The note names spell a word, so that’s easy enough to remember.  The notes on the lines (from bottom to top) are E, G, B, D,  and F.  To remember these note names, most people make up a sentence like: Every Good Boy Does Fine.

On the bass clef, the notes in the spaces (from bottom to top) are A, C, E, and G.  The sentence All Cows Eat Grass is a handy way to remember that.  The notes on the lines (from bottom to top) are G, B, D, F, and A.  I like to use the sentence Green Bananas Don’t Fool Anybody.

If this seems complicated to you, throw away the sentences and just remember two things.  The treble clef is also called a G clef because it indicates where the G is located on the staff.  If you look closely, the line that intersects the clef the most is the second line from the bottom.  That line is G.   Likewise, on the bass clef is also called an F clef because is indicated where the F is located.  The F can be found between the two dots that are to the side of the clef.  This is the second line from the top.  Music scholars  believe that the current style of the clefs evolved from stylized G’s and F’s that composers and publishers included in the music.

In Music Theory Basics (Part 2) we will cover Rhythm and Note Duration.  Inspired and can’t wait?  8notes.com has a useful Beginner Music Theory section with easy to read slide shows.  You can also find music theory in some of the most popular violin method books like Suzuki.  For more recommended method books, click here.

Online Music Lessons: Helpful or Hurtful?

We live in an interesting age, musically speaking.  Through the avenue of the internet, so much is available to us in the way of recordings, videos, articles, pictures, etc, etc.  From this sea of information, any aspiring musician with a computer can find tools and resources for online music lessons and often times for free.

Learning music online is vastly different than what teachers and players have been used to in generations before the world wide web making some wonder if online lessons are truly beneficial for budding musicians or if they just cause confusion and poor technique.  Before investing any serious time in front of a computer screen, there are a few things to consider when it comes to music lessons.

When it comes to learning anything, I think the most important thing to consider is how you or your student learns.  For instance, I am a kinesthetic learner.  I learn best by doing or using my hands.  Sitting around watching videos online, does help me as much a having a teacher guide me during a lesson and then practicing it on my own for several hours.  Yet, I have a student who is a very visual learner and online videos are a great reference for the days in-between lessons.  Likewise, I have a family member that can read a car manual and just build an engine in a weekend.  I’m sure that if he wanted to, he could play the violin after a day of reading “How-To” blogs online.

If you decide that using online music lessons are something that would be helpful for you, the next thing you need to consider is where the information is coming from.  The good news is that there are hundreds of thousands of videos, articles, and blogs to choose from.  The bad news is that pretty much anyone with a computer and 5 minutes of free time can post something.  When searching for music lessons, it’s best to use media produced by a professional or teacher with years of experience.  Generally, they will have tried and true methods to share that won’t lead you or your student astray.  If you are unsure about the validity of something you found online, it’s best to double check with your teacher.  Send them a link and have them check it out.  If you are teaching yourself how to play, you can always check with other members in the music community.  Contacting a local music store to see if they have come across something useful is a great place to find sound advice.  You can also check with other players through online forums like Violinist.com or Fiddle Hangout.

If you aren’t sure where to start looking online, a great place to start is our blog.  We are all professionals and teachers here, and we work hard to provide our readers with quality and useful educational articles that anyone can access.  We also have a Video Library on our website.  You can check it out here.

The Fine Art of Tuning

A cello section tuning.

In high school at the beginning of each concert, like all orchestras, we would take some time to tune.  Once the squeaking and squawking settled into a common A natural, our conductor would say, “Thank you very much.  Our first song was ‘The Fine Art of Tuning.'”  The audience, slightly confused, would laugh and we would move on to the actual concert.  His comment, while quite dry, actual holds a lot of truth.  The concept of may seem like simply matching pitches but there is “fine art” to it that I see even advanced musicians missing out on.  In my experience there are two main things that will help you master the fine art of tuning: a strong pitch reference and good tuning habits.

A Strong Pitch Reference: Unless you were born with “perfect pitch,” you will need a reference to the correct pitch.

-A tuning fork is the classic tool for tuning.  It is a piece of metal cast into a specific u-shape so that when struck, it emits a particular pitch. *NOTE:  Never strike a tuning fork on your instrument.* I’ve seen this happen which is why I have to say it…

-For beginners, an electronic tuner is useful because they can either emit the desired pitch or show you digitally what pitch you are playing.  There are even some that clip directly on the instrument.  I suggest investing in a tuner that doubles as a metronome.  It’s less to carry around!

Pitch pipes are lightweight and easy to use as well.  All you have to do is blow.  The down side is that if they get dropped or beat up, the notes on the pitch pipe will get out of tune themselves.

Pianos are best used in a band setting.  They aren’t exactly portable like the other options but they are the best choice if you are going to be playing with a piano (I’ll explain that later).

-If you want to be super tech savvy, there are several apps for mobile devices that turn your phone into a tuner.  Just be careful which one you get, the free ones aren’t always accurate.

Clockwise from top left: a chromatic pitch pipe, a tuning fork, a violin pitch pipe, and a mobile app.

Good Playing Habits: some of this may seem like common sense, but it’s good to be reminded.

-The best habit to have while tuning would be listening. It’s not enough to simply look at the tuner see that you are in tune (or worse, just play a note and turn the pegs until you are tired of it or the rest of the group stops tuning).  Listen to what it sounds like to be in tune and out of tune.  On a stringed instrument, you will need to listen to the intervals between the strings.  Traditionally, violin, viola, and cello strings are tuned in fifths (sounds like the beginning of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”).  If you are playing in a group, listen to the other players and “agree” with their tuning.  At times, the people you are playing with may have instruments that aren’t perfectly in tune and can’t be tuned without great difficultly.  I’m not talking about stubborn viola pegs or sticky clarinet keys, but a 250 year old pipe organ or a tinny house piano at a bar.  Your instrument may be perfectly in tune on its own, but if it doesn’t match the instruments you are playing with you will sound out of tune.

-Having strong fundamentals is another habit that will make the tuning process easier and more effective.  In the violin family, a good bow hold is key to quality sound production.  If you don’t have a strong bow hold, you won’t be able to produce a good sound to tune from .  Also, applying too much or too little pressure with the bow can cause the note you are trying to tune to go in and out of tune.  Long and steady bow strokes at medium volume are best for tuning.  Likewise, having the correct shape and placement in the left hand directly impacts the intonation of the notes you are trying to play.  I hate to say it, but it’s best to practice scales over and over again to strengthen tuning in the left hand.

-Lastly, take the time you need to make sure you are in tune.  I remember when I first started tuning my own instrument, the time it took to get it right was frustrating and felt like everyone else I was playing with was getting in tune faster.  Yet, I know that my stand partner and my teacher always liked it when I took an extra 30 seconds to make sure that I was in tune.

Other Helpful Articles: How to Install Strings and Keep Pegs from Slipping, Strung Out on Strings, Beginner Basics, Stringed Instrument Care and Maintence Part One, and Part Two.

Healthy Obsessions: Embracing Your Passions Leads to Success

Einstein: Obsessive Physicist

 

The successful theoretical chemist Henry Eyring once said to his son while working on complex mathematical equation, “We were working a problem just like this a week ago. You don’t seem to understand it much better. Isn’t this what you think about all the time?”

As the young man responded negatively, his father asked, “When you walk down the street, when you’re in the shower, when you don’t have to be thinking about anything else, isn’t this what you think about?”

Again, negative. The boy didn’t think about complex mathematics and physics in his spare time. His father, who had hoped all of his children would become successful scientists then said, “Hal, I think you’d better get out of physics. You ought to find something that you love so much that when you don’t have to think about anything, that’s what you think about.”

 

“Obsession”: A Bad Word?

In today’s world, the word “obsession” has been increasingly weighed down with negative connotations. When you think of an obsessed individual, you may picture a boy playing video games 18 hours per day, a woman who has spent $12 million on plastic surgery, or someone who washes their hands 100 times a day. You may view the characteristic of obsessiveness as a psychological disorder worth treating, avoiding, and fearing.

In truth, however, most of the greatest contributions to the society of man have been made by artists, scientists, inventors, mathematicians, writers, entrepreneuers, business professionals, and the like who have achieved greatness as a result of what may be labeled today as “unhealthy obsessive behavior.” The greatest classical composers and performers are those who have given their entire lives to their art. Thousands of hours of passionate thought and practice have led these self-made prodigies to such levels of success.

Einstein: The Passionate Violinist

Practice: Pleasure or Torture?

I remember as a student in my university’s school of music that I struggled to practice my bass three hours a day based on the curriculum requirement. Over time, I began to dread practicing, gazing out the window of my tiny practice room wishing to be anywhere else or doing anything else. Preferably, I would rather be hanging out with my friends, writing (my “other” passion), or playing and writing songs on the guitar.

As I showed up at my weekly lesson with my bass professor, he sensed my weariness and began to probe me with questions, like the scientist had his son. He wanted to find out how passionate I was about playing the bass, if it was something I truly loved to do, and if I dreamed and ate and breathed “bass” all the time.

Practice, of course, isn’t always “fun,” he said, but he wondered if I had the internal direction or desire I’d need to become the player he hoped I’d become. He asked if I loved to practice as much as he did when he was in school, painting a portrait of himself as a young student (with hair back then) who just couldn’t get enough of anything related to the bass. I just didn’t. I expressed to him my conflicting interests in other things, especially writing, and after some thought, he very sadly, but genuinely proposed that I reconsider my choice to major in music, encouraging me to do what I was most passionate about.

Well, I did finish my music degree and still perform classically. But I also endured a fifth year of college to complete an English minor and take as many writing classes as I could. And since I graduated, I admit, I’ve spent much, much more time writing that I have practicing. And while I feel most myself when I’m playing classical music and take every gig I can get, it’s writing that I think about in my spare time, when I shower, and when I walk down the street.

 

Embracing Your Obsessions

The word “obsession” and the word “passion” are practically synonymous. But notice when someone says, “I have a passion for music,” it doesn’t sound like a psychological disorder, but  like a wonderful thing—and it is! In order to become a truly great musician, yes, you have to practice your brains out, but you also have to love it enough to practice your brains out when you could be doing other things. You’ll find yourself practicing and listening to classical music because you truly, deeply, love it to the point of obsession.

Allowing yourself to embrace your passions and be “obsessed” with what you love takes a lot of courage. It means setting aside other activities you may enjoy doing to do what you love doing even more. It means letting yourself be crazy enough to spend hours at a time learning or creating something that thrills you to no end. It means doing something you feel you “shouldn’t” be doing if you were a rational person.

So no matter what you’re passionate about, whether it be your violin, your children, or the novel on your nightstand, don’t be afraid—for once in your life—to be a little obsessed. Live a little. Be a little crazy. You may be surprised to see how far it takes you.