Adults Can Learn Too: Three Keys to Successful Musical Practice
I'm the Office Manager here at Music House, not a professional musician. Not by a long shot. But being constantly exposed to great musicians and their favorite kinds of music is infectious. So it didn't take long to get bitten by the bug and take up piano and voice. I even tried my hand at guitar and drums. At first, I found all four to be not only hard, but very frustrating and I ended up quitting before giving any of them a chance. However, after being away from the piano for a while and looking at it in my living room every day, I knew that I missed playing. So I started again and this time, everything seems to have changed for me. Here are three transformational lessons my Music House teachers helped me grasp.
Stop telling yourself that you can’t do it.
Busy adults will often stop doing something if it doesn’t come naturally. Everyone can learn music if they want to. Instead of seeing the frustration as a deterrent, I instead saw it as a challenge. I thrive on being challenged, so with some open communication with my teacher, I was able to shift my thought process. I also worked with my teacher to make sure I was playing songs I wanted to learn so the piano was something I saw as fun and not just one more obligation. The curriculum here is so easily customized that soon, I could play along with all my guilty-pleasure Taylor Swift songs.
Carve out a specific time to practice.
It was easy to tell myself that as soon as I got home from work, I’d drop my things, kick off my shoes, and play some piano. Life never worked out that way, though. Errands, volunteer work, and plans with friends and family almost always gets in the way of that kind of loose plan for an adult. To make sure I was practicing, I set it up as an appointment in my phone’s calendar, complete with notification reminder: Monday through Friday, from 8:00pm until 8:30pm. Having that set time made it official and didn’t leave me wondering if I’d done enough or allow me to tell myself that because I practiced for an hour today, I could totally slack tomorrow off. I checked in with my wife when I started and checked out with her when I was done so that I also had someone holding me accountable. I even had her sign my practice log just the like kids at Music House do. (You don’t have to take things that far, but I am extraordinarily good at convincing myself out of something and justifying that decision with ice cream.)
It was easy to tell myself that as soon as I got home from work, I’d drop my things, kick off my shoes, and play some piano. Life never worked out that way, though.
Embrace the challenge. It’s about the journey, not the destination.
Most of us pick up an instrument because of some glorious imagined future -- one where we can play beautifully. Unfortunately, that’s a recipe for frustration and dissatisfaction. I could have won an award for the number of times I just stopped practicing the hard part of a song and moved on to a part I had down easily or just gave up and got out the quart of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Let’s face it, we adults have a lot going on in our lives. It’s easy to walk away from the challenging stuff if we can get away with it. But when it comes to music, the challenge is, in fact, the reward. Once you start to see this, it becomes this fascinating, never-ending journey. My teacher at Music House helped me grasp this. We even spent a lesson practicing how to practice. Once I knew how to practice, it was easy to want to practice, even when practicing wasn’t easy.
Most of us pick up an instrument because of some glorious imagined future -- one where we can play beautifully. Unfortunately, that’s a recipe for frustration and dissatisfaction.
Playing an instrument is so good for your mental agility, your peace of mind, and can help develop social networks that are hard to find once you’re out of the forced space of the classroom where making friends is natural. For as many reasons as there are to learn though, there are just as many that cause adults to stop. Using the three tips above: changing your thinking, setting a specific practice schedule, and learning how to learn, will help a busy adult break bad habits and figure out like I did that they, too, can be a musician. Besides, you can always reward yourself with ice cream and Taylor Swift after you’re done.
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