Another academic year has begun and another cycle of thousands of students panicking over their increased workloads, stress, and lack of motivation have come about as well. Everybody has hit the wall at some point in their career. The wall being that wonderful point in time where the unforgettable sense of dread knowing your impending doom is on the horizon from your own doing via procrastination. Fear not, for music has the answer. That answer is practicing, of course.
The human brain is an incredibly complicated piece of biological engineering, however, let’s face it, we as species are still incredibly dumb. Our brains require hundreds of hours of repetition to learn a new skill and even then, there is a guarantee we’ll still make mistakes. We become frustrated with a lack of progress, which leads to further frustration, and many of us of have difficulty seeing and planning for the future. I am willing to admit I am one of those procrastinators, however, I have learned from my musical studies how to avoid the trap (most of the time). This is the process that I have developed for myself to cope with my affliction for averting assignments and hopefully it benefits you as much as it did me.
Realize that you are terrible. No, seriously, you are, just deal with it. This is the hardest part to accept. No matter what skill you start or study, you will be a greenhorn, a newbie, a new kid on the block and that is perfectly o.k. If you can pick up a violin and play Mendelssohn’s concertos from one listen or memorize a lecture in one sitting, ignore this advice. However, for everybody else, you will be atrocious at new things.
Find the problem spots. This is where the work begins. With music, it is common for someone to learn the music not in the order written. A musician will look through the piece, find the hardest technical parts of the piece, learn them, and then go on to the other parts. It saves time knowing what bridges you have cross before you get to them. This is incredibly beneficial for studying. Don’t study what you know, but rather what you don’t. The difficulty lies in being able to find these problem spots when our feeble brains like to show off what we know rather what we do not.
Write it, say it, and do it everyday. It’s incredibly easy to simply say, “I know that,” and continue on to the next issue at hand. It is to better to be able to prove it. Practicing music? Say the notes, chords, as you play so you understand what the melody, harmony, or rhythm is doing. Studying for school? Say it as you write it. Then do it again, and again, and again. It is far more beneficial to spend 15 to 30 minutes a on a task everyday rather than binge information in 3 hours the day before. Our brains like repetition for learning, our will, though, despises it. Finding motivation is the hardest part in this step. Be creative and reward your efforts when you conquer small battles that will lead to your final victory.
Dress Rehearsal. The first stepping stone to success is here. If you can replicate the conditions that you will be put under, whether it be a test, essay, or performance, do it. Practicing with all the variables you can will give you an advantage. You can’t prepare for everything and improvising is an important skill but give yourself a strong familiarity with your environment you will be entering to face your challenge. Playing on the stage is a great way to know what you will sound like to the audience and ensure that you can compensate for acoustic deviations.
Perform. The big day has arrived and you have to play, hope you practiced enough!
Reflect. The concert is over, you bow, you walk off stage, and immediately think, “That A flat in the 20th bar was so off.” Whatever happened in that auditorium or classroom, happened. The more you linger on it, the less motivated you will be for your next performance. Note, though, that it is important to look back at your process and preparation and see what you can do, add, refine, or reinvent to be better prepared. People learn by repetition but everybody learns at different rates, different means, and different efficiencies. Altering and customizing these steps for your own benefit is highly recommended.
Finding what keeps you pushing yourself to get that next guitar lick, essay written, or work related project done is hard and keeping that flame lit is even more of a challenge. My choice of motivation is cheesy motivational videos. They are quite the guilty pleasure. If I find I am off course, I watch a good ol’ fashioned pump-up, feel good video and I get back into the zone. “Success,” is a personal favorite weapon of mass motivation.