The Single Word That Can Transform Your Playing
What are you bad at?
I’m not that great sight reading.
And actually that’s a point of pride, because I used to be terrible at sight reading, and to be “not that great” marks a giant leap forward. For the first several years of lessons, I essentially had to memorize a piece to be able to play it.
Over the ensuing decades I’ve worked hard, and deliberately, to get better at reading, and I’ve radically improved. But I’ll never be the strongest reader in a room, and if someone in a group of professionals is going to make a reading mistake, it will probably be me. The rapid parsing of visual information just doesn't come easily to me.
And it is undeniably true that some things come more easily to some people. This can be frustrating. When you see others breeze through tasks that are difficult for you, it can ding your confidence and make you feel discouraged.
And there are so many aspects of the recorder to find challenging! I have students who have difficulty covering the holes, students who have a hard time with rhythm, students who have trouble improvising, students who have trouble performing- the list goes on.
The thing is- “bad” is not a binary. It’s not even really the correct term. You are not bad at something; you are at a specific starting place on your journey to better playing. And I firmly believe that, no matter where we begin, each and every one of us can make progress in the areas that are difficult for us.
You are not bad. You are beginning.
It’s a simple reframe, but it opens a clear way forward. If you are bad at something, you are content to rest on your limitations. If you are beginning, you are motivated to research, design, and execute a plan to make progress.
A teacher can help you do this. In fact, the transmutation of “bad” to “beginning” is one of our primary responsibilities. But you can also make this leap on your own. Start right now by taking a moment to answer to the question I posed at the top- what are you bad at? Write that down.
Now cross out the word “bad.” Write, instead, “beginning.”
Now you’re ready to take the first step on your journey forward. Your next task is to figure out, and write down, what you can do to improve.
The possibilities are as varied as the challenges. If you’re a beginning sight reader, you can commit to 10 minutes a day of sight reading -perhaps in cut time. If you’re looking to cover the holes, you could spend 5 minutes each day sitting with the recorder and feeling the appropriate finger reach. If you are beginning to read up the octave, you can commit to trying it at your next recorder meeting.
What’s important is that your plan be:
Concrete: A concrete plan tells you what, how, where, and when to take action.
Targeted: The more specific the action you take, the faster you’ll see improvement
Feasible: Will the action plan fit into your lifestyle and time availability? If not, it won’t do you much good.
Why not? You can only get better from here.