The way you mow the lawn might teach you something important about how to practice.
Everyone has a method. Do you start at one side and make repeating alternate passes, or circle the perimeter until you get to the center? Either way, it’s a straight line: a job with a beginning and end and a clear indicator of progress.
Practicing an instrument is, of course, nothing like that. But too many people act like it is. As if learning to play were as direct and linear as mowing the lawn.
Or perhaps you mow like I do: starting off in one spot and proceeding along an orderly pattern, but suddenly veering off seemingly on a whim to cut a new path. I end up dividing the lawn into segments, smaller areas that are attacked one at a time.
Now, this is just how my brain works in general. I know that I concentrate best in short bursts, punctuated by breaks and then refocusing. For me, returning with a fresh perspective is a much better way to work: more motivating, more thorough, and more effective.
This has nothing to do with my reasons for breaking the pattern while mowing the lawn, of course. Maybe it’s related, though: when a task starts to become too repetitive, maybe something needs to shift to stimulate the brain. And perhaps approaching the same basic material from different angles will lead to a more thorough coverage of the territory?
The fact is, learning about music is a lifelong task. It won’t get easier.
It’s no easier for me now after almost 40 years – except that I’ve learned ways to streamline the process. The work still needs to get done. And like your lawn, even when it’s finished it’s never finished: it’ll grow back next week. (More like tomorrow, here in Tennessee in the summertime).
If you approach practicing as a track that follows a straight line, it definitely makes it easier to organize and track your progress. This is an important element for some people, especially if you have the kind of mind that prefers structure. But you still need to keep in mind that when you reach the end, you’re not finished. You’ve simply completed one cycle. You’ll need to go back over it again. And every time you do, hopefully you pick up more detail, more familiarity, more accuracy. And if you find you aren’t, vary that pattern. Take a different approach, look at the problem from a different angle. This kind of creative thinking is the basis for problem-solving.
Whether your mind tends towards a single linear order or circular, interconnected set of patterns, both express something important about both the structure and performance of music.
Linear order organizes your knowledge and process. Circular, pattern thinking reveals interconnectedness and multiple pathways through the same territory. Both are essential to developing the real skills you need to play music the way you want to.
So pay attention next time you mow the lawn, you might learn something important.