The Perpetual Beginner: making effective commitments with personalized lesson plans

December 13, 2017
The Perpetual Beginner: making effective commitments with personalized lesson plans

I think most people would agree that success in any area of life requires commitment: in work, in relationships, in art. So it’s only natural that the same would apply to learning or improving skills on an instrument. Unlikely that anyone would argue that point – but I think it’s worth looking at the kind of commitment you need to take on to really become a better player.

Sometimes single lesson can have a lifetime impact. I’ve had that experience myself. Some of the people I work with just need some new ideas and ways of thinking they can apply to their work. That can sometimes be accomplished in one session, IF you’re going to do the work afterwards. This can be as simple as consciously applying the new ideas in your work on a regular basis. To fully absorb a concept or technique so it becomes a part of your work, you need to revisit it and apply it again and again. You’ll often see a difference right away, but the ultimate goal is the way to make it part of your process as opposed to something you apply consciously. This takes long-term repetition.

Learning to hit the target

This also applies to pure mechanics on your instrument. Real practicing is the act of training your hands to respond accurately and precisely to your musical thoughts. This takes slow, disciplined, repeated work, and the process doesn’t happen quickly. You won’t see improvement in this area right away, in fact  you might not see it for weeks or even months. But if your level of commitment and discipline are strong enough, it works. The fact is, when it comes to mechanics, it can’t NOT work if you do it right. “Right” in this case means consciously, repeatedly, and with a long-term sense of purpose.

Frankly, this is why most people fail, and most people do. If you start lessons with a goal at the outset, the measure of success is whether you achieve it. I don’t mean to say that a small amount of progress isn’t useful if that’s all you get out of the experience – we learn in many ways from many places. But if you’re a singer and your goal is to be able to accompany yourself as well as a hired side player would, you need to really practice. And too many people don’t, or don’t practice consciously or spend enough time to make the work have real impact. I do believe that any progress is good progress, but sometimes a reality check is important. If I hear every session that someone didn’t have time to practice, I know there’s a good chance they won’t improve much.

The investment vs the cost

If finances are a factor, consider this. Some people may only come once or twice a month to keep their monthly expenses down, and sometimes that’s a necessary fact. But we can accomplish more in two months of weekly sessions with committed practice in between than we will in a year of meeting once a month. I’ve come to believe that the most effective strategy is to make a short-term commitment to one or two months of weekly sessions, followed by time to absorb, practice, and process everything. Overload’s no good either, but the immersion can be extremely powerful. Don’t think of taking lessons on an instrument as a lifetime commitment, the lifetime commitment is to practicing and playing. A short-term immersion prepares you to work on your own to fully incorporate the new elements into your music-making.

The personalized lesson plan

This is the reasoning behind the new method I’m introducing in the new year: personalized courses with specific goals. We meet for a preliminary evaluation and planning session, where we identify and spell out the goals you want to reach. I then create a 12-session lesson plan with exercises and musical examples. You receive all of these materials at the first “official” lesson, and we then proceed at a pace that makes sense for your ability to commit the practice time. This can be twelve weeks, twelve days, or twelve months. You pay for a twelve lesson block at a significantly discounted rate from my regular hourly, plus an additional $100 for the time spent creating the course materials. In the long run, the cost is less then six months of lessons twice a month, and you’re working in a more focused and concentrated way. This is far more likely to be effective in really elevating the way you play.

I can accept payment in installments, but the up-front block solidifies your commitment to your own musical growth. That concentrated commitment is the missing link in most people’s efforts, and will make all the difference in yours. Email me to set up the free consult and get started on your own clear path to success.

One Response to The Perpetual Beginner: making effective commitments with personalized lesson plans

  • Thanks for sharing this. I’m currently working on the f# minor nocturne! they’re beautiful pieces. Afte completion of this, I would go for guitar lessons.
    Don’t get me wrong, you have to be strong and confident to be successful in just about anything you do – but with music, there’s a deeper emotional component to your failures and successes. If you fail a chemistry test, it’s because you either didn’t study enough, or just aren’t that good at chemistry (the latter of which is totally understandable). But if you fail at music, it can say something about your character. It could be because you didn’t practice enough – but, more terrifyingly, it could be because you aren’t resilient enough. Mastering chemistry requires diligence and smarts, but mastering a piano piece requires diligence and smarts, plus creativity, plus the immense capacity to both overcome emotional hurdles, and, simultaneously, to use that emotional component to bring the music alive.
    Before I started taking piano, I had always imagined the Conservatory students to have it so good – I mean, for their homework, they get to play guitar, or jam on their saxophone, or sing songs! What fun! Compared to sitting in lab for four hours studying the optical properties of minerals, or discussing Lucretian theories of democracy and politics, I would play piano any day.

    But after almost three years of piano at Orpheus Academy , I understand just how naïve this is. Playing music for credit is not “easy” or “fun” or “magical” or “lucky.” Mostly, it’s really freakin’ hard. It requires you to pick apart your piece, play every little segment over and over, dissect it, tinker with it, cry over it, feel completely lame about it, then get over yourself and start practicing again. You have to be precise and diligent, creative and robotic. And then – after all of this – you have to re-discover the emotional beauty in the piece, and use it in your performance.

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