Finding the Best Route to Accomplishing Any Task

Sometimes it seems there is no way to get where you want to go. 

You practice and practice, but the results you are looking for don’t show up. Maybe you are trying to finish a piece, fix two measures or prepare to play in public, and you’ve reached a point where nothing you do is moving you forward. It may even feel like all your progress is backward and your music is actually getting worse. 

Rather than give up or continue to bang your head against the wall, perhaps you just need to try a different route.

Have you ever been riding in a car, going somewhere familiar, when the driver takes a different route from one you’re used to? Suddenly, you feel uneasy and completely disoriented. You might even exclaim, as my mother-in-law did on one memorable occasion, “You can’t get there this way!” 

And then when you are feeling most confused and lost, you arrive at your destination. In approaching it from a different direction, it may be on the opposite side of the street, or around a corner you’ve never explored, but it’s there nevertheless. 

Similarly, there is more than one way to solve any musical difficulty. Oddly enough, the best solution is rarely more practice. It is almost always a different approach that is necessary. 

The key to determining the best approach lies in your answer to this question: What is the one thing that would have to be true for me to achieve this objective?

In nearly every instance, it is possible to identify one major element that must be present for you to move forward. Once you’ve identified that one thing, you can direct your efforts to that exclusively. Once you have made that one thing true, the next steps will not only be obvious, but almost certainly they will be easier. 

So that you can experiment with this strategy immediately, I have outlined a few examples here.

Destination: Finish a Piece

Q: What is the one thing that would have to be true?

A: Being able to play from the beginning to the end without stopping.

There are so many little details to “finishing” a piece: dynamics, phrasing, tempo, etc. But most of these will continue to develop and change as you play the piece over months and years. A much more critical marker is the ability to play all the way through the piece without stopping. Once you can do that, you can build up confidence with the piece, add dynamics, refine the expression and work it up to tempo. Even if you never get the piece quite up to tempo or make the expression quite the way you want it, you will still have a “finished” piece. 

Destination: Fix Two Measures

Q: What is the one thing that would have to be true?

A: Fitting them into the piece with no hesitations.

Often a small problem spot in a piece prevents a musician from playing the whole piece. The most important thing in that case is to fit those measures into the piece immediately so that they no longer stop you as you play through the piece. Among the ways you might accomplish this are slowing down without stopping as you play through those measures, dropping out one hand or even eliminating a few notes. All of these will be temporary measures, but they will allow you to develop the flow of the piece and at the same time eliminate the fear and frustration of those few bars.

Destination: Play in Public

Q: What is the one thing that would have to be true?

A: Have a finished piece that is very comfortable for you to play.

I talk with many students who think that their first public performance needs to involve playing the hardest piece they have ever learned. This will add needless worry and nervousness.

If you want to learn to play in public, particularly with ease and confidence, you must start with a piece that is fun, easy, and simple, one that you love to play. It is amazing how much easier it is to play for others when you play music that you know well. 

Here is a test you can use to determine if you have really identified the one thing. Do you feel deep inside that when you have accomplished that one thing, you will have jumped a major hurdle on the way to your destination? If so, then you know you are on the right route.

One more quick tip: this system works for anything you are trying to accomplish, musical or otherwise. Try it and see for yourself!


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