Unlearning Music: How Your Old Habits Are Holding You Back

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” - from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians

This very familiar quote from the New Testament speaks to the universal experience of growth and reaching maturity in one’s thoughts and actions.  Have you thought of bringing that same growth and maturity to your music study? You may not realize just how much you could speed up your music learning by updating your learning process.

If you took music lessons as a child, your experience was likely similar to mine. Each week at my lesson, my teacher would hear me play the previous week’s assignment, make adjustments and write the next week’s assignment in my lesson book. The assignment was usually very specific: to play a passage 10 times hands separately, or work with the metronome at a specific tempo, for instance. If I followed her directions, I progressed.

The beauty of this system was that it set out every task I needed to do. My teacher’s expertise allowed me to achieve as long as I did my assignment each week. She created the plan; I just followed it. Does that system sound familiar to you too?

The challenge for me came as I moved into my later high school years and then into college as a serious harp student. My teachers no longer gave me the week’s task list; I was responsible for knowing how to create a practice plan that would move my music ahead as quickly as possible. I had some major stumbles along the way, but eventually I was able to come up with a system that worked well for me.

What I have discovered in my work with adult students influenced my system considerably. The intensity of my music study had forced me to change my approach, but most of my adult students were still trying to use their childhood learning habits in their daily practice, and making progress very slowly.

With a few tweaks, we could turn things around very quickly. While the necessary tweaks varied according to the individual, the one thing that seemed to virtually guarantee success was to create a framework that showed clearly what needed to happen by when and how to get it done. These students weren’t lacking the talent, dedication or practice time. They just needed a plan.

Here is the core of the plan. If it seems basic, that’s because it is. The clarity and simplicity is exactly WHY it works.

  1. Enlarge your vision. Stop thinking from one practice day to the next. Your goal is to play the music, not to merely practice until it “gets better.”
  2. Choose your goal. The trick here is not to go too big (play in Carnegie Hall) or too small (learn page two). I recommend setting a goal you can reach in about 90 days.
  3. Break down your 90 day goal smaller benchmarks. 30 day benchmarks are ideal for a timeline to gauge your progress.
  4. Set a daily practice plan with a smaller step goal for each week. Be specific; think grocery list, not wish list.
  5. Plan each day’s practice before you begin, keeping your weekly step goal in mind. (Pro tip: I set my practice plan for the next day, before I get up from the harp bench when I’m done practicing. That way I always know where I left off and what I want to work on next.)

Yes, you CAN plan music learning this way, and you should. If you’ve never worked this way, you will find it a powerful catalyst for freedom and growth. In fact, I’m so eager for you to try this that I’d like to share a PDF to help you implement this system. It’s a 90-Day Goal Planner, and it’s FREE for you. Just click here to get your copy! Then, let me know in the comments below how it works for you!


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