Lean into the Discomfort: Improvement is not Linear
Helping the classical musician deal with setbacks
It seemed like everyone in my neighborhood was cleaning out their garages this weekend. Spring was in the air; the birds were chirping and our thoughts had turned toward vegetable gardens and bike rides and grilling.
And then we woke up to a 25 degree morning.
I don’t know about you, but I like to set a course and GO.
Implement a warm up routine. Set a structure for my daily practice. Have a system for recording myself and evaluating the work.
I like to believe that if I do the thing the right way I will get the results I want.
Simple. Straightforward. Controlled.
But, just as Winter doesn’t change into Spring in a step by step, linear process so too does our growth as musicians ebb and flow.
My rational, systematic, controlling brain wants this to very much NOT be the case. I like order. I’d very much like to just execute my life perfectly, thank you very much.
But that isn’t what being a human looks like, is it?
Being a human is messier and also infinitely more beautiful. If all we did was execute perfectly, there would be no redemption. No rising up from the ashes. No being captivated by the beauty of a cloud or the gurgle of a baby. No failing and trying again. No meaning behind our wins.
It would just be … gray. Soul-less. Passion-less.
Yes, you want our daughter or niece to try to ride her bike, and fall, and try again, and fall. And eventually, she'll feel the EXHILARATION of flying down the sidewalk with the wind whipping her face and the trees blurring next to her. You want that sense of achievement and perseverance and joy for her.
And while it may be true in the grand scheme of life, it can be very challenging to lean into the discomfort of non-linear pattern of growth in our own lives.
Here are 3 ways to embrace the messy process of improvement in the practice room:
View growth as the goal. So often our goals are results oriented. Win the audition. Have a full teaching studio. Get into the festival. Eyes on the prize, right?
But then we have a setback. We get sick and can’t practice for a few days. Or our instrument needs repair. Or our lips are swollen and we have an off sound day.
This is where viewing growth as the goal can be so helpful! Rather than berating ourselves for facing a challenge, we have the opportunity to find solutions. We can shift from thinking that setbacks are negative and instead can view them as opportunities to dive more deeply and creatively into our playing. So the next time the same setback comes around (we had to fall off our bike bunches before we could ride, right?) we are more equipped to handle it productively.
The messiness is what we are connecting with our audiences over. What makes elevator musak so terrible? It is too perfect. There’s no soul. No angst. No drama. No tenderness.
As musicians, we have the privilege of pursuing after a passion that brings people to life! It stirs within them their greatest hopes and their deepest sorrows. We give voice to that which makes their hearts beat loud and fast. We offer sublime beauty and devastating sadness with a few strokes of our bow.
We cannot express what we do not experience. So the messiness we experience in the practice room becomes a rich, emotional pallet from which to draw in our performances. Lean into it! Let your fingers translate the feelings through your instrument into your audience’s ear.
Come to terms with the fact that you’re either growing our you aren’t in the game. You can opt out. You can live safe and small without the skinned knees or broken arms. You can.
You certainly aren’t going to make very interesting music or connect with your audience. It will be pretty. And nice.
Or you can lean into the pain of loosing another audition, not getting called for the gig, stalling with the speed of your double tonguing. It sucks! But it is HUMAN and REAL and MATTERS. And it will make you a more powerful musician.
I encourage you to take heed of what we see in nature every day: growth isn’t linear. It has ebbs and flows. Forward and back. Success, failure, and trying again.
It is magnificently unpredictable and messy.
Just the way it is meant to be.
Next Steps and Additional Resources
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Founder of The Musician's Mindset
Katie is dedicated to helping musicians overcome stage fright and believe in their own unique artistic voice. She believes live classical music is a powerful antidote for the division, pain, and loneliness pervasive in the culture and strives to support all artists to confidently share their work with the world. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, three kiddos, a dog, a snake, and a goldfish.