My Way or the Highway

It is a simple, established law of nature: you can’t fight physics and win. Yet almost without exception, each student who comes in to my studio wants everything to work within their preconceived notions of how playing or singing should work, rather than how it does work. I fight battle after battle with my students, patiently explaining to them why their technical approach does not work to get what they want, and what technical approach will get what they want. In a nutshell, such battles are exhausting!

I often explain my job in many different ways, and compare what I do to various occupations: batting coach, auto mechanic, etc. But most often I think of myself as a cult deprogrammer. Modern society is so full of unconscious biases about art, artists, music, musicians, teachers and students that most of the students who begin lessons have much more to unlearn than they have to actually learn. And these unconscious biases and assumptions are so strong that students would rather fail at music than violate those assumptions and biases. I begin to wonder if, subconsciously, they are throwing up obstacles for themselves just so they will not succeed.

music room with grand piano, bench, and open music, palms, arched window, and red plants

Illuminated Music Room

So a word of advice to music students out there: quit fighting all those battles that you cannot win. It will not work. Learn how your instrument works, learn how your body works, learn how physics works, learn how music theory works. Don’t worry about the relevance of your technical exercises: Western music is built on patterns, scales, arpeggios and chords. Those are the basics of music, just like the basics of language. Learn the different styles of music — just as you wouldn’t write a letter to a family member in the same way you would write a research paper, you won’t perform Mozart the same way you would perform Scriabin. And above all, be open to accepting new cultural assumptions. Let go of those unsubstantiated beliefs you have about music and musicians, and open yourself up to more performing possibilities. Robert Anton Wilson wrote, “Convictions cause convicts. What you believe imprisons you.” That’s certainly true for my music students.

One Reply to “My Way or the Highway”

  1. I really enjoyed reading this piece. I feel like I share many of the thoughts and challenges that you experience.
    I appreciate your point of view when it comes to holding on too tightly to beliefs without giving the chance of being open to something new. Most people live in a bubble, and as you said, they would rather fail than alter their conformities.

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