If you want to get good at doing something. you need to practice doing it. A lot. A WHOLE lot. To get to the point where you’re world-class, you need to have practiced (with the intent to improve and KEEP improving) for 10,000 hours. That’s the magic number. (Just read “The Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell). It doesn’t even matter if you’re talented. All you need are the basic materials and a steady, burning desire to get better. To PRACTICE.
So even though I may not be the best piano teacher in the world, if I can somehow get my students to practice, that’s 90% of the battle right there. And I have had very good luck with that, because I love my students to DEATH, all of them, and I try very hard to pick out whatever I can that they’re doing right and tell them why they’re doing it right. I also pick out specific things they need to work on, and we practice them together until they’ve got the hang of it. So far that been a pretty winning combination, I must say.
I like to tell my students about something I read in a book by Suzuki, the man who could get tiny little Japanese children to play the violin like nobody’s business. Something he said really resonated with me. He said that you could get just as far in THREE MONTHS, by practicing 3 hours a day, as you could in NINE YEARS by practicing 5 minutes a day. Do the math. It’s pretty much the same number of hours.
He was a very kind man. He was also pretty tricky. First he would get the mom to play on a little violin (child-size), and she would have the music playing on the record player all the time. She would just happen to leave the violin laying around so that the child could pick it up. You can guess what happened from there. I’m not sure what all his tricks were, but that was a big one right there, just getting the child interested enough to pick it up and want to start playing it.
My point is, once you’ve identified something you want to get better at, all you have to do is get someone to teach you the basics, someone who can help you maintain a burning desire to get better. You may not be able to practice 3 hours a day, but just practicing consistently will get you much farther than if you did nothing!
I, on the other hand, want to prove someone wrong. There is a man who broke the speed-typing record at 375 words a minute. He is a court reporter/real-time reporter who does captioning for the Rush Limbaugh show. I talked with him on the phone. He is a Christian, very smart, and a good man who wants to help others. But he said something very discouraging to me.
He said that my having played the piano for more than 50 years was an asset to learning this new career I’m working on, but that I was too old to actually do it. He said that in the 30 years he had been in the business, he had known only 3 or 4 older people who had succeeded in learning this profession. (I wonder how old he thought I was; I’m actually just going on 60, and they say life doesn’t begin till 70, so what’s the problem here?). He asked how much money I had put into it, and was pleased that I had only put $5,000 into the equipment and studies, because, as he said, that wasn’t an outrageous amount of money to lose. Ughh!
So I often think about his words as I’m practicing (it’s hard to get them out of my head), and I wonder if I should just give up now and save myself a few years of what might turn out to be a useless struggle. I argue in my head, though. I think, “No! I CAN do this! If other people can do it, I can, too. I might take longer, but I’ve got what it takes.”
I found a quote I really love:
“You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a LOT better.” Coach John Wooden
This goes along with something I heard Jackie Joyner-Kersee say while she was competing on “Chopped.” (Yes, she was competing on a cooking show. This just tells me that she’s not only a top athlete, but also willing to try new things). She said that as she trained, she consistently tried to get just a little better at a time, just a half inch more in the long jump, just a little further in the heptathlon. And she ended up winning three gold, one silver, and two bronze Olympic medals at four different Olympic Games. (Sports Illustrated for Women magazine voted her the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th century, and all this without performance-enhancing drugs).
So that’s all I have to say about that. Try to get just a little better, and keep working till you’ve gotten those 10,000 hours in.
Some quotes from Gladwell’s book:
“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”
“Once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.”
“…If you work hard enough and assert yourself, and use your mind and imagination, you can shape the world to your desires.”
(Chinese proverb:) “No one who can rise before dawn three hundred sixty days a year fails to make his family rich.”