Thursday, June 4, 2015

Stay the Course

10,000 hours. That’s how long “they" say you need to work at something to become a master. I have been practicing for over 15,000 and I don’t feel like I am a master. Maybe I should quit? Hahaha, no way.

If you have read my previous two posts, you have noticed a trend (kudos for being able to recognize a trend over 11 months). I am constantly thinking about how we as musicians and humans improve. To me, this is of the utmost importance. Setting and achieving goals is great and totally necessary but what happens when you achieve those goals? Where do you go? What if you only have long term goals and you are finding them impossible to reach?

It’s all about the journey

I recently read an article in an airline magazine about a guy who is putting the 10,000 hours theory (please know that that is all that it is) to the test. He had never played golf and decided he wanted to master the sport in 10,000 hours. His plan was 6 hours per day, 6 days per week. I hate to disappoint you but, at the time of the article he was only through 5,700 hours so we probably won’t know the outcome for another few years. For him, 6 years has turned into 8 years. But I digress! Or do I?

There was a great point in this article and that was that the subject of this experiment will never view himself as a failure because this journey has been transformative. His family and friends agree. He ran into some challenges that got in the way of his project and instead of trying to become a master of golf, his new mission was simply to finish the project. This is the point upon which I would like to focus.

Let’s forget the fact that he started as a beginner and a day after this interview took place he shot a 74 on a pro-level course (most courses have a par between 70 and 72)! Let’s focus on the fact that in trying to get to 10,000 hours and mastery of something, his biggest challenge is staying the course even when 6 years turns to 8 which may even turn into 10. This happens to all of us to some degree, I believe.

Wha, what happened?!?

It is easy to be into something when the learning curve is steep and we are quickly getting tangibly better. But at some point we reach a level where the change isn’t so obvious and the curve has all but leveled off. Our choice when we reach that level (or imagined plateau) has a huge impact on our future.

The process becomes tedious, emotionally draining, and downright frustrating. The cool thing is that all of that happens because we are better. I use the phrase, “I had my ears opened,” when I talk about my time in grad school. What used to be good isn’t good enough anymore.

Push record AND play (not at the same time though, unless you’re using a tape player…)

This is why I love technology. Recording yourself is easier than ever and it can help give perspective. I often hear people say, “I used to be able to do this much better, didn’t I?” Thanks to modern technology, you can be your very own fact-checker. Chances are, you are wrong. IF you happen to be right, then you need to reexamine how you are practicing.

I record almost everything I do. But even more than that, I record myself playing standard solos, excerpts, or etudes and, yes, I actually do listen to them. Many people skip this step which completely defeats the purpose of recording in the first place. Before I even go back to listening, most of the time my thought after I play something is, “huh, it was never that easy before.” That is an awesome feeling and it helps let  me know that I am doing the right thing. Also, when I am going through a rough patch, it is good to go back and listen to recordings and remind myself that I am a good trumpet player.

I do the same thing with Mirari recordings. We often perform pieces for more than one tour and so I get to review recordings after each tour and see where I am and what needs work and also recognize that we are creating awesome music. That helps me become a more confident performer. That helps me stay the course even when the going gets tough.

Things to remember (you could try doing them too!)

I can boil this whole post down to a handful of points:
1- Put your time in. Do everything you can today to be better tomorrow.
2- Record yourself often.
3- Listen often and figure out if you’re on the right path.
4- Acknowledge and celebrate progress. If you don’t, you might be on the fast track to burn out.
5- Persevere through the tough times. Just keep moving. Sometimes it may be forward and sometimes it may feel like you’re going backward. The important thing is that you don’t stop moving. Adjust your clock, set more goals, and keep moving.

Best of luck!