We have all experienced it. You are doing great, everything is clicking right along. Your scales are perfect, all the way up and down the horn. You are in tune practically all the time. Your lessons are filled with praise, and you performances are well reviewed every time.
Then suddenly you stop growing.
People call it a lot of things, “hitting the wall” or “stuck in a rut” or “writer’s block”. But I think there is a more accurate name for the phenomenon that helps us to see the solution more clearly:
Success is a two-edged sword. One the one hand the benefits are clear, the praise and the playing and the external reward for our practice is important and helps justify all that work. But perhaps the pitfalls are not so clear.
When we are doing well, slowly inside of us an expectation develops. “I’m on fire, I’m the best and I can practice as fast as I want from now on and get better at MY super-fast pace instead of slowing down like the rest of these ‘humans’.” To quote Admiral Ackbar:
IT’S A TRAP!!!!
As you do well, this pride will overtake you, and you will ignore the kind of practice that surely got you to be successful in the first place. You will become impatient, take on more than you can chew, and eventually have to crash in order to be humbled appropriately again. That crash may even be so hard as to cause you to quit the thing you love most forever.
The desire to sound good at all times and be accepted by the public is fine, but it cannot be the criteria you use to determine whether you are worthy of your own love or not. I see it so often, and it is the greatest tragedy of our era of art. Our generation of artists seems to believe that without this hate, and this doubt, and this general hurtful striving that great art cannot be had.
We are told the stories of Beethoven, and Picasso, and all the “suffering artists” of the past. We are raised with expectation that art must hurt, otherwise it means nothing. Here is a hint, this is garbage.
My favorite artists are not those who are hurt by their art, but rather those who use their art to further their love for themselves, for their community, and for their spirit. Take Coltrane, take Maynard James Keenan, take anyone with a smile on their face dangit!!!!!
You needn’t suffer to play well, and in fact it hurts your practice.
If you hate yourself, and the way that you play, you will rush through material before it is done. You will ignore deep-seated issues in order to protect you ego. You will play tensely, and not be able to practice for long periods of time because of the strain it places on your whole being. You will reach beyond what you are capable of doing to try and “catch up” to the greats.
In short, hate will cause you to stagnate. (see how cleverly that rhymes so you will remember it? Boy I’m cool!)
But if you practice with love for yourself, you will be patient with the material and slow it down, perhaps even shortening the exercise or admitting which part you are struggling with and focusing on it. You will make it to the those few practices which are most necessary, and be okay with them sounding “bad”. You will be able to relax, and thereby practice indefinitely, building that superhuman “endurance” that the greats sometimes seem to acquire through force of will. They don’t. You will be honest about where you stand and be able to take those small steps forward that are the basis of all progress in all fields.
You cannot do calculus without being able to do algebra. Even in math the principle is clear! Those who hate themselves will see the wrong answer as an indication that they are a bad person and will give up. Those who practice with love for themselves will see the wrong answer and know that it is not the end of all time. They will see through it to the causes, and know truly what to do to fix it. They will even be able to ask for help, knowing that they are not weak and stupid to do so!
It is through love that all progress occurs, in all endeavors. Therefore it is not what you practice that is important, but that you practice from a love for yourself. You must know that this can be done, and not wait until tomorrow to do it. Do it now! You will have plenty of time to hate yourself later 😉
While you practice, you accept who you are.
You can only move forward from where you stand.