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Want to Be Successful? A cellist's tips on how to think your way through any problem.

Originally published October, 2018.


November will be full of performances, including two circus shows with Symphony Nova Scotia, performing in the pit for a youth production of Les Miserables at Neptune's Scotiabank Theatre and an additional kids' concert in the public schools' music program. Consequently, for the moment I am happy to be in stillness and quiet for an afternoon, wrapped in a cozy blanket and tapping away at the keys of my laptop. In general, the month of October had this same quiet, introspective feeling as it was spent focusing on my work with practicing and teaching cello. One of the greatest gifts of working with students is how much it teaches the teacher! Sitting across the room from someone, trying to figure out how I can help them improve forces me to look for new approaches and possibilities. And then I uncover something in my search and all of a sudden there are two students in the room! Lucky me! Today, however, my inspiration came from working by myself. I was learning something new and difficult, and I needed help, I needed a strategy. My first line of attack was to organize (I might have mentioned something about organization in my previous newsletter- wink, wink), and then I brought out the big guns, that is, strategy number two: investigation. As I mentioned, I was working through a passage that was difficult and just plain confusing. I knew I could hack through it over and over and hope for some progress, but years of experience have taught me to stop, put my cello down and took a closer look. Now, at this point in my practice, success was already within my reach, for two reasons. One, because through this act I was essentially saying  “I don’t know” and also “let me see”. It seems to me those are two very powerful statements, because without them we do not have a reason or an intention to investigate. So with my cello out of my hands and my eyes looking over the passage I searched for a pattern. Because I know there is always a pattern and a pattern is full of clues. Even when there is not exactly a pattern there really is just a slight divergence from one. And then I saw it. Found it! Ah ha! ...and the difficulty melted away. It just disappeared! Like magic. I picked up my cello and played the passage. It did not sound great but now I could play all of it without any stumbles. And I knew that within minutes it would be really good, because there was no longer ambiguity about what I was trying to play and how I planned to do it. Employing the strategy of investigation is often underrated or plain forgotten. Stopping to take notice even seems to be something we avoid. Is it because it takes courage? Or patience? Or it is uncomfortable in some other way? Maybe it requires breaking a habit or a pattern of thought. Whatever the reason, I realize that investigating can be inconvenient. The irony is that though it is rarely a priority it generally saves countless hours of head banging against the wall. But before you strap on your helmet, know that you can develop the habit of investigating and it can be one of the best tools in your arsenal, whether you are learning to play an instrument or if you are, as a wise teacher of my own likes to say, playing the music of life. So if you have a frustrating passage to play, or if one comes up now and then, whether figuratively or literally, you may wonder, how can I use the power of investigation to help? It really is as simple as it sounds, by taking a step back. It is the opposite of doing. It’s like being the listener in the conversation rather than the speaker. Then you have consciously provided the space and time to concentrate on the information before you. Committing to investigation takes very little work, but if we are not in the habit of doing so, or we do need a little bit of courage to get out of our comfort zone, it usually gets ignored. And the part of this that really blows my mind is that if we really do the work of investigating, the majority of the puzzle is solved! The answers are there and all we have to do is follow them through or maybe even just let them change our understanding. And that is real win towards reaching our goals. So, if you are learning to play an instrument, I highly, highly recommend using the investigation strategy- ask yourself a 'million' questions about what you are trying to achieve and see if you can produce clear and true answers. The "I don't knows" make the perfect compass and will lead you right to the confusion obscuring your success. Then let some more investigating reveal answers and insights. And if you are beginning to learn an instrument or you are a seasoned professional musician or a player of the radio, just think, wow, if investigation can do this for making music, what else can it do? ... Shall we look into it?


Okay, so I did get out a few times in October. Here I am in a recording session this month at Halifax's Sonic Temple.

Did I mention I am a big Frasier fan? I still find the show to be so funny! I just love all of the trouble he gets himself into and the hilarity that ensues as he tries to dig himself out! I feel like the only one on the planet who likes it, so if there are any closet fans out there, I would love to know :) In the meantime, I stumbled on this quote from Kelsey Grammer: "Prayer is when you talk to God. Meditation is when you are listening. Playing the piano is when you do both at the same time." 

Lastly, a famous investigator and violin player enjoying his daily practice! Join in the music study at: https://catherinelittle.teachable.com

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