One of my adult students recounted a story tonight about attending the Topanga Banjo and Fiddle Competition in California and being blown away by the effortless skills of so many youngsters.
“I’m watching their hands and arms, and they’re playing exactly the way you’re telling me I should play, and they make it look so easy,” she opined.
“I know that age isn’t important, that you can learn to play at any age,” she continued.
I interrupted. “Actually, there is a huge difference between someone who picks up the violin as a child and an adult student. Can you tell me what that difference is?”
Aside from several decades of time, she couldn’t come up with an answer.
“Do you think a four-year-old child cares whether or not they play a piece of music perfectly? Do you suppose that a child actually knows that a mistake is bad? Or do you think that four-year-old mainly cares about how much fun she is having?”
After a bit of discussion, I continued. “A child isn’t constantly trying to avoid making mistakes. A child doesn’t try to come up with reasons why a mistake is made. A child only focuses on what feels right, and the fun she is having.
“An adult student, however, is so wrapped up in the idea of playing perfectly that she micro manages every part of her body in an effort to do it right. The harder she works, the more difficult she makes it for herself.”
I went on to explain that an adult has decades of experience developing behavioral patterns that get in the way of her learning as easily and quickly as a child. For example, most adults, when confronted with something they perceive as difficult, will assume that they have to “work harder” to conquer the challenge. They assume that they must put their nose to the grindstone in order to succeed.
What does a child do? She looks for the “cheats”. The easy way. It’s a game, and the child gets to make up the rules as she goes along.
Adults tend to view the “easy way” as “cheating”. If it’s worth anything at all, you have to work hard for it.
Anything in life that is unfamiliar can be perceived as difficult or hard. What’s the solution to getting familiar with the unfamiliar? Spend some time with it. Really get to know it, understand it.
I tell my students that if they’re working hard at something, they’re doing it wrong. Persistence and consistency are required, not an enormous amount of effort.
This flies in the face of what most of us adults believe. Once we determine that something is difficult, we assume that it will require a great deal of work to conquer. The reality is, however, that looking for the easy way is much more effective than working harder.
There are so many different directions I could go now in this post, so let me sum up the basics of what I’m saying to this point: Adults who want to succeed as effortlessly and as easily as a child must forget what they have learned, let go of their desire for perfection, and look for the easiest, most natural way of doing so. They must adopt a childlike passion for fun and leave the hard work for all the other unenlightened adults.
I welcome your responses to this and all of my blog posts. Your observations and opinions help me more than you might think.