Push through the Pain

Published: May 16, 2019  |   Category: Practice Tips, Insights Learned from Students


As Malik plowed through the middle part of his piano piece, fumbling here and stumbling there, I gave him a nudge and then exclaimed, "You have to push through your pain! Don't stop!"

The middle of the piece, his playing laden with mistakes. That's when I received a revelation.

"Huh? What are you talking about? What does that even mean?" Malik, at 11 years of age is very intuitive. He looked up at me wide-eyed as if he'd done something wrong. Then, he caught my eye and a half smile emerged. He knew what was coming next.

No, he wasn't in any pain nor did he allow the mistakes he was making to set him back. He clearly heard where they were and went back to correct them. When he did that, however, he kept making the same mistakes. I wanted him to play through - to push through.

He looked up at me awaiting my explanation. "There are three responses to pain or a "hard" challenge: 1) give up; 2) work through it slowly no matter how long it takes, and 3) push yourself with the "beat" of a partner.

Pushing through the pain - or I'll state it another way since I'm talking about a music lesson here, though its principle is applicable in any "hard" scenario - playing through the mistakes - pulls so much out of us and also shows us our deficiency. Let's see...

Perseverance. Resistance. Consistency. Inconsistency. Laziness. Fortitude. Resilience.

It shows us who and what we are made of. It also shows what we need to grow in or what we need to let go of. Which way do you go when a hard situation is before you? Do you go to the left? The right? Or, simply sit still? Do you give up too afraid or perhaps, too lazy, to tackle the difficulty that is before you?

Are you comfortable being complacent with not moving forward? Or, will you embrace the challenge head-on toward maturity?

"You have to push through your pain..."

Malik was polishing Musette which is the last piece in Suzuki Book 1 Piano. The piece is in the key of D minor. Its form, ABA. The middle section - the B section - changes to the 5th of D giving us a beautiful major-sounding rise in tonality very briefly. This piece is at the end of Book 1 and marks a transition from the C and G Major that precede it. Before delving into this piece Malik learned the 5-note Major patterns in most keys with sharps, that make up the Major pentascale. This led to brief exercise about the tetrachord, which is the basis for scales. I love teaching on tetrachords! But I digress.

Musette is a really beautiful piece in 6/8 time, its story I don't know. The composer is unknown, however, expressions and symbols as related to its musicality are indicated within the music. When my students learn this piece or any, I layer their learning with questions like, "What story do you think the composer is telling? How would you express it? What ways can you show the story as you play it?"

But Malik wasn't yet ready for this as there was "pain" in his stumbling. In order to convey the story, he had to let go by pushing through. In short, he had to first learn the piece to tell its story.  And to learn involves embracing the mistakes, not tolerating them.

What story is waiting to come out of you?

When he was learning the B section, he kept stumbling. We broke that line down into two parts, starting with the latter half comprised of those harmonic intervals. This is where it goes into the Major mode of the melodic minor. Yeah! He nailed it. For some reason though, the first part of that line which is melodically driven as both hands move in contrary motion, is what caused the "pain" in his stumbling. When trying to connect both parts, it fell apart.

Partnering
First, I saw that he was playing too fast. His fingers weren't yet able to keep up with where his brain was. I said, "Okay. Slow down! Think it through." Then I put the beat on as my hands became a metronome in the slow tempo of 6. My direction was simple: "The eighth note gets the beat. Play slowly to the beat. Should you make a mistake, keep going."

It is often the case that when mistakes are made, we want to stop. Why?

Because we are upset that we made a mistake. 

Because we feel that we cannot go on until we are mistake-free.  It has to be perfect or it's not good enough. Because we are perfectionists who get disheveled when something wrong has occurred and so... we stop.

Not healthy.

Mistakes will happen. It is part of the learning process. Sometimes it is good to stop and figure out what got you stumbling. Think it through. Dissect. Analyze. Then engage. Other times you need to push through the pain of the mistake to see what got you there in the first place. Learn through it.

As Malik played to the metronomic beat of my hands, he made few mistakes and wanted to stop. I said, "Keep going." And he did. In this way, he finally understood my excitement when I nudged him earlier and said, "You have to push through your pain!"



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