If at First You Don’t Succeed
We are familiar with the saying-“If at first you don’t succeed, try try again”. It reminds our society to not give up when challenges arise. However, there is a problem with this saying. The problem is best explained with another well-known saying by Rita Mae Brown. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”
This is not to say that we should give up. Instead, we need a new angle to tackle the problem. I was watching the Magic School Bus show with my children and heard the clearest advice on this topic from ‘Ms. Frizzle’. She modified the saying to “If at first you don’t succeed, find out why”.
We can apply this to practice of music or anything else, for that matter. When we play a note we did not intend, we make a neural pathway in our brains. This pathway encourages us to repeat the note in the same way we just did. We can see the results of this pathways when a person moves to another place in the same town. Shortly after the move, if they are driving home without paying specific attention, out of habit, they will likely drive to the old home. This is because of the many times they rehearsed the neural pathways of that drive. Essentially, when we play a note, we practice it and reinforce the neural pathway, regardless of whether it was on purpose or not. By repeating the passage, we reinforce the neural pathway.
Instead, when a note you play does not meet your vision, stop, apply consciousness, analyze what you do in fact want and then find out why it went differently. For instance, perhaps you landed too high in a shift. Instead of blind repetition, take note (consciousness) that the landing was too high. Next find out why. In this case, let’s say it was because the shift was too fast. Next find a practice-a way to fix the problem. This could be a practice technique for that passage, working on the technique separately in an exercise or often all that is needed is to try it slowly with consciousness and the desired note in mind.