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Removing Assumptions from the Practice Room: Part 1

January 20, 2012

Everyone knows the saying “When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.” Only one sentence in and I have made an assumption, I just assumed everyone knows the saying!  In this multipart series I will explore some common assumptions and how they can cost us in the practice room.

Before I get started, I have to confess much of the content and inspiration of these posts come from a hero of mine, Sean Plott (Day[9]).  If you would like to see his presentation on the dangers of assumptions as they relate to StarCraft2, you can find it here;

Let’s start with a riddle!

Rebecca lives on the 12th floor of an apartment complex.  Every morning she gets on the elevator, pushes the “1” button, rides to the first floor and then goes on with her day.

When she comes home she gets in the elevator, pushes the “6” button, and rides the elevator to the 6th floor then uses the stairs for the final 6 floors back to her apartment.


Did you figure it out? Don’t continue reading until you have given it an honest go.  Get it? The answer is; Rebecca is a 6 year old so the highest button she can reach is the 6th floor.  Brilliant, right?  NO! It’s annoying! Why is THAT the answer?  Why can’t it be that Rebecca is 800lbs and everyday she wants to get exercise, or that on the 6th floor at the same time another 800lbs person gets on and the elevator is over the limit?  Or maybe that her best friend is on the 6th floor so she stops to say hello?  The “Right” answer to the riddle is clever, but it doesn’t mean the other answers aren’t just as right.  This riddle works because it hides critical information from you to create a strange scenario.  Once you know the “Secret” the riddle makes sense.

Think about the way our school system is set up.  Very similar, right?  Think back to the last time you took a test and even though you studied, the questions on the test focused on information you had barely or never even covered! How about when a teacher gives you hints for what will be on the next test? Students take out their pens and paper and feverishly begin to write down what secret knowledge they need to know to be successful.   The assumption here; Secrets or Hidden Knowledge = Skill.

People naturally look for short cuts, quick bits of information that will allow them to be more successful.  In music that can be the magic mouthpiece, or the newest etude book, or routine, or a golden nugget received in a lesson.  Now, I am in no way shape or form discrediting those things, a mouthpiece can make a huge change, and sometimes it is the right answer.  Instead, I am encouraging everyone to abandon the “If I get X then Y will be fixed” mentality and begin to associate the process with skill.

My biggest bugaboo is my high register.  IT SUCKS! For the longest time I would read and read, take lessons, talk to people, do everything I could think of to try and find the answer to the high register.  Hoping that one day someone would say “Oh, just do XYZ” and then my register would open up and magic would come out of the bell.  News flash for me, that is not going to happen.  What will help is for me to play up in the high register every day.  I could get into the details of how I am working on my high register, but that is not the point of this so I will refrain from totally nerding out.  Rather, I want you to see the assumption and how it was holding me back from progress, progress that is found in the process.

So, your challenge for the next week is to check for this assumption in the way you are practicing.  Look around you; do you know other players who are doing it?  Be mindful of this and let me know what you discover!

Happy practicing!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Johanna Yarbrough permalink
    January 20, 2012 10:43 pm

    Food for thought: assumption can be good and evil in your practicing. I definitely don’t assume that I can’t do something, pretty much ever. If you have the right attitude you can figure anything out and based on your efficiency, you can make it consistent or not. Which brings me to attitude… as much as I hate when my teacher tells me “It’s all about attitude, Johanna” sometimes, it really is. Especially when playing high. The more doubt you have in your ability (or assumption of failure), the more room you give yourself to fail. Stop allowing yourself to make the same mistakes. Instead of focusing on the technique of everything, think about the character of what you’re playing. I’ve been trying really hard to focus on other aspects of the things I am practicing instead of just thinking about high notes. I think this helps!

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