Skip to content

Removing Assumptions from the Practice Room: Part 2

January 22, 2012

Let’s just jump right in and frustrate ourselves with a riddle! This one is a little complicated and long, so feel free to read it as many times as needed!

A door to door insurance salesman is, you guessed it, trying to sell insurance to a mother of three.  He asked how old her children are and she says “If you can guess the ages of my three kids, I will buy insurance from you.”

The salesman said “I need a hint” and the mother said “The product of my kid’s ages equals 36 and the sum of my kid’s ages equals the number of the house next door.”  He thought for a while and said “I need one more hint.”  The mother said “My oldest daughter plays piano.”

That’s it.  That is the riddle.  As random as that information seems, that is enough information to answer the riddle, and here is how.

We know that the ages, when multiplied together, equal 36.  So let’s make a list of all possible combinations that would equal 36;





The mother also said that when you add her kid’s ages together, you get the number of the house next door.  This in and of itself is not a huge hint, because we do not know the houses number.  What does help is the fact that the salesman needed another question.  Why would he need one more if he knew the houses number next door?  Surely, that would give him the combination of ages?  Unless there were two sets that gave the same number!  Well, there is;

9*2*2  —-and—- 6*6*1 – Both have a product of 36 and a sum of 13.

The final hint was that the oldest daughter played piano, so we know that there is an oldest child, so the answer must be 9*2*2.

Amazing right?  At first glance this seems impossible!  There isn’t enough information and the information we do have seems too unrelated to be of any use… but it wasn’t!  The assumption here is that the system is flawed.  Think about a class where everyone got an F on a test, the assumption is that the teacher didn’t prepare the class, or the test was too hard.  In music we see this manifest in phrases like “I need a new mouthpiece” or “My chops just don’t feel right today” or “This piece sucks, who would write this?”  or “I can’t follow this conductor.” Maybe those things are true, but won’t there ALWAYS be something wrong with the environment?  Don’t we live in an imperfect world?  Just because the answer isn’t easy and obvious doesn’t mean that there isn’t a workable solution waiting to be discovered.

When something isn’t going your way, embrace it.  Accept that as your current reality and find a way to thrive in it. Don’t argue how things should be different, rather perfect what you have.  So you challenge for this week is to keep a sheet of paper on your stand.  Any time a thought like that comes into your mind, write it down.  If you make an excuse, any at all, be it “I am hungry” or “I am tired” or “I have this big test coming up” – no matter what, write it down.  When you write it down, think about what this excuse is enabling.  Does it allow you to miss notes?  Play with a bad sound?  Write that down next to the excuse.  Now, spend the next 5 minutes working on the opposite of what it enabled.   If you played with poor articulation for whatever reason, spend 5 minutes focusing on playing with the most crisp beautiful articulation you can manage.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts!  If you take the challenge, send me a copy of your sheet, let me know how it changed the way you practiced!  You can get in touch by finding me on Facebook, Twitter (@BrassChatter), or by emailing me at

Happy practicing!

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: