Monday, July 22, 2013

Self-improvement through neurosis

Normally I don't bother editorializing about cartoons, but this thing has gotten so ubiquitous on the music ed-related Internet, I thought I'd say something about it.

Let's get this out of the way up front: to become an “average” expert musician, one of the things you need to do is to dedicate several-to-many hours a day to practicing, over a period of many years, which requires you to be very motivated and fairly single-minded. And let's stipulate that most people probably practice too little to actually achieve their musical goals, whatever they are.

That being said, I don't think this is very helpful:

Call it the be more like a crack addict school of motivation. It's hard to believe this isn't meant as a joke about musicians' neuroses, but the thing is so devoid of nuance, humor, or anything more elevated than the mechanical stimulation of the brain's guilt/competition center, that I can only conclude that this is how they want you to be. They're trying to be funny by exaggerating a little bit, but basically being a musician/music student is nothing more than an endless, mindless, all-consuming need to practice more. It doesn't work for me. If the only way you can get a student to practice is to make them neurotic about it, the hell with it, maybe that person should not be a professional musician.

And for the record, among the other things you “should be doing right now” if you are a musician are: listening to music, playing music with people, playing gigs, looking for gigs, booking gigs, going to other people's gigs, reading about music, writing music, playing piano, transcribing, creating/maintaining your publicity material, daydreaming about art, and just hanging with musicians. In fact I probably need to make a Should you be hanging right now? cartoon and post it on the wall of my studio. That would be really useful.


Ash said...


I think a lot of tutors have major trouble sometimes in getting across the importance of practice. Although far from hilarious, the cartoon sums up a key agent in improving, although you're totally right in saying that there is a whole bunch of other stuff to be immersed in.
I'm sure you get faced with students who don't put in as much in the woodshed as they should - if you have a method, or solution for this I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Todd Bishop said...

Sure. That's a big topic, and I don't think I have any special insight on it. I don't deal with the massive volume of marginally interested students a lot of people do. I think we've all seen used fear, shouting, shaming before peers, threats of career failure, and the like. That type of thing can work in institutional settings, or if the student is semi-serious and motivated to continue with the program, but is having trouble getting the work done. It seems to be effective in whipping ensembles into shape. The good teachers who work that way are not just mean, demanding sons of bitches all the time-- they also pay the students the respect of treating them like adults. That's a very powerful way to teach. And utterly impossible if you're teaching 60 students a week out of a studio in a strip mall.

I may try to write more about this in an actual post-- we'll see-- I don't think I'm the person to be writing about motivating unmotivated people-- I see that as a pretty small part of my job.