June 30, 2010

Varieties of Practicing–Part One: Slog

Posted in Practice Writing tagged , at 9:05 am by Rebecca Hein

In music I was trained to work in a straight line from one skill to the next. It was considered unsound practice to jump from one technique to another because this would scatter my attention and thus my efforts.

So I learned sequentially, and over time I came to believe in the process of racheting up my ability, step by step. It was tedious, but I accepted this simply because I didn’t know any better.

After more than twenty years of linear effort, I finally discovered a better way, a procedure much more compatible with creativity, not just in music, but in writing as well.

Next: Experiments



  1. Laura Bright said,

    Linear learning, to me, implies narrow inflexibility, seems to discourage creativity and does not work with various different learning styles. As a musician I understand it. Also as a musician, however, I know how it is to be bored stiff with technical exercise, warm ups and all that. One thing that helped me was when the teacher or I would make a technique study out of some of the elements in the pieces I was studying. I was then encouraged to see where I could find similar examples. That way, I was encouraged to make technical exercises more relevant. Of course, there is linear learning for most people to some degree at some point. But I think it’s more fun and creative to be able to adapt teaching methods and approaches to foster creativity and to respect a student’s intuitive natural and unique way that each student learns. That does not mean a total lack of discipline or control but it is a way of tuning in, listening and respecting the student as a person, especially when he or she does not fit the one-size-fits-all plain, vanilla approach. (I actually love vanilla ice cream but not vanilla extract! Smells much better than it tastes I think. But then I have the same reaction to coffee. Interesting smells but too bitter to my taste buds when those intriguing, mouth-watering fragrances ddrop from my nose into my mouth and the pleasure is ruined.

    Generally, at least in most educational settings in which I have participated as a student, getting a teacher to see me as me with my own learning process, with a mind that really did absorb and synthesize things even if I didn’t conform to the teacher’s views of the way my mind should process information.

    As for music, I’d rather hear expressive singing or playing, originality of interpretation, emotional connection and so on and if a student sings or plays the occasional “clunker”, well, nobody’s perfect. I’ll bet Mozart made errors sometimes but in that day, it was ornamentation or improvisation. It seems too that the advent of digital creation and editing of music, while it definitely holds promise, especially when it makes music more accessible. But in a recorded performance, you can edit out frequencies, change pitches and ranges, and play note perfect but utterly mechanical pieces which lose something in the translation. We become slaves to the technical details, in music performance or in writing. Maybe cliches start to creep in. Maybe, especially in the commercial business of music and of writing, obsession with technical aspects of performance actualy squelches creativity. I’m not saying teachers shouldn’t require their students to work and to retain enough knowledge and transferable skills that can lead to excellence and well-roundedness. But it doesn’t have to be done in a rigid, completely mechanical and controlled way. More right brain, I think. I think a person is best off if they can go into left brain mode when they need to for detail work, like proofreading, a job I endured for a while., than right brain which I see as the part of the brain that is strongly creative, non-linear and adaptable. Uniqueness, refreshing ability to accept him/herself and others without needing to compare one to another or another to oneself. Happy writing!

    • Rebecca Hein said,

      I agree with you about linear learning–it doesn’t leave room for the part of our consciousness that thinks in whole pictures and intuitive flashes.

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