Monday, April 20, 2015

The Art of Patience

One of the most essential skills musicians and music teachers need is patience. Practicing takes time and discipline, and often we have to work a long time before we see exciting results. Without patience, musicians become frustrated and discouraged. For teachers, patience is a crucial necessity. Without it, we can quickly grow bored, irritated, and even angry about the slow pace of a student's progress, or his/her difficult attitude, or other minor annoyances. While some people think of patience as some kind of inborn quality, I think it's more like a skill that we can develop with awareness, attention, and discipline.

So how do we learn to develop patience? First, we need to have realistic expectations. The violin pedagogue Shinichi Suzuki was one asked how he could have so much patience with his students, many of whom were only three or four years old. He said, "I have a great vision of what kind of violinist they could grow into, but I have no expectations." He realized that lessons should be about the students, not the teacher's ego, and every student needs to set their own pace. If we try to rush our students' progress, or push them too hard, our impatience can rob them of the joy of music, and even frustrate them into quitting. Likewise, if we have unrealistic goals for our own practice, we end up feeling discouraged. When we forgive ourselves for our mistakes and struggles, we're often more likely to keep going until we persevere.

Another important aspect to staying patient is a healthy perspective. When I see impatient teachers or parents, I often notice how an outside goal, like a performance or an audition, has become like a massive weight dangling over their heads. Among musicians with this attitude, they fear and dread public performances and see auditions as sheer torture. While it's okay to be nervous before performance, try to have a reasonable perspective. Mistakes are part of the learning process, and it's rare for a musician or music student to go their while career without a few bad performances. One bad audition will not ruin your career--indeed, it's unlikely anyone will even remember your name once it's all over. When we lose perspective and attach too much emotional baggage to one performance, than we often lost patience for ourselves or our students as well, creating a negative feedback loop of frustration and stress.

Finally, it's important to understand that everyone has limits. Patience is a skill, but like many mental or physical skills, we're best when we're comfortable, well-rested, and relaxed. In a fast-paced, stressful, or exhausting environment, we can burn through all of our patience. It's important to recognize signs of fatigue or stress, so that we can be aware when our patience starts to run dry. Then we can take a break, or switch to a different task, or take a deep breath before we get too vexed. Staying patient benefits our students and keeps our practice focused and productive. It's far too important to lose.  

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