Updated: Jun 29, 2021
I think most people would have a love-hate relationship with change.
Change can be exciting. It presents opportunities to gain new knowledge and experiences, for growth and to move on to bigger things. It can also create feelings of dread - that dull sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach - when you have to leave behind the familiar and adjust to new situations.
My eldest daughter recently switched up to a larger cello, having grown out of her 1/8-sized instrument after 4 years. Both of us have mixed feelings about the change. On the positive side, a larger instrument can produce a correspondingly larger sound - a fact that my pint-sized cellist appreciates. The part that we both dread is hearing the intonation that we have been working so hard on day after day, month after month, year after year - go out of whack overnight as her hands and fingers search for the right spots across 4 strings all over again.
Practice during the first week after the switch was just miserable. Everything from the most basic C-major scale to the uber-seasoned pieces in Books 1 and 2, to the most recent pieces in Books 3 and 4 suddenly sounded BAD. She wore a frustrated scowl all the time and grumbled about wanting to stick to her smaller cello. I gave ourselves a good one month to learn to accept and live with this larger cello.
Surprisingly, after the second week, her intonation was sounding close to how she had been playing before the switch up. In fact, she was sounding better than before as the larger instrument was helping to add a deeper resonance and a solid tonal quality to her playing.
How was this happening?
Her teacher observed it too and something that she said helped to shed some light on the positive turn of events: "Your ears have learnt how to listen better. By listening closely, you are using your ears to guide your fingers to the correct spot to play to get an accurate tone."
That was it! The instrument may have changed but her ears and fingers didn't leave together with the smaller cello. The ability lies with the child. She had always had the ability to play the larger instrument - she just needed to draw on the ability and apply it to her new situation.
Our mindset, lessons learnt and abilities gained are what will take us through our ever-changing situations - and help us come out stronger on the other side of change. This is what is meant by keeping our eye on the big picture and making an commitment to the process.
Here are some thoughts and poignant quotes to leave with you as we wrap up this month's topic on sustaining positive change.
(1) Have a mindset for the long-term or taking a long-term view
We will eventually forget that we switched up to a larger cello in June 2021. We barely even remember what we practised last week. What we will remember is that we grew in size and ability with each new and bigger instrument, and that practising daily was a way of life.
(2) Focus on the to-be instead of the to-do
We commit to a process that we trust is making a positive difference in our lives, like making healthier food choices, keeping physically active, reducing waste, building meaningful relationships, etc. With the Suzuki approach, it would be to let the process influence us in learning to become the best parent for the child before us and in nurturing a whole human being.
(3) Learn from choices made
Every choice that we make yields a consequence, which helps to inform our next choice. For example, I have learnt that getting angry or "giving up" on a practice session does not "teach my child a lesson" or guilt a child into "repenting" for uncooperative behaviour. Dr Suzuki was right in saying that getting angry is a waste of time. I have since learnt to practise the pause and that has produced better outcomes for parent, child and practice.
(4) Change faulty beliefs and replace these with new, encouraging ones
Remind our children of past successes each time they get stuck with a new challenge. For example, "This bigger cello is so hard to play. My old one was better." We could empathise with having to get used to a different instrument and take the opportunity to remind our child that this isn't the first time that she has switched up to a bigger one - and see how beautifully she played after that. With some practice, she will be playing even more beautifully on this larger instrument too.
(5) Keep learning in the sweet spot
Right-size challenges so that they are on the edge of your child's ability. This is also known as the sweet spot where challenges are satisfyingly-hard and learning is at the fastest. Challenges need not be with new material. Committing to keeping up with review from the very beginning of your child's music education journey is in itself part of the learning process. Gaining new ability from material already learned is possible when we focus on renewing our playing through our review pieces. This is what our teachers mean when they teach the children to play Book 1 pieces "at Book 2/3/4 level" - or what they call the "Book 10 Twinkle" i.e. we keep working on bringing our Twinkles to a higher level even when we are in Book 10.
(6) Finally, DOTO: Do One Thing Only
Change itself is hard enough. Don't try to do it all at once. Choose and focus on one thing to do. If you've been wanting to draw up a practice plan - then just do that. Worry later about whether you will stick to it or not. If you have been wanting to use the Tiny Decisions app for practice, just download the app first. Figuring out how to use it is a separate action that will eventually follow suit. Don't get overwhelmed by the whole approach to creating a positive practice environment - just consistently work on one small action at a time and it will happen.