Small Steps to Big Change

How does positive change happen?

Not too long ago, driving conversations around making change happen was a big part of my day job.

Addressing organisation change and getting people to change the way we work was huge. In the realm of music practice at home, it's akin to saying that to be more successful, you need to change the way that you practise.

Changing the way that you practise sounds BIG. I'd like to offer some insights around how big leaps in progress can come from making small tweaks in the practice process. Results certainly won't happen overnight. Yet, progress is not always linear. Big leaps spring up on us when the tiny changes that we have been making click and culminate into a tipping point. This often manifests as a "golden moment" that takes us by surprise and has us asking ourselves "How did that happen? What clicked? How do I make it work again?"

Here are my thoughts around how small changes can lead to big milestones in progress.

(1) It starts with a constraint

We have moments when our child gets stuck on a challenging spot. The mistakes keep happening. He can't remember the notes to play. His fingering is spotty. He is confused over which sections repeat and which do not. As our child's practice coach, we may feel stuck at how to help our child master this practice task. Whatever we have been doing is not working, and we know that we need to approach the task another way, before both we and our child feel too frustrated to go on.

(2) What if?

Having exhausted a few methods that don't work, we rack our brains for other ideas. What if we thought about the problem in another way? What if we changed our perspective of music as a linear string of letter-name notes to seeing music as a shape? What if we could help our child see each section as a block and how the blocks came together to form the piece? What if we tried explaining the structure of Minuet in G Minor in the same way that every Twinkle Star Variation comprises 'Bread-Cheese-Cheese-Bread'?

My daughter was utterly confounded by the left-hand sequences in the former, which sounded largely similar but actually contained small differences. Repeated instructions to "listen carefully to my counting", "watch my fingers" and "look how the notes are written differently" only managed to put her on the verge of tears.

'Bread-Cheese-Cheese-Bread' crossed my mind. And 'Minuet in G Burger' was born.

Welcome, Small Change #1.

(3) How do I articulate my idea?

Once you have landed on an idea to try, you need a tool to help you express it to your child.

Literally being able to "see" the music helps immensely. Our $2 whiteboard from Daiso is a permanent item on our piano stand after I saw during our music lessons how effective drawing was in helping my children visualise the music and playing skills that they are learning.

Setting the intention to get a board, making the effort to get it and according it an important place on your music stand is already change in the making.

Small Change #2, done.

(3) Improve, improve, improve

As we make more frequent use of our tools, we may need to make tweaks to make them more effective.

Some changes are tiny but can make a big difference. For example, our existing whiteboard markers had nibs that were too large to draw clearly on the mini whiteboard.

I kept the mini whiteboard, changed to using mini markers - and found myself using the improved set-up more consistently and effectively during practice.

Small Change #3, done.

Writing with thick markers on a mini whiteboard was hard!

Switched to size-appropriate mini markers (pack of 7 for $2 from Daiso)

(4) Mesh different strategies

Using the whiteboard was useful in helping me to show my daughter how the different layers of 'Minuet in G Burger' stacked up. But she would still have to master playing the individual layers of the burger before she could piece them together to form the whole song.

We used repetitions and puzzle erasers to learn each layer. First the bun. Then the bun with the modified ending. Then the patty (which she wanted to be salmon.) Finally, we put all the 'cooked' layers in a visually-unbalanced but musically-correct burger.

We had introduced Small Change #4.

(5) Reiterate what works

Progressively adding Small Change #1 to #4 proved to be the tipping point for 'Minuet in G Burger'. On Wednesday evening, she was struggling to learn the left hand sequences. 2 practice sessions later, she was playing 75% of the piece with hands together. (She had already learnt the right-hand sequence earlier on.)

Her little person was exploding with pride. My mind was exploding in a revelation.

I had not known that introducing these small changes would result in a big leap in progress. I couldn't have known, for every child and every day at practice is different. But having found a winning formula, I now had a working approach and improved combination of tools to use whenever we met with challenging tasks and difficult days.

(6) Change is the only constant

A winning formula would only keep working if nothing else changes. But new pieces, new technique and two growing humans would ensure that never happens.

So when a new constraint presents itself, we build upon our earlier success to adapt our practice approach and strategies, through a series of small changes, until we find a new and better way to make things work.

This is how small steps can lead not just to big change, but set in motion a sustained and growing spiral of positive change.

Success begets success.

Can you guess which piece in Piano Book 2 this is?

18 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All