Blog 2019 Fall Retreat Member Login Login

How to Practice Past Obstacles: Redefining Your Limits

There are things you do for your children that you would never have done for yourself. There are icky things, sticky things, difficult things, unusual things. For instance, I am pretty sure my father never would have dreamed about lugging a harp around if I hadn’t needed him to. For my son, I took karate lessons.

I’ve never been much of a sports person and I never would have thought of taking karate lessons for myself. My son was interested in karate but needed some encouragement, so we signed up for lessons together. As it turned out, I really enjoyed it and stuck with the lessons longer than he did. I loved the systematic approach and the discipline that is part of learning a martial art. And I absolutely loved breaking boards.

I know - it sounds like breaking boards would be bad for a harpist’s hands. But it wasn’t. It was only fun. We had a board breaking party one evening at the karate studio and we were all having fun - the little children and the adults - shouting and splitting our boards with our bare hands. Everyone except for one woman.

She was an experienced student, actually preparing for her black belt exam, and she was very frustrated because she just couldn’t break the board. The four-year-olds could do it. The newbies like me could do it. She’d had all this training and she couldn’t do it. What was wrong with her?

Of course nothing was wrong with her. She just couldn’t see past the board. 

We were told by our instructors that the key to breaking the board was to visualize the floor beneath the board. Then we could break through. If our vision stopped at the board, so would our hand. In other words, staying focused on the obstacle kept us stuck on the wrong side of it, preventing us from getting through.

This is why I make sure that in my own practice and in my students’ practice, we focus on the end product, the music we want to make. While all the complexities like fingering and technique are important, even critical, the result - the actual music - is where our attention should be. Many of the details that can prevent a musician from finishing a piece to a performance level become much less significant when the piece is considered as a whole. And many of the decisions you will make about the piece as a whole will affect your fingering or technical choices. 

In other words, it is not only more rewarding creatively to practice the piece in a musical way, it is also more efficient. Yes, you may need to woodshed that particular tricky passage, but if you stay focused on that spot, you will lose sight of your real objective. You will be on the wrong side of the board, unable to break through.

Remember too, that you don’t have to solve every problem spot. You don’t have to eliminate the difficulty, only find a way around it. See past it, over it, through it, beyond it. Don’t let that one spot stop you from playing the music. When you allow that obstacle to loom large, you have allowed it to define your limits. You will always be on the wrong side of the board.

If instead, you allow yourself to see what may lie on the other side of the obstacle, you free yourself. You are no longer stuck behind that challenge. You see your goal that is just behind the problem and once you see it, you can break through to it. Focus on the problem and it will keep you blocked. Focus through the problem and it will stand in your way no longer.

What obstacle has you stuck on the wrong side? Leave a note in the comments and we will help you see through it!

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