I want to tell you about a student I had about eight years ago. A six year old named Zoe. Her mom called me the day after Zoe’s lesson. I could hear Zoe crying in the background – (wailing, actually). Her mom Pam, said that Zoe was really frustrated with her new song because she thought it was too hard. Pam asked if I could talk to Zoe.
Pam put Zoe on the phone.
“Hi, Miss Connie.” Zoe was sniffling.
“So your song is pretty hard this week?”
“Yeah!” The tears started again. “It’s too hard! I can’t do it! I tried and tried, but I can’t!”
“That’s okay, Zoe. Let’s do something different.” I had her attention. “For now let’s forget about the whole song except for one tiny thing.”
“Well, do you think you could just learn the very first note? And that’s all?”
Zoe sounded confused. “Just the first note?”
“Yep. That’s all. Can you learn just that note?”
“Sure.” Her voice was cheery and excited as I heard her talk to her mom. “Miss Connie says I can just learn one note – and that’s all!”
“Zoe?” I had to get her attention for one last suggestion.”
“If you happen to get that one note really really good, maybe you can push yourself and add on another note.”
“Sure! I can do that!”
Pam came back on the phone. “THANK YOU!”
The next week when Zoe came for her lesson she was BEAMING. She proudly sat up at the bench and played the entire song for me!
What happened? That two page song with sharps, hands played together, dynamics, and staccatos was OVERWHELMING. In the adult world it was probably like receiving a notice that the balance on your mortgage is due – tomorrow! (I would probably cry, too!) We pay our mortgages off one month at a time with payments that we can conceive of affording. Little Zoe could not even conceive of playing that song. So I broke it down into a ridiculously easy assignment – one note.
It’s human behavior. Once we have a success with something, we are motivated to try more. I knew that Zoe would not stop with one note. I just needed to take all the pressure off and help her focus on one small, very easy task so that she could have immediate success. And voila! She learned the rest of the song as “extra credit” with her new-found motivation.
When we all practice, we will have much more success and much more motivation if we break our pieces down into very small, easy to accomplish parts.