Stephanie Lewis - Music & Education Talks expert

A Piece of Cake?

Discuss with Stephanie about how making music is often believed to be "too easy"

In this video, Stephanie sets the stage for an interesting discussion on the often-popular notion that making music is "easy" and without the need for real, time-consuming preparation. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Released on April 4, 2018

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, all. I'm Stephanie, together with Virtual Sheet Music. Today's video looks at the idea of learning an instrument together with the practice that this entails. As such, it was inspired by an episode from a UK TV series called the "Black Books," whereby one of the main protagonists, Manny by name, discovers that quite by chance and without any previous experience, he is a pianist, a musician, able to take on any style or musical challenge. It's as if his hands have a magical power independent of the rest of him. Now, I've put the link in the text section of this video below indicating the specific section of the link to watch:

Nonetheless, I'd personally see the whole episode as it's really funny.

Now, who hasn't had this wonderful hope of learning a new instrument or, indeed, learning anything for the first time and discovering the genius within and innate natural talent that inspires wonder or even just a tad of jealousy from the onlooker? After all, it looks so easy, doesn't it? Now, that's where the humor of this episode really takes off. Forgotten are the hours of technical tedium, studies repetitive to the point of slumber or meditation, depending on your own perspective. Psychological battles with yourself, your teacher, the piece itself, not forgetting the continually rising benchmark. The exams, the performances, and the multitude of challenges that all these things present.

To jump from beginner to Beethoven boogie-woogie in the flickering of an eye, as this episode demonstrates, is actually an expectation I've seen relatively often, especially from younger students, but not only. One of my ex-head mistresses, for example, was a case in point. She was quite unable to grasp the fact that instrumental activities without the support of individual home practice was an unsustainable exercise. I'm not joking. You know, it looks easy and, therefore, was easy. You know, there was never any thought into the physicality of playing, movement, mastery, endurance, strength. These were quite unfathomable considerations for her and also a strictly physical education sport consideration.

As we know, however, stamina and strength is absolutely essential for music. It's interesting though that for those on the outside, this factor seems to be almost overlooked entirely. I remember on another occasion talking to an adult beginner violinist who asked me if it ever actually got any easier. Now, the problem with a question like that, if you're a serious student, but also if you're a serious teacher, is that the answer, by definition, will be, "No. Your benchmark will be permanently moving, your expectations too, as your knowledge of the instrument and its repertoire continually expands." This, of course, is also determined by how much practice and effort you put in on a daily basis. Did I say the word "daily?" I'll say it again, daily.

Now, this was not what the beginner violinist wanted to hear. And I was duly criticized. Now, in my opinion, this situation has worsened with society's instantaneousness sapping us of any patience we once had and making us prone to greater frustration when something goes wrong. We live in an age of everything at the push of a button. Practicing, finding strategies to over come obstacles, plodding along despite setbacks, managing personal disappointment. This is the opposite of instantaneousness. Patience and, indeed, emotional resilience are probably actually more important to music than the practice itself, but unfortunately, we seem to be increasingly either unable or incapable, or maybe both, of absorbing and applying these concepts. They tend to come under this generic idea of soft skills. In the past, I lost many more than capable students just on the basis that other subjects were ultimately perceived as easier and less work. Resilience, indeed.

So turning back to the genius Manny in the episode you've either just seen or are about to see, well, he is none other than the actor Bill Bailey, a comedian director, author, he does everything, basically. And he often uses his classical music training in the work he carries out. The work, boy, has he done it. But if I'm not mistaken, he does admit that he doesn't practice enough.

So what are your thoughts on all this? Does a lack of realism hamper our best attempts in learning and grow with the music in our lives? Does impatience get in the way of real progress? Does the genius dream actually hinder our chances at enjoying the music we make rather than motivate? Whatever, drop me a line and get the discussion going. Bye.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Sharon on April 16, 2018 @4:56 pm PST
You hit the nail on the head..I have been teaching for over 20 years're right. Many students "think" they want to learn to play the piano until they come to the point where there might be 2-3 pages of music to learn instead of 1 they now have to practice! I am greatly concerned about the future of the "art" of playing the piano. Many think they can teach themselves by going on the computer. Again, it's a push-button generation.
Stephanie Lewis - host, on April 23, 2018 @4:51 am PST
Hi Sharon, as I wrote in my response to Alan below, I think that for most of us, we get comfortable with the little that we do know. We become self-satisfied and, worse, lose our natural curiosity. Great people, whatever the field, don't seem to lose this or the energy that accompanies 'exploration'. Therefore, if you cultivate curiosity then button-pushing shouldn't be a problem. Easier said than done however! Thanks. Stephanie
Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on April 4, 2018 @7:19 pm PST
The video was hilarious! I also could use a helper hidden in the piano to play that famous "Rage over a lost penny", which I love to hear! Good grief, I have been at the keyboard for over 70 years, on and off (where did they go?) and I still cannot play it. But now at least I can blame it on arthritis of the right hand! Smiley Face
Stephanie Lewis - host, on April 6, 2018 @7:14 am PST
Fulvia, ben tornata!!! Glad you enjoyed the video. As with all great humour, it both reflects the truth and highlights the range of human emotions that accompany reality...and there's always a lesson to be learnt! Take care, Steph
Alan on April 4, 2018 @3:25 pm PST
I totally agree with every thing you said in this video. As a piano and organ teacher I have had students not willing to commit to the long process of learning a music instrument and the theoretical knowledge that in necessary. Most people have no conception of the time and effort required. The technical requirements are considered as boring and unnecessary.
Stephanie Lewis - host, on April 8, 2018 @5:22 am PST
Hi Alan, thanks for getting in touch. I wonder whether our observations in music can't be extended into all fields. The sheer discipline and practice found in sports as opposed to the absolute dedication of the scientist in the laboratory! For most of us, the commitment in itself is a no-go area and we get comfortable with the little that we do know, this in turn leading to an undervaluation of what excellence really means. Until the next time, Alan, Steph
Deborah Foster * VSM MEMBER * on April 4, 2018 @9:16 am PST
Well said, Stephanie!
Stephanie Lewis - host, on April 8, 2018 @5:15 am PST
Thanks for getting in touch Deborah...and also for your support! Cheers, Stephanie
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