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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 41 weeks ago

    Thanks Tim. Those are good reminders to think about and perhaps redirect my thoughts during the next blind rage. Or how about "What I think of me is none of my business"? I have had a pretty good learning curve going for handling other people's strangeness and moods, but I still put up with a lot of crap from myself. 

    The lessons are always wonderful, in spite of the occasional meltdown. And anyway, meltdowns lend themselves to lyrics here and there, a collection of which I titled Monday Night Dysfunction, for example. 

    I decided to take it easy on myself after Roadskater pointed out scales on a guitar fretboard, which I started practicing for left hand rehabilitation. I realized that even though those clarinet notes don't change, none of the scales I've attempted repeat, as they do on the guitar, so I decided to give myself a break on that one. 

    I was happy to be able to play a few remnants of (non-bar/barre) chords like E, E7, E9, A, Am7, Am, A9, D7 and G at an absolute stretch. It's a long road to recovery. 

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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 41 weeks ago

    Good to see another update from you! I hadn't checked in here for longer than I realized. I hope the lessons are still going however they're going. No obligation to do well, just keep chugging along.

    The NYT piece reminds me of the (Buddhist?) proverb, "Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional." Yeah, some things take a long time to learn. Sometimes we forget the same thing or make the same mistakes over and over. There will always be people who are a lot better at the thing we're learning than we'll ever be. But suffering and despair are editorial content that we add to the situation. Strictly speaking, we don't actually have to get on the trip of "I should be better by now" or "I shouldn't still be making that mistake" or "I'm hopeless."

    William S. Burroughs:

    I had the experience of say writing something that I thought was just great and I read it the next day and said for God's sakes tear into very small pieces and throw it into somebody else's garbage can. It's awful. And that is one of the deterrents to writing - the amount of bad writing you're going to have to do before you do any good writing.

    But, you know, if you never try to do anything, you'll never be disappointed.

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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 42 weeks ago

    This article initially had me at the cheeky artwork by Olivier Schrauwen. But then writer Gerald Marzorati grabbed me by the throat in the first paragraph. 

    Better Aging Through Practice, Practice, Practice. NY times.

    The author echoes much what I've described above, just better. 

    I came here for a plaintive whine to the tune of "Why can't I learn scales?!", but on the way got sidetracked by the NY Times. I appreciate Marzorati putting into words the ever-growing Pig-Penesque billows of hopelessness that are dogging me about my clarinet habit.

    Bolding mine:

    "Motivated to continue to develop, you will also learn to face and cope with all manner of frustration. One in particular is that continued improvement is not steady improvement. Back in the 1970s, an M.I.T. graduate student named Howard Austin was awarded his doctoral degree for writing a mechanical analysis of the act of juggling (which, I guess, is not a bad activity to take up in late middle age). He found that learning and improving motor skills happens episodically.You get a little better, then regress. You have a sudden breakthrough, then backslide. If you are my age, with my personality, this can be a recipe for despair. There just isn’t the time to be righting reversals. Time is the province of the young, yes?

    Which brings us to the beauty of a disciplined effort at improvement and, I think, the only guaranteed benefit of finding something, as I found in tennis, to learn and commit to: You seize time and you make it yours. You counter the narrative of diminishment and loss with one of progress and bettering. You spend hours removed from the past (there is so much of it now) and, in a sense, the present (and all its attendant responsibilities and aches), and immerse yourself in the as yet. In this new pursuit of yours, practice is your practice: It comes to determine the way you eat and sleep and shape your days. It is not your life, but one of the lives that make up your life, and the only one for which looking ahead, at least for a little while longer, is something done without wistfulness or a flinch."


    But Schrauwen's artwork is enchanting! It reminds me of the doodles in my Dad's old 1940s Public School physics text books. 

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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 46 weeks ago

    More good stuff! About freaking out on stage, you might have noticed as I have that musicians tend to have fatalistic attitudes and enjoy dark humor. Everything in This is Spinal Tap did more or less happen to someone sometime, and far worse has happened. The trick might be to understand that a live performance can go totally to hell in an instant and to accept that, and find a way to enjoy playing anyway. But a lot of times anxiety comes from being under-prepared and knowing it--which you probably will be when playing for your instructor, who ought to understand this.

    I like the ideas about "dryland" practice. I need to think about ways to do more (some?) of that.

    I do take issue with the one author's use of "inefficient" for practice that doesn't meet with his approval. Looking at ratios of cost-to-benefit and return-on-investment and percent utilization of resources are fine for businesses and things we do that make measurable changes to our standard of living. We bother with them so that we can enjoy the other part of our lives. By that standard, your language classmates who never cracked open their textbooks out of class, let alone sought out other learning resources, might have learned a tenth as much as you and only spent a twentieth of the time. So yay for them, they were more efficient.

    Your comments about fun hit closer to the mark for me. If you're having fun and you play for 12 hour total per week instead of 10, for example, you might or might not get 20% more improvement because of it. But that's only a problem if you think of your playing time as something you "spend" and not as time when you get to play your clarinet and enjoy doing what you're doing.

    Something I've learned from having lots of hobbies and trying to get better at various activities, and sometimes succeeding, is that we'll always be somewhere in the middle. We know there are some people who are a lot better than us, and many more who are a lot worse--including at the least the billions who've never even tried it. If you're a local champion at something, you're trying to figure out how to catch up to the national champion, who's looking up the road at the world champion, who's comparing his or her achievements to Hall of Famers, who are mostly dead. Wherever you go, there you are.

    Thanks for sticking with the updates. I hope it's still going well.

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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 46 weeks ago

    My tutor is trying to remind me. When it comes to music, fun is essential, but still it's easy to should all over yourself. 

    During a recent long drive I decided to run through my scales in my mind for a few hours. I couldn't do it without visualizing actually playing them at the same time, which in the end made me car sick. After a good 30 minutes of forcing myself to remember a few octaves of the D Major scale, I thought I had it. The next evening my workday-ragged self could not recall it. So I just decided to try to figure out some more traditional jazz tunes instead.

    In wanting to avoid my previous (guitar) mistakes, I forgot to include the fun. Practical tips have their place, but this whole endeavour is nothing without fun! It's why I started it in the first place. 



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  • Reply to: Marathon swag bags; soap/energy bar mixup; guess the rest   2 years 46 weeks ago

    ...BBC humour!

    Well I guess you've got to smell good for those finish-line hugs. 

    Last time I went into a Lush store (in Bournemouth, UK) I wanted the big blocks of soap to be Devonshire vanilla fudge or giant strawberry marshmallows. I got so hungry looking at all the soap I had to walk up the street for a cornish pasty.

    Well you know, old runners' brains (over the age of fourteen) aren't capable of learning a new language. :-D


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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 48 weeks ago

    It might seem obvious that mindless practice isn't going to help, and yet that is essentially what I've been doing for the past year, since I have only just now taken the time to analyse why I don't feel my practice is working so well, or why I am not progressing as quickly as I could. 

    Again, from Bulletproofmusician.com, asking how many hours a day you should practice:

    "We tend to practice unconsciously, and then end up trying to perform consciously — not a great formula for success. Recall from this article that you have a tendency to shift over into hyper-analytical left brain mode when you walk out on stage. Well, if you have done most of your practicing unconsciously, you really don’t know how to play your piece perfectly on demand. When your brain suddenly goes into full-conscious mode, you end up freaking out, because you don’t know what instructions to give your brain."

    Yes. This is exactly what happens to me. The stage in my case being a tiny classroom in the local Music and Arts store. 

    I like the tip of keeping a practice notebook and writing down your discoveries during practice. I have kept a very disorganized notebook of learning the clarinet in general, but it could use some focus.

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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 48 weeks ago

    Here's another very helpful article on the subject of music practice and memorization. This one is by Bulletproofmusician.com, and I think Mr. Proof could've peeked in on one of my practices, or perhaps directly inside my head:


    "...when it comes to memorization, simply playing through pieces over and over on autopilot is an inefficient use of time. And, that how we practice lays the groundwork for how we will perform.

    More specifically, that what we think about in practice, will influence what we think about when performing. So if we’ve not created or practiced a mental script in advance, our mind will create one for us – one that is probably much more based in fear and anxiety than related to the nuances and musical elements that would make for a more engaged and compelling (and worry-free) performance."





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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 48 weeks ago

    I came across this article today: Practising Without The Piano by Melanie Spanswick.

    Before I highlight the parts of the article that resonated with me, I'd like to just admit that if the myth that people 'can't learn foreign languages as easily past the age of 14' is true, I'm in complete denial of it. Ok sure, perhaps neuroplasticity does decrease with age, but what's to say a person wasn't fully engaged in their youth but was plenty capable, and still had a decent amount of mental function left forty years later? Should they just give up because they're not what they used to be? I know I'm repeating myself on this but these tired claims don't appear to make young kids hurry up and learn things while they can (any more than they or their parents would have ensured anyway), but they do serve as excuses for adults not to even try any more.

    When you consider what an average 30, 40 or 50 year old person has to keep up with in everyday life just to survive (and often to provide for dependents too), perhaps all their precious plasticity is being spent on occupational & situational noise. They don't have the time or peace to sit around attempting different ways to translate, speak or practice foreign phrases. Did anybody ever release these mentally-declining adults from all of their responsibilities indefinitely, and then study their performance trying to learn a new language? 

    This relates to my clarinet/music endeavors in that I'm not sure why I thought 40 sluggish minutes at the end of each day would be enough for me to gallop ahead on learning to read music. When I was learning my foreign languages during adolescence, I lived and breathed those languages and cultures. It was on my mind constantly. I was translating everything I saw or thought, and what I didn't know, I looked up in the dictionary or asked someone. I was anything but attentive in class but still got high grades on the exams, because I coincidentally built a more rounded education beyond the text books. So whenever people used to say "You have a talent for languages", I just used to think "Naah. I'm just happily obsessed". 

    Stressed out middle aged employees headed for nervous breakdowns can be happily obsessed too.

    Melanie Spanswick's article really hit home for me. She answers the question of 'to memorize, or not to memorize', and suggests transcribing, visualization, being in a good mood (ahem) and starting off practice as stress-free and as relaxed as you can get. That last one might be painfully obvious, but it's a crucial point for many maxed-out adults one step away from completely giving up. 

    She writes "Four types of memorisation dominate; auditory or aural (how the music sounds), visual (how it looks on the page), kinesthetic or muscular (the physical sensation of playing), and intellectual memory (the analytical process). Aural and visual memorisation play a vital role in working away from the keyboard, as does the intellectual side of memorisation. It’s possible to incorporate all three during the thinking process."

    What I get from this is that memorization isn't the root of all evil, rather just another way to incorporate more thought processes to help fill in when you lose your concentration. 

    As the article is written for piano students, there's much that doesn't apply to me, such as singing while playing, or watching my hands (cross-eyed). But tonight I tried transcribing this piece of music that I am going to beat into submission once and for all. I've been trying this one for months - although three of those months don't count due to injury - and I won't feel right abandoning it before being able to play it. The act of transcribing helped me think about the music intervallically, which showed me why I was constantly messing up at the same points in spite of pointing to my head, commanding "Think!". I need a bit more time to get used to the bigger jumps in pitch.

    I then set about committing half of it to memory (I'll try the rest of it tomorrow), which was easier than I expected, and afterwards decided to try reading it again. I still messed up on three sections, but I felt a bit more in control of the whole thing, having buoyed my awareness of this piece up a bit. The act of playing from memory helped me visualize the finger placings, which I miss when purely reading the music.

    After my practice today I felt like I had actually accomplished something in the same space of time I usually just take a wild shot at sight reading, and this time I know what I have learned. Playing aimlessly for 45 minutes is good perhaps only for the embouchure. The article discusses practice away from the piano (dryland piano training?) but the study suggestions made a remarkable difference during my actual practice.

    The more mental safety-nets I have in place to catch a lapse in concentration, the better progress I will make. 

    I need to schedule in some air-clarinet breaks during the daytime, using some of these wonderfully detailed techniques to maximize what little time and attention I have to spend on this. 

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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 49 weeks ago

    Yes! That's the other thing I shortchanged myself on with guitar...not performing anywhere ever (thinking I wasn't good enough, which now I know was not true when I see what counted as 'good enough' for some acts), and not really ever playing much with others in an organized or semi-serious capacity. I'm going to admit that I do envy those poor old NOLA guys from the 1920s, since performing music was often their only means of income. There was no Plan B, much less food if they didn't work somehow, at something. Their instruments weren't fancy, either. Nothing to lose!

    Great tip about anchor notes. I do have a few but hadn't realized it. I can extend that up the register. 

    Yes I do still use Every Good Boy Deserves Football, and FACE, plus dealing with the upper and lower ledger lines. I'm impatient to get to the point of not needing those so much. 

    That's a useful tip also to think in terms of rhythm for upcoming notes. I will try that! It might help patch a few holes in my head where music theory & proficiency are waiting to fit. This entire experience reminds me of the Wikipedia globe but with tinier puzzle pieces and way more of them missing.

    Regarding how to practice, my tutor mentioned taking smaller segments and playing those through until I get them. I do that when starting something new, but after I've been able to play the segments separately a few times, I then expect to be able to put them all together perfectly. But it never works out that way! 

    The biggest problem with my practices is doing them while being exhausted and basically good for nothing. Talent & ears aside, I guess we are really only as good as our memory power. Or drugs.

    As long as I'm playing this thing in any way at all, my life is enriched (although perhaps not my neighbors'). 

    Juggling is actually still a struggle since I can't pronate/supinate my left arm 180 degrees yet. I've got about 90, which is better than where I was in January, but I can't turn my hand up to catch a falling ball. While in the cast, I tried juggling 3 in one hand. I looked up the technique and practiced with one, then two, but I can't translate that to 3! And somehow I always manage to throw one of the balls across to whack me right in the left wrist! I can't get my left arm behind my back to protect it! Calamity.

    Thanks for reading the whole thing, Tim! I will update with any breakthroughs or techniques that work for me. 


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