Sunday, October 25, 2015

Missing the Big Picture: A Parable for Struggling Musicians

I love the story of the blind men and the elephant.  Anytime my flute students struggle with something that I absolutely know they are capable of handling, this is the story that pops into my mind.  If you're not familiar with the tale, here's a quick recap. 

1) 6 blind men encounter an elephant.

2) They each touch a different part of the elephant, trying to figure out what it is like. 

3) They all think the elephant is something completely different (see picture above) precisely because they are each exploring a different aspect of the elephant.

To read the entire story (a poem!) by John Godfrey Saxe, click on the link below:

If you are a musician struggling with the kind of preparation it takes to show real and meaningful improvement in your lessons and performances, it is highly possible that you are practicing in ways that are either misguided or don't take the big picture into account. If this is the case, you are certainly not alone!  
I'm hopeful that my flute playing adaptation of the Blind Men and the Elephant will get you thinking, get you curious, and help you seek out the kind of big picture perspective all musicians need to fuel their journey to "the next level."

Six Misguided Flutists

Six flute students played in their lessons, 
And all tried to learn their best,
They thought they had practiced enough,
So that their teacher would be impressed. 

The First played for the teacher,
And happening to stumble
Through an important technical feature,
At once began to mumble,
"I guess I'd better learn to force
my way through this technical obstacle course!"

The Second, feeling very impatient,
Said, "Now what is going on here?
My attention span is spent,
And to me 'tis mighty clear
That improving even a little bit
Will take at least a year!"

The Third began to perform, 
But hadn't finished preparing,
And couldn't play anything like at home,
So looked at the music, glaring.
"I see," quoth he, "that playing the flute,
Requires a lot of swearing!"

The Fourth spoke out an important question,
"How can I play this music with more flair?
I just need some new suggestions,"
(Seeming to the teacher not to care
about the 17 suggestions
she had tried last week to share!)

The Fifth, who thought he played just right,
Said, "This lesson is so rewarding,
I see that what flute playing needs to take flight,
Is for me just to "copy the recording"
And like my favorite famous flutist, 
My performance will shine bright!

The Sixth no sooner had started to play,
Then decided it was time to start flailing,
She stopped and waited for the teacher to say,
Something wise and helpful about all the failings,
"I understand" thought the student "that flute lessons are okay,
as long as you just keep on bailing!"

And so these six poor flutists,
Deluded themselves all year long,
Each in his or her own opinion,
Doing what they thought would move them along,
Though each were only slightly right,
And didn't realize that they were wrong. 

Feeling like you want some perspective? Try reading How to Convert Complaints Into Practice Productivity!

Happy Practicing!

Terri Sánchez

New Message posted on 10.27.18

If you've enjoyed posts from The Self-Inspired Flutist, head on over to my new creative project, Practice Junkie

I'm only just beginning with all the Practice Junkie videos I am planning to share in the future. Thank you in advance for subscribing to the Practice Junkie website and YouTube channel, following me on Instagram (Practice Junkie type posts coming soon!), and "liking" the Practice Junkie FB page (just posted today!). 


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Thanks also for sharing Practice Junkie videos with any students, friends or music colleagues in need of a good "Stress-Free Practice Therapy" resource!

Terri Sánchez