Several weeks ago, I had a very talented student work on a difficult section of a piece she was preparing. We went through it slowly, broke it down into bite size pieces, sang it the way she wanted to play it, considered many, many fingerings for the left hand and right hand, kept at it for an hour and were forced to stop (I would have kept going if it weren’t for my obligation to the next student who walked in the door!). The progress in the class was negligible and it was frustrating because I had tried many of the tools I use to problem solve with great success. It was more frustrating to the student who felt a bit disheartened because the passage remained difficult and clumsy. I wrote down a few more steps for her to work on at home and off she went.

The following week, she came in and apologetically said that she had only been able to practice two pieces that she was performing for her talent show and had not really continued to work on what we had isolated the week before. After agreeing to work on it again, we pulled out the guitars and prepared to jump back in. I wanted to hear where it was before dissection and her first attempt sounded brilliant, the few after sounded equally convincing, and after much praise, we went on to a different part of the song. She couldn’t believe it. I thought she had really worked on it but she insisted that she had not actively worked on it.

I spent some time thinking about what had happened in the course of the week to explain her improvement and realize that it is a situation familiar to me. I work really hard on a piece for months and months and sometimes years. Issues pop up and I try to solve them, sometimes not so well. I’ll put the song on hold or perform it and then drop it. Months after not working on it, I may, after warming up, try to play through it for fun and it is often revelatory. Many issues have been solved, perhaps by my subconscious. My mind and fingers are in a different place, figuratively, and my hang ups have loosened their hold (perhaps taken hold of what I am working on at the time!).

Practice and hard work really do pay off but they do not pay off in a linear fashion. They pay off indirectly and in delayed ways. They materialize when problem solving for other pieces or situations. Giving yourself (and your child) time to work through blocks indirectly, through other pieces or through time breaks, is sometimes necessary and more effective than tackling problems head on.