I know there are many factors involved in successful flute playing, but some of the very most important ones are perseverance and an ability to practice in a way that assesses issues and addresses them methodically. This, coupled with a little patience and a desire to never give up when faced with a challenge is a great recipe for success.
Personally, I was used to remembering something nearly as soon as I heard or read it. I was used to being able to recall what I needed easily with limited study time. I was able to write reports the night before and get an A even if they were assigned weeks in advance. I could read quickly and I devoured literature at an astounding rate. I was fairly athletic and coordinated. I was even pretty good at the flute right from the start.
So where did things go awry?
Well, things went south when I tried to approach my flute playing like I approached everything else that came easily to me: to do it quickly, assume I knew it after one pass, and to wait until the last minute to put it all together. I did have that "love" of playing the flute that sometimes caused me to play endlessly just for the fun of it and I'm sure I was getting better while I was doing that, but once I began serious flute study with a serious flute teacher, I approached my actual assignments in the same way in which I approached my academic ones. And this simply didn't work.
Because I was used to quick success in most endeavors, I had not developed much of a process for problem-solving...mostly because I never really had to. And so, I would sort of gloss over any issues that came up. I was still really successful at the flute, and excelled at my lessons and auditions, but when something came up that was really difficult to solve, I would feel like giving up. Sometimes I would just give up.
I had developed no tools to fix what was not working.
It wasn't my fault; it was the result of the relative ease with which I had conquered everything else in my life. Yet it was still something that would need to be addressed in order to truly succeed. I had to learn that moving more slowly was sometimes a necessary part of progress; that repetition was not a sign of lesser ability or weakness. That processing music in the brain doesn't always translate to motor skills without some mindfulness and, again, repetition. I had to learn that when something did not happen on the first few tries I might have to develop and implement a plan, over the span of time, to achieve something.
The two things I was lacking most were patience and perseverance in the face of adversity. Oh, I could persevere with the best of them when I was already at the top of my game but when I was feeling like an underdog I didn't always find that place of devotion to the process.
I needed to learn that the way I learn and process musical challenges might require more effort and thought and more time than the way I processed most other things. And to stop being completely flummoxed (I just love that word!) when I wasn't immediately masterful of...well...everything. I had a bad case of I'm used to being good at stuff and failure is for the birds.
Obviously I did develop a process over time, but it was quite a journey to get to that point and I honestly don't think I really achieved a good formula (or a good outlook in the face of adversity) until after I had graduated from music school. One of the ways in which I was able to gain great insight into the process was through teaching all different types of learners. I learned that learners come with many different needs and "processes," and I did also observe two repeating trends among various types of learners.
Over time I noticed:
- Many (not all, but many) of my students to whom academic endeavors came the most easily have been less successful than they should have been at playing the flute. And more frustrated when they didn't immediately do well. Some of them were the least dedicated practicers.
- Many of the students I've had who have had to work very hard for everything they've achieved in school (ie., who have developed many methods of problem-solving and perseverance) have ended up being the most successful at the flute. They also were usually better at handling disappointment.
Now, this doesn't mean that if you are one of those "quick learner" types that you won't succeed! But it does mean that you may have to develop a bit more patience and a bit more of a process. It's hard to excel immediately at everything flutistic in nature because muscle development and awareness and cognitive understanding have to find a place where they meet. Sometimes our mind understands but our mechanics need more repetition for success. And we can't get pompous about that because understanding something doesn't equate to executing something. Our mind, always ahead of things, needs to learn to be patient while our muscles may need various techniques to catch up.
We need to be OK with moving at a slower pace occasionally. At patience. At consistency (meaning: no more cramming for lessons the day before! Or possibly, remembering to practice the same skill all week or month or year instead of just once or twice). We need to practice stopping and thinking. Basically, we need to be OK with trying and trying again. At being mindful and developing a plan. And at accepting that the plan may take time to unfold.
And so, if you find you don't need much of a Process or Plan to learn many things, and if you find yourself frustrated any time you don't get something as quickly as usual, this post is for you, from one Reformed Quick Learner to another. It's totally OK to have to learn music differently or more slowly or more methodically than you have ever had to learn anything before. It's sort of normal. And necessary. :)
To succeed we need to understand our own self, how we learn, what motivates us (it's different for everyone!) and also to be willing to learn in many new ways to see what works best.
Please comment if you have anything to add, frustrations to share, or success stories to share!