Here’s a different angle, a different way of looking at the same issue of dealing with the hard parts: what if we get rid of the word ‘hard’?
First of all, it’s good to remember that everything you and I currently play was once hard. In fact, much of it was once impossible. We know from personal experience that practicing can turn hard into easy. So one thing we also know about ‘hard’ from personal experience is that it’s temporary.
The other thing we know from this experience is that a piece that was once hard, and is now easy, has not changed at all. It is you and I who have changed. Practicing didn’t make the piece easier; it made us better.
Now that we’ve looked at the big picture, let’s look at the details. What do we mean when we say a piece is hard? Most of the time it’s one or more of these:
- It’s new.
- It’s long.
- It’s complicated.
- It’s confusing.
- It’s physically challenging.
- We don’t like it.
Suppose we consciously erase the word ‘hard’ from our vocabulary. When we try a new piece and want to say, “Hey! This is hard!”, what if instead we use these phrases to describe it more clearly. “Hey! This is complicated and tough to play, and I don’t like it much!”
The advantage is completely mental. “Hard” is vague. “Long”, “complicated” and “physically challenging” are more precise. They also give us a better idea of what our approach could be:
- It’s new – stick with it, and it won’t be new anymore.
- It’s long – break it up into shorter sections.
- It’s complicated - simplify it. Master the simple version and then slowly add everything else back in.
- It’s confusing – analyze it before you play it. Write down what you figure out so you don’t have to remember it.
- It’s physically challenging – it’s not all physically challenging; just a few parts are physically challenging. Isolate each challenging part to the fewest notes that still contain the challenge. Play them as slowly as you need to in order to play them perfectly.
- We don’t like it – practicing is not about ‘like/don’t like;’ it’s about ‘can do/can’t do.’ There’s a lesson in the piece somewhere – some idea or technique that you need and don’t have. Go in and find it. And concentrate on motion, not music.
So now there are no more hard parts. There are long parts (but we know how to address those); there are confusing parts (but we know how to address those). And so on.
Once we’ve gotten rid of ‘hard,’ the same basic methods apply. We break things into manageable pieces and slow them way down. We separate head work (mental) from hand work (physical), because the brain and the body learn in different ways and at different speeds. We’re persistent, consistent, and optimistic.
Imagine a beautiful green park, with a big, loud, scary, barking dog (named Hard) at the entrance. All we've done is found a different entrance.