Confusion is Your Friend

When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.

-Emile Zola

The digital mindset which attempts to break the chaos of the analog world into discrete bits, into this or that, one or zero, has been with us for a very long time. In many ways the process of breaking something down into its component parts is just that: breaking. A disassembled engine, or a dissected frog, doesn’t work any more and–with the engine at least–must be put back together for it to work. Taking something apart allows us to understand the chaos a little better, and each time we take the thing apart, perhaps in a different order, our understanding grows. Understanding practice is a lot like this.

Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.

The first time you take it apart might be bewildering and possibly overwhelming. How can you ever get a handle on all that stuff?! But remember to treat confusion as your friend. Confusion is a good sign that you’re struggling with a concept or an idea or a particular action. Confusion is your mind and/or body saying “Wait! Hold on! I don’t get this. give me a minute and I’ll sort it out.” According to Dan Coyle, who wrote The Talent Code (a book I reviewed a  while ago) this feeling of confusion and pushing through that state to understanding, is what it feels like to grow myelin, the substance that allows our neurons to fire with more precision. It’s a slow process. That’s why the first experiences trying to understand everything you need to play your instrument well (or at all!) is so confusing, and sometimes frustrating.

The mistake is to turn away from the confusion because it’s unpleasant and, well, confusing. Nobody likes to be confused. But if you only do things that are comfortable, it will be impossible to grow mentally, spiritually, or musically, and getting better at something won’t be an option. Besides, it’s equally impossible to avoid confusion in life, so you might as well embrace it and recognize that when you’re feeling it, your brain is trying to learn.

That’s why being passionate about something like music is SO important. Motivation is passion’s currency. It allows us to suffer the frustration of confusion because we’re on fire to know or do the thing we’re passionate about, and obstacles are simply those pesky things that get in the way of our goals. Embrace your confusion and strive to find the cracks in it that allow you a way in to understanding. Teachers, books, more experienced people, and the Web area ll useful chisels to help chip away at the sheath of confusion that surrounds the glowing core of understanding. The chisels are out there. It’s up to you to find them. It’s up to you to apply the elbow-grease to hammer away at the hard outer shell of confusion and ignorance so that you can get at the sweet gooey nougat center! It’s worth it in almost any endeavor, and doubly so for music. That’s been my experience, anyway.

Good luck! Keep at it.

Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.

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