When the Going Gets Tough

I’ve often had students come to me and say they’ve hit a wall in terms of their practice. They keep trying, but it just seems like they are not making any progress.

First, I always try to eliminate a few possibilities.

  • Are they doing the various techniques properly?
  • Is it one thing specifically, several things, or just everything that seems to have gone awry?
  • Is this a long term thing or just the past week?

After this narrowing-down process, I’m actually a bit pleased if it is just a recent thing, even though they have been practicing a good amount of time. In other words, the student has been practicing, but has been getting worse, not better, recently. Why be pleased with it? Because in my own experience, this indicates that the student is probably about to make a noticable improvement jump shortly! If you’re a music instructor, watch this over time yourself and see if it isn’t true.

When this happens, I like to think of it like our brains are finally starting to ‘get it’ in terms of what we are asking our fingers and ears to do. And then the brain says ‘Well, in order to do THAT, I’m going to have to change THIS other thing first, then give it another try…’ And so it does, and it takes a little while for our brains to process it all and come up with a suitable solution. And if we will simply keep at it through this difficult process, we will come out much improved and able to finally do whatever that technique was.

And even though it’s really talking about something different from banjo lessons, I also like to think of it like James says in the New Testament in James 1:2-4:

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”

So if you’re having this problem with practice going nowhere recently, or know a student who is, then don’t stop practicing – that’s the worse thing you could do! Be persistent and it will pay off shortly!

When the going gets tough, the tough keep practicing!

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About Phill Gibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Systems Engineer and part-time banjo and mandolin instructor. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play Scruggs and melodic and am working on becoming more advanced with single string. I'm also working on 4-finger banjo, which is way off the beaten path. I would like to see more jazz techniques integrated into bluegrass situations; counterpoint, especially. So long-term, that's what I'm doing. I'm also very keen on astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, christian homeschooling, martial arts, organic gardening and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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