Thursday, January 17, 2013

Making it difficult.

There was an article in the Economist recently about how Jack White, former front singer for the White Stripes, purposefully makes things difficult for himself.  He uses cheap guitars that may not hold their shape or tuning, or positions instruments far apart from each other so that he has to run across between them while performing.  For him, when music gets too easy, it becomes harder to make it sing.

Taking "the easy way" is something we all do at one time or another, but it can also lead to things like:
  • A bland product.
  • Stagnant progress.
  • Students who can't think for themselves.
Isn't something "easy" more efficient?  It can be, if it's truly done out of efficiency.  Isn't "easy" a way to help more people learn quicker?  Again, yes - if that's truly the goal.  The problem is that "easy" is just another word for "lazy" most of the time...

Having some "easy" things gives us balance.  The danger is when you actively choose "easy" as your preferred path.

When you've played a song a hundred, thousand, or even fifty thousand times, it's REALLY easy to not give it your all.  Maybe you don't want to sweat, maybe it's a performance where you don't have to try hard, maybe you know no one's watching you...but what kind of product are you making?  How is that making you any better?  Do it enough and it becomes a habit, and soon it's your default mode: bland.

When you spoon-feed students too much, you don't let them think for themselves.  They don't discover, they expect.  They don't confront challenges, they wait.  After a while, they lose the patience/ability to think for themselves, which limits their growth.  There's also a relation to the bland product above, because where's the motivation to push for themselves unless they're being explicitly made to?

This "easy" can also seep into decision making.  I talk about risk a lot, but it needn't go that far.  Maybe you can squeeze one more song/drill run-through before practice ends...or is it "easier" to just end early?  If song X takes a few extra minutes to sign up for but song Y is "easier", which one do you tend to want to play?  The solo you do in song Z every time is pretty easy for you to do now, but how much is it also holding you back?

I definitely make things difficult for myself.  Sometimes to the point where people in the group have told me to not do something, because it's distracting/too weird/doesn't fit in.  And there are a few things I know I do "easy", like one particular song where I have a set solo - and have for about a year now.

A slide is fun and doesn't take a lot of effort - but it's a short ride and when it's over, you're at the bottom.  The ladder requires effort but it lasts a long time and you rise higher and higher...

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