Achieving Balance and Creative Teaching

At some point in our learning and development, we may feel that we’ve hit a wall or that we’ve plateaued.  Here’s how you might remedy this:

I picture our practice, learning and development as a bar graph.  Each bar represents a skill that requires time and practice.  For instance, jazz pianists will spend time learning tunes, working out voicings, practicing improv exercises, improving their technique and much more.  They’ll hit a wall in their development when the time spent on these tasks is off balance.

If you spend most of your time your time practicing Bergonzi pentatonic patterns but neglect the other aspects of piano playing, eventually, you’ll plateau.  Your graph would look like this:

Bar Graph 1

If you were my student, I would make recommendations to help you achieve better balance.  Maybe, for a few months, your practice routine should look more like this:

Bar Graph 2

Achieving balance in the long-term is key to a steady rate of growth.  I’ve mentioned piano playing, but this idea isn’t exclusive to how we spend time practicing our instruments.  Musicianship can improve drastically by working on things away from our instruments.

Personally, since graduating, I’ve been spending less time at the piano and more time transcribing, teaching, reading and blogging. Over the next few years, I anticipate that I’ll be making more, gradual adjustments.  Maybe I’ll be doing less transcribing and more composing.  Or maybe less solo piano and more ensemble-playing!

It’s easy to see how all of these things come together to improve musicianship.  But it requires one to take a more holistic approach, step back and examine priorities on a higher level.  Teachers should add this to their creative teaching methods.

I really enjoyed Byron Janis’s article in the Wall Street Journal on nurturing creativity.  Especially when he recounts a time when he suggested to a student that she take a different route walking home.  “You’ll make new discoveries.  It will be fun.”

The other day, one of my students said that he thought he wasn’t progressing as fast as he should be.  Part of this was due to impatience; he’s actually a keen and diligent student.  But rather than telling him to keep on practicing I also instructed him to read a biography on his favourite artist; he’s never done this before…. We’ll see what happens!

Reading may not work or “connect the dots” with this student; maybe he should also take up golf!  The point is to encourage students to draw parallels between seemingly unrelated things.  This relates to my favourite Ken Robinson quote from The Element:

“…intellectual growth and creativity come through embracing the dynamic nature of intelligence.  Growth comes through analogy, through seeing how things connect rather than only seeing how they might be different.”

How do you find balance?  Do you have any hobbies that complement your musical growth?  Please comment and share!


Leave a Reply