What would you do if I handed you a $100 bill?
I once had a student who started cello lessons with me when he was 5 years old, and he LOVED the cello. He loved playing the cello, he loved practicing the cello (as soon as he woke up-at 5am! Much to his parents’ dismay). But he had this weird thing he did–He only used about 3 inches of bow–ever (probably due to the fact that he was trying not to wake his parents up!). And every week he would come into his lesson, sad about his lack of tone, and I would say “Use your whole bow! Use more arm weight! Yes!!!! Just like that! Do it again! Terrific! Okay. Practice this piece like that, with big bows, and you’ll always sound like that”. And he would leave his lesson super excited about knowing exactly what to do to get that great big cello sound he was after. And then he would come in a week later, using only 3 inches of bow, and sad that he sounded so wimpy. And we would repeat the cycle.
Finally, one day I used this story to highlight my point:
“Let’s say you came to me and were upset because you needed some money. There was something that you really, really wanted, but it cost $100, and you didn’t have $100. And I said to you ‘well, there is a $100 bill on that piano over there–right by the door. You can have it. Just take it with you on your way out.’ And you were so excited. ‘thank you, thank you, Kate! I can finally have this thing that I want so badly!’ And then you finish your lesson, you pack up, and I say, ‘don’t forget to take that $100 bill with you’, and you say ‘okay!’ and then you walk out of the room, leaving the $100 bill on the piano. And then the next week, you come to me with the same problem. There is this thing that you want soooo badly, and you need $100 to get it. And I ask you why you didn’t take the $100 bill that was there waiting for you, and you can’t answer me. You’re not sure. You wanted it, and you knew it was there, and that it was yours for the taking. You knew it would solve your problem and allow you to have what you wanted, but you couldn’t seem to take it. You just kept leaving it there.”
“So, you want to play with a bigger sound, and you know exactly what you need to do to get that bigger sound, and you have demonstrated time and time again that you are more than capable of doing exactly what you need to do to get that bigger sound, and yet, you simply do not do it. I could grab both you and that $100 bill and force you into the store to buy that thing you want, and I could stand next to you every time you play and forcibly move your arm for you, but I am not going to do either. You have to do it on your own.”
I have never seen eyes that big.
He did eventually “take the $100” and ended up developing a most epic, gorgeous, lush sound. Which is good, because after my $100 bill story, I was out of ideas!
This happens so often in our lives, doesn’t it? As musicians, certainly. This boy was not the only student I have had to use the $100 bill story on. But it’s true in other areas as well. Maybe we want to lose a few pounds. we know that in order to do that, we need to exercise a few days a week, and eat foods from list A and avoid foods from list B. It’s really not that difficult. And yet…here we are, snacking on list B foods, while List A foods rot in the fridge. We’re staring at our running shoes collecting dust in the corner, complaining about how we (still) need to lose some weight. Or the person who wants to save some money. They know that they should automatically put some of their paycheck into a savings account and then use what is left to pay their bills and budget their food and entertainment for the month. And yet…they go to the movie instead, they buy a new sweater because it’s on sale, and the savings account remains empty.
I can’t think of a single area in my life that I could improve upon, where I don’t already know EXACTLY what I should do to fix it (or at least know exactly which resources to use to find out). We are capable of doing anything as long as we have the right information, and we are certainly not lacking for that-it is EVERYWHERE. Facebook, Podcasts, Blogs, Magazines. Every. Where. Of course, it is not that information that improves a situation, but acting on that information. Which leads me to the question, what is keeping us from taking proper action?
For my students, this is the all-important question. I have students that practice, and students that don’t. Some who practice well, and some who don’t. But if you asked them all how one should practice if they wanted to improve, they would give you the right answer. 100% of them. They could tell you in great detail how they should listen to their pieces, break them down into small sections and then practice them slowly without any mistakes and slowly build them into larger pieces, how to work on intonation, phrasing, rhythm, color, vibrato, etc. etc. but do they do it?
What would it look like if we all took the $100 bills that were being presented to us? What if we grabbed them and did what we needed to do. We’d all be financial wizards and super fit and healthy and we’d all be incredible at what we did. Businesses would be more productive and creative, artists more prolific, musicians would be playing at a higher level, and we’d all be saving the world.
Where are you resisting proper action? What could you do with that $100 bill?