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The Most Important Thing A Student Learns From Music Lessons Isn't About Music

This morning I was sitting down for a piano lesson with a fairly new student. I can count on one hand how many lessons we've had together so far. Her excitement about being at the piano lesson was tangible in the air between us; an immediate mood booster for me. It was a Saturday morning after a long work week, paired with a few nights of very little sleep, and I was running on fumes, black coffee, and now --- the positive energy of my student.

We started to work on her first song, Ode to Joy. It's a classic for beginning musicians, and it was a piece she had recently mastered and completely enjoyed playing. As written, the song only required her to use one hand. Her practice challenge for the week was to play the piece using both hands together at the same time. I asked if she had completed her challenge and she looked at me shyly. "No I didn't", she said.

There was something about the look she gave me in that moment that I recognized immediately. She hadn't practiced because she didn't believe she could do it. I followed with an encouraging, "That's OK. Let's try working on it together."

I quickly explained a couple of things that I thought would help her be successful with the challenge, and bravely, she found the correct position for her hands on the keys and slowly began to play. As she moved through the song measure by measure, I saw her eyes widen and she even let out a little (and very sweet) giggle. Another recognizable expression spread across her face, which was now painted with disbelief.

"I'm doing it."

After she played the song both hands together and met her challenge, I began another conversation.

"I do this, too" I explained. "When I think something is going to be really hard, I don't want to face it. I tell myself I will do it tomorrow. I make excuses. Then tomorrow becomes the next day, and the next, and the next until the time comes when I realize I never did that hard thing at all." I continued to explain this completely normal feeling. She was listening with an understanding that surprised me for her young age. But I knew she understood me because that's what she felt.

"Sometimes, the hardest part is starting."

The advice I was giving her was hitting home for me too. I think it's a lesson we all need to be reminded of no matter our age. It's so true, right? We fear failure. We fear our own power. We doubt our abilities. Once you get the ball rolling, you build momentum, you keep moving, but putting things into motion? That's hard. Often times in life the hardest part of something is not the work that goes into it day in and day out --- we are capable of managing that --- but the hardest part is BELIEVING we can do it. The biggest challenge is STARTING the hard thing.

I continued to praise my student.

"See, you CAN do it!"

"The hardest part was starting, wasn't it?" She nodded in agreement, smiling as if she'd just been let in on one of the magical secrets of the world.

"All you needed to do, was believe in yourself."

For the rest of our time together I watched her face each new challenge head on. Slowly but surely we workshopped new sections in new songs, learned new musical terms, new concepts, and played new music for the first time. I watched her meet each challenge, accept them bravely, persevere, and conquer the challenges. The light in her eyes was shining even brighter.

I see this same experience with students of every age and experience level. I see it with some who never thought they would learn to play music, and then they do. I see it in students who learned how to play their favorite song, and now understand it in a whole new way. I see it in young musicians who never dreamed they would be capable of performing in public, and then they do. I see it in myself growing in my craft and achieving things in my business I never thought possible, and then they are a reality.

The feeling comes in all shapes and sizes, but the lesson is always the same.

It was a meaningful morning for me. I hope my student remembers the experience similarly to me, remembering the feeling of the brightening light in her eyes and the challenges that were fiercely met. Next week, I won't be hugely disappointed if she doesn't remember every new section in her new song. I won't care if she can't recall the exact definition of the new words we learned together.

What I really want her to remember?

She can do hard things.

She is worth believing in.

Starting is the hardest part, but she is so so capable of it all.

Start the hard thing. Believe in yourself. You can do hard things.

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