In 2004 I was living in Arizona. I had recently started jogging, but since any form of exercise is not my forte, I was still struggling to run a 12-minute mile after months of exercising. My brother, who was born with my share of the athletic genes, invited me and my sisters to come to Idaho and run a half marathon with him. He said, “Part of it is uphill and it gets steep sometimes, but it’s not bad. Just train with the treadmill on an incline.” Naïve exerciser and marathon runner that I was, I bought his bag of lies and agreed to come, as did my 3 sisters, who were (and still are) in much better shape than I am.
On a side note, the half marathon is called “Robie Creek” and is considered the toughest half marathon in the Northwest.
As we arrived to the start line for the race, my brother looked nervous and began to pace. It was then that he told us the first 8.5 miles were all uphill. Up a mountain. A steep mountain. All. Uphill. Ugh. Lucky for him, we didn’t truly understand what he was telling us, but it was too late for all of us to back out and we forged ahead. The race started and it wasn’t too bad. We wound around a neighborhood and into the foothills. At first the path was paved and smooth, but soon it turned into a dirt trail with rocks and divots and I had to look down constantly as to not trip and fall. At first, there was very little incline, but after a mile or so, the trail became more and more steep. The steeper the trail became, the slower my pace became until I was merely walking, and not running at all.
My brother took off and pulled ahead of us soon after the race started. Two of my sisters who were fitness instructors at the time, held back and we stayed together for the first few miles. And then they left me and my youngest sister behind. By the time we made it to mile 6, every muscle in my body was screaming at me to stop. Just sit down. You hate this. Curse Craig (said brother). It was not long before I began to share these desires with my remaining sister. She would say, “see that tree up there? You can make it to that tree.” When we made it to the tree, she would say, “there’s a water station up another 100 feet, you can make it to the water station.” This continued until we reached the top of the mountain. She never stopped telling me I could do it. She never let me stop and sit. She knew and I knew that I would never finish if I stopped.
At the end of every semester, at Station Day, I have an opportunity as a Let’s Play Music/piano teacher to visit one-on-one with the parents of my students. I always ask them how it’s going at home. Do they have any concerns? I often hear stories of frustrated students and “I’m at the end of my rope” parents. What to do?
I tell parents that learning an instrument is like climbing a mountain. It starts off so fun and easy. The excitement of learning something new gives the child the desire and incentive to practice because it is just so fun. In other words, the path is paved and smooth and not much effort is needed to accomplish what the teacher is asking the student to do. Then as time goes on, the music begins to get harder, the practice time isn’t as fun, and the child must start working. There may be rocks and divots in the path. That’s when the complaining starts. That’s when they begin to fight practice time. That’s when the child starts saying things like, “I hate this,” “It’s too hard,” “I can’t do it, “I want to quit.” You know what I mean.
So, as a parent, how do you support your child while he or she climbs the mountain? Do you give them small goals and celebrate when the goals are achieved? Do you say, “See this measure? You can play this measure.” And then give lots of high fives and praise when they play the measure? Do you keep encouraging and keep gently pushing and let them know they can do it? There are countless ways to support your child and be the encouragement that they need.
I love the lightbulb moments and I see them happen at different times for each student. You know what I mean—the moment where everything clicks. Their fingers, their eyes, their brains, all begin to work together and what was once hard now becomes enjoyable and fun again. They usually run into class with a huge smile on their face and want to show me how great they are at playing ___________. I love this moment and I love to celebrate with them and exchange knowing nods with their mothers.
Interestingly enough, the lightbulb moment is not when the growth was happening. The growth was happening during the pain, during the tears and the frustration. That’s when the student was growing and learning. It was hard to see then, and it is next to impossible to feel it when you are in the middle of it, but that’s when it was happening. If they had stopped when it was hard, they never would have experienced and seen the fruits of the growth.
Learning an instrument is like climbing a mountain, there will be tough times, hard times and it will hurt. You may even think that you should quit because there are times when it is hard and painful, but if you keep pushing through and keep moving and working, no matter how slow that movement is, you will eventually reach the top of the mountain where everything suddenly becomes a little easier and more enjoyable. It is then that you can reap the rewards of hard work and dedication.
There will always be another mountain to climb. Some will be small hills and some will be so large they will seem impossible to climb, but there is always another mountain and that keeps us moving forward. Don’t sit down, don’t stop. One step at a time.
Thanks to my angel sister, I did make it to the end of the marathon and only lost 2 toenails.