When Lessons Get Challenging…

Musings, Tips

I have never been a big hiker but I do love the view at the end of a hike. When we were in Hawaii almost a year and a half ago, my husband wanted our family to hike Diamond Head. He warned the kids and me to be physically ready because we were doing it whether we were ready or not.

Despite his warnings, not a lot of preparation went into it. While I have my cardio routine that I am pretty consistent each week, I wasn’t prepared for a couple things. 1) The climb. I should have used the treadmill incline more to prepare for this. 2) The higher elevation.

When you are hiking a mountain you have never hiked before, you don’t know what possible challenges might lay ahead. During our hike at Diamond Head, we came across a part of the hike where you need to climb inside this very tight spaced tunnel. There was just enough room for one side to climb up and another side to go down.

It was then, that I learned that confined spaces are not for me as I was feeling very claustrophobic. I really struggled to breathe and was feeling a panic attack coming on. My natural instinct was to stop and turn around. But that wasn’t an option at all with the line of others behind me. I had no choice but to move forward and continue to climb. With encouragement from my husband and kids to keep going, I was able to make it out of that tunnel.

Sometimes our students reach a point in their lessons where they start to feel a little panic attack coming on. The music is starting to get more challenging. It doesn’t seem as “fun” anymore. They have a million other things calling their attention. They start to feel overwhelmed. It is during this stage where their natural instinct is to just give up and turn around.

While it is best to try to avoid this stage to begin with, sometimes it just comes out of nowhere. I sure didn’t expect to experience what I did when I climbed up the tunnel. If it wasn’t for the gentle encouragement from my family to keep moving forward I might have broken down.

During this stage, it is so important to encourage our students to continue to climb. To remind them all that they have been able to accomplish up to this point.  It is important to help our students with specific steps they can take to get through those challenge sections in their music. We have the important role of serving as a facilitator, guide and many times a cheerleader.

It wasn’t long after the tunnel, I was presented with another unexpected surprise. To continue the climb up the mountain I could A) Take a shortcut which would require me to climb some pretty steep and crowded stairs (and additional tunnel) or B) Take the longer route without stairs.

At this point, I was exhausted both emotionally and physically because of what I had experienced in the tunnel. I wanted to give up and just head back down. But I knew if I did that I would be disappointed in myself plus I would miss the view at the top. I also knew I was certainly capable of doing hard things. So I decided in this case I was going to take the “easier” route which for me was also the longer route (without the stairs). While I know my husband would have taken the stairs, he stuck with me and took the longer route as well.

Sometimes and not necessarily meaning to, we choose the harder way of doing things. Have you noticed that? Sometimes the harder way teaches and stretches us more. (I try to remind myself of this when I’m going through challenges). If my goal for this hike was to challenge myself physically, the best choice might have been to take the stairs. But that wasn’t my end goal. My end goal was to get to the top and enjoy the view.

It’s helpful to know what our students end goal is and then guide them on the best route that will help them reach that goal. If their end goal is to major in music or become a concert pianist, a “harder” route taking them in that direction would be in their best interest. But if their end goal is to just enjoy the music making process, there is no reason not to choose some easier routes along the way.

Eventually, I made it to the top of Diamond Head with my family and the view was beautiful. We spent time watching the sunrise, enjoying the view, taking pictures and congratulating each other for making it. I was able to climb back down feeling a sense of accomplishment and gained valuable insight from the experience.

It is my hope that when my students struggle that they don’t give up. Instead, with my gentle encouragement, they step up and continue to climb. Yes, sometimes I do need to remind them that they ARE capable of learning “hard” pieces.  When working together and keeping a positive attitude they can not only learn the piece but often times it becomes a favorite. I’m not terribly worried how long it will take them to reach the top as that is really up to them, I just want them to enjoy the journey along the way. And when they reach their top, they can enjoy the view.

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