Buying a Second-Hand Piano

I often recommend that new students and parents go looking at the second-hand market for a first instrument, if they don’t already have one at home. The main reason for this is that a brand new piano is a lot like anything else: it drops thousands of dollars in value as soon as you take it out of the showroom. In contrast, a good second-hand instrument will generally retain much of its value even ten years down the track.

Nevertheless, there are pitfalls to avoid, especially with an older traditional acoustic piano, and I’ve never felt qualified to comment upon the state of an older instruemnt, and I often recommend calling a trusted piano tuner. So, I found this little video useful. I note he also recommends calling in a tuner.

One thing which he neglects to really talk about – aside from mentioning it – is the “pin-block” (the wood which holds the tuning pins – at the top of the piano frame). If the tuning pins are loose, walk away! Or at least, get that professional second opinion.

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The power of habit

car black audi tachometer

Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

I’ve spent the last week practising. Sure, I haven’t played the piano for six weeks, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about driving. I haven’t driven a car in three weeks, and it feels strange to get back behind the wheel after so long. The first day was particularly odd, the effects of jet lag only compounding the experience.

What I particularly notice is that the last car I drove – in the UK – had its indicator on the other side of the steering column. Having spent three weeks getting used to using my left hand to indicate, then three weeks catching buses and trains, I’m now relearning how to drive my own car without turning on the windscreen wipers every time I want to change lanes or turn. I wonder if you’ve ever had the same experience?

Indication (and many other aspects of the skills of driving) becomes so ingrained that we don’t even think about them any more. That is testament to the power of habit, and the effort required to learn a new habit or replace an old one.

When we repeat an action often enough, it becomes habit. At first, if I want to turn left in a car, I must think consciously about many different things: check the mirrors and blind spots, decelerating to an appropriate speed (perhaps changing down through the gears), and choose the appropriate hand on the steering column lever (and the appropriate movement: up? or down?) to indicate our intention to our fellow drivers. By the time we’ve had children, many of these have become automatic, so that the only thing we actually think consciously is, “turn left”, and those mental short cuts make us much faster.

Then, stepping into a stranger’s car, with controls in the “wrong” places, suddenly we are forced to think consciously again about all those different aspects of driving that we’d taken for granted. Our reaction times slow, we make many more mistakes (like using the windscreen wipers to indicate), doing so repeatedly, and the experience of driving actually becomes fatiguing. That is, until we have repeated those same actions often enough for new habits to form and replace the old ones.

Playing the piano is exactly the same. Faced with new music to learn, I have to consciously read through the music, I have to find my hand positions, and there is only so long I can practise before my back and shoulders become tense and sore. All this dictates that I can only play slowly, and for short periods of time. In contrast, if you give me a piece of music I know well, I am no longer reading the music with the same intensity, nor thinking so hard about where my hands should be. I’m almost watching it happen in front of me, and I can play all day (I have done twelve hours before, although that’s pushing it these days!).

The same applies to so many areas of life. You can tell me how to do anything, but nothing replaces actual practise. This is why we do evacuation and lock-down drills. With a bush fire within 7 km of our home in the last few days, I’m glad of all that training and practice provided by my local Community Fire Unit. Developing the perseverance and stamina to practise something until it becomes second nature – habit – is an important part of every education.

Extreme Piano

Wouldn’t it be great to supercharge your practice? Imagine cutting down your time spent practising, or going further in the same amount of time! Who wouldn’t want to do that?

Last year, I mentioned a book entitled, Bounce: The myth of talent and the power of practice, by Matthew Syed. It would be fair to say that it exceeded my expectations. Not only does it highlight the power of practice, it also provides some useful reflections on how to make practice really effective.

The example that really stands out for me is Brazil’s domination of world soccer during the 1970s and 80s. The reason was the popularity of the game of Futsal. It’s a fast game played on a small pitch: in short, it makes soccer more difficult. As a result, when players emerge onto a full sized field, they feel like they have all the time and space in the world.

Imagine practising shots in basketball. It’s all very well standing right under the ring and putting balls through the hoop, but if you really want to improve, you will gradually move further and further away. It’s the players who can shoot a goal from half way across the arena that we really admire.

It turns out there are two key characteristics to this method of practice. Firstly, the focus upon specific skills. But what I learned from Bounce is that practice which demands attention is the best practice. Repetition is the bread-and-butter of practice technique, but when we become distracted and the mind wanders, practice looses its efficacy.

So, here are some of the techniques I regularly recommend to students.

Playing “blind” is a personal favourite. For the beginner, its covering the hands while reading the music: having someone hold a book over the hands forces the student to look at the music. For more advanced students, scales, arpeggios, and passages of music known from memory can be played with eyes closed. This focusses the attention on how it feels to play.

Sight reading practice. One of the little experiments we embarked upon last year was playing new and unfamiliar music each day. Within just a few weeks, some students saw greater confidence and ability. I don’t think its even possible for the mind to wander when you’re playing through new music for the first time.

One book I came across a few years ago recommended reading music printed in smaller fonts. Most tutor books begin with large printing, just like most books that teach reading. This one author held the contrary opinion: learning to read music printed using small fonts makes ordinary music seem easier to read. He used a basketball analogy: practise shooting a small hoop makes the standard hoop a breeze.

Playing to a metronome. This one seemed counterintuitive to me but its really quite tricky to do at first. A metronome imposes a regular, mechanical beat, when us humans really only imagine we keep a steady beat. Even experienced, professional players have a somewhat more fluid perception of passing time, so playing to a metronome forces the issue. Its also a really useful tool for learning to play fast, and for memorising long pieces of music. And these days there are metronome apps available for smart phones and iPods.

Exaggerating contrasts is another useful trick. Our tendency is always to imagine loud and soft playing in our heads much more than we actually doing it. So, it’s useful to spend time really working at it. You’ll soon discover that playing loud is easy, it is soft that is really hard to do.

And here are some others: Try playing two different scales at the same time. Do you have a lot of quick notes to play evenly? Practise them in rhythms of long and short notes: long-short-long-short…, then reverse it, then long-short-short, and then reverse that. You can also spend time paying attention to particular parts of the music, for example, playing with a singing melodic line, listening to the quality of the sound you are producing as you go, or making a particular part of the texture audible above everything else: the bass line or an inner voice.

Talent or Determination?

I received my Sydney Alumni Magazine in the post this week. It’s been sitting on my dining room table for a few days waiting to be opened. Once I got around to it, I was interested to read about Australian saxophonist, Jorja Chalmers, who is currently (permanently?) on tour with Bryan Ferry (of the ’80s rock band, Roxy Music).

Jorja taught herself piano at age 13, and picked up the Saxophone after that. She auditioned for the Sydney Conservatorium of Music (a mere 4 or 5 years later), and was accepted to study there, despite being somewhat intimidated by the greater experience of most of the other students. She describes herself as an “awful” student, yet her saxophone teacher remembers her differently: “Jorja had this incredible drive. She wanted to do well, and I’m not at all surprised that she has.”

You can read the full article at: https://sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2017/10/04/living-the-dream.html

It is determination that brings success.  Raw “talent” isn’t enough. Irrespective of how good you might be at something, if you don’t want to do it, you just won’t do it. Wanting to succeed is not enough either: doing something about it, and in a consistent manner, does.

Starting lessons early is not an indication of success either. Only a few months ago, I had a conversation with one parent enquiring about piano lessons, who had heard from her friends that if her child didn’t start piano lessons by the age of 4 they would “miss the boat”. Yes, there are some pridigious young stars in the making, but my experience is generally quite the opposite. As a general rule, Kindy students struggle to adapt to their new environment of full-time schooling, often the child’s own interest is lacking, the determined parent must substitute discipline, and they typically drop lessons within a year or two.

It is a student’s own interest and inherent determination which is the greatest indicator of success, in any field, and they usually develop this well after the age of 5 or 6. Jorja Chalmers illustrates that, but she is by no means alone. My band teacher at high school began playing the trumpet at age 16, and quickly went on to a career playing at highest levels of the British brass band tradition. These people teach us that “talent” is born from determination, not the other way around. So, I tend to start most students in Year 1 or later: indeed, those starting as late as Year 5 often catch up to and exceed their peers before the end of Year 6. And if we learn anything from Jorja Chalmers, it is that this trend probably continues well into teenage at least.

Let me add one last word, about discipline. Determination itself must be learned. As I mentioned, Kindy kids don’t usually have it. It takes discipline – disciplining our children but also ourselves. Our children force us to face our own lack of determination. Will I give in to this tantrum, is or there something bigger at stake? I know parents who have consciously chosen piano lessons for the discipline it teaches, and then back it up at home with a structured routine of practice. Then, when the child shows an interest in something (anything!), they have the tools and techniques which will help them succeed. That’s when discipline becomes self-discipline.

Discipline isn’t the bad guy, quite the opposite. Just don’t assume that your child has “missed out” if they didn’t start learning piano (or anything else) early.

How I see myself.

“I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent; curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self-criticism, have brought me to my ideas.” 

― Albert Einstein

 

Just the other day, I was chatting with my son in Melbourne. Alex had taken part in a performance alongside a number of other artists, and he was relating the experience to us. Foremost in his mind, he walked away with the impression that the other participants in the show were of a significantly higher standard than he was. A number of them had professional experience on stage and he felt somewhat intimidated by their obvious abilities. The impression was so strong that he would have withdrawn from the performance had he realised this beforehand. Nevertheless, the audience’s reaction to his work and performance was favourable and warm, and in the final analysis he was glad to have taken part.

I guess that Alex’s reaction is probably pretty typical of most of us, when comparing ourselves with people of talent. But, bear in mind that we’re talking about someone who wrote and performed a musical in Year 12, which kept an audience entertained and engaged for its full duration of 3 hours. He’s spent the last few years rewriting and re-recording much of that show with the intent of a professional production in the near future. So, he’s no slouch.

I said two things to Alex in response, and related two stories of my own.

Firstly, an audience’s perception of a performance is always going to be quite different from the performer’s. A performer always notices every error, but the audience is often unaware, so long as you don’t let on. Sure, some things stick out, but a lot of the details often slip under the radar. A few years ago I recorded some of the music I regularly play for ballet examinations, to allow some of the dancers at a particular school to practise to my playing. A year or so later, having forgotten all about this, a teacher pulled out a copy of the CD, and I listened to it, thinking, “Gee, that sounds pretty good.” only to discover it was me! As I said, the perspective of the performer and the audience is completely different, even when they’re the same person.

My second story was from my childhood. Growing up in the UK, from the age of 5 to 17, I attended a number of church summer camps. The piano at camp got a pretty solid workout during those weeks – mostly “chopsticks”, but some of us actually knew how to play and so we frequently pulled out pieces we had learned during the course of the year. One of my friends played the piano rather well and I was in awe of her, and a little bit intimidated: her ability and her confidence outshone my own in every respect. We have stayed in touch over the years, often infrequently, but the advent of Facebook has allowed us to “talk” more often than was previously possible. Recently, we were talking about those camps and the subject of playing the piano came up. Well, blow me down, if she didn’t think exactly the same thing about me!

We often compare ourselves with others in one way or another. But it turns out the conclusions we arrive at are usually inaccurate. I could tell you to stop doing it, but chances are you would find that as difficult as I do, and there’s no use giving you yet another excuse to beat yourself up. But understand that what you think you see or hear is very likely to be untrue.

Besides that, self-critique is one of the reasons you become talented in the first place – listening to your own performances with a critical ear and desiring to make them even better is actually your greatest asset. Just so long as it doesn’t stop you performing in the first place.

“We are all failures- at least the best of us are.” 

― J.M. Barrie

Extraordinary

With a growing number of students taking part in piano exams each year, I originally thought to address the question, What does it take to get an ‘A’ or ‘A+’ on a piano exam? But as I write, I realise that much of this has application to any performance, and therefore any student. So, don’t put it down just yet.

There are a number of ways I might answer my own question. The most obvious way is to look at the criteria set out in the syllabus. I could, quite reasonably, just copy and paste half a page of text: tick all the right boxes and that ‘A’ will be served on a platter. However, trawl through words like, ‘hand shape’, ‘accurate performance’, ‘fluency’, ‘coordination’, ‘control’, ‘dynamic levels’, ‘expressive realisation’ … and you’d be asleep in no time.

I could break it down into layman’s terms: expect a ‘C’ if you can show that you know the scales pieces with a reasonable degree of fluency; play everything technically correct, expect a ‘B’; make it a ‘performance’, hope for an ‘A’.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s value in all of that. I can go through every criteria and demonstrate its importance to your playing. But really, it’s the wrong question.

Turn the problem around for a moment: think from the perspective of your audience. Imagine you are an examiner. For weeks at a time, you are away from home, shut in a variety of rooms, listening to an endless stream of children (mostly), playing pieces from a really very limited set of books. You can see how reading the syllabus quickly becomes a blessed relief!

Now, insert little Johnny or Jemma, who’s hoping for that ‘A’ this year. While it would be very easy to blend in with thousands of other hopefuls, the question is, how can I stand out? And that is true, not just of exam students, but of any student in any performance setting. How can I make any performance extraordinary?

So, I guess most people will be able to predict what I’m going to say, I do it often enough: practice. But this is less about the “What”, and more about the “How” and the “Why”. Just going through the motions won’t cut it, it’s about what you’re trying to achieve.

Your first goal will be familiarity with your music. Most people naturally stop here, as though “knowing” a piece is enough. It isn’t. In reality it is just the stable base upon which to build a creative performance.

Once you’ve learned the notes, look for the details: speed, volume, articulation, style, and the like. Yes, it’s about technically correct playing, but its also about making a connection with the music yourself and communicating that to your audience.

Then, step back from the piece and ask yourself why anyone would want to listen to your performance? Give them a reason. What kind of reasons? How about excitement, laughter, joy, peace, beauty, … What do you feel when you play? Can you communicate that to your audience? My favourite, though, is … surprise. Imagine that examiner again, who’s heard the same piece played the same way a myriad times, no doubt. Imagine giving her a “wake up call”, something to pique her interest, make her sit up and pay attention!

Another thing you will agree is vitally important is first impressions. In any music exam, that is supplied by … scales! Yes, they can be boring, and some candidates do have VERY long lists of them. But aside from helping you to play your pieces better, a sure knowledge of your scales is music to every examiners’ ears. On hearing a student struggle through their scales, an examiner is already deciding that a ‘C’ grade may be the likely outcome. But if that same student presents their scales well – without hesitation, at the correct tempo, fluently and evenly – they’re more inclined to lean towards a higher grade.

Let’s talk about making mistakes. A mistake need not be the end of the world, so long as it doesn’t become the end of the piece. Move through it rather than going back to correct it. An exam, like any performance, is not about showing that you can play something correctly. It is about performing. If you are listening to a concert, you don’t want to be subject to a constant stop-start-stop-start, as the performers go back and correct errors. To me it feels something like sitting on a train carriage which is constantly being jolted instead of moving smoothly forward. A simple error, quickly passed over, is easily forgiven and forgotten – don’t etch it in my memory by going back over it! To that end, I often recommend students practise playing through a piece no matter what happens: it’s not practising making mistakes, its learning to perform despite them.

Finally, let me say that some people are born performers! I teach one or two of them, and I am jealous in the extreme. However, for the other 95% of us, performance can be learned. Never forget that a performance is merely the end of a long process which begins with you alone with an instrument and a few pages of sheet music. It’s what you do during the intervening period that makes the difference between an ordinary performance and an extraordinary one.

Best Practice

practice

A few parents have asked me about practice in recent weeks, so I thought it would be useful to share a few thoughts.

Let’s begin with some GENERAL PRINCIPLES.

REPETITION is the bread and butter of practice. REPETITION is the bread and butter of practice. REPETITION is … Get the idea?!

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” (Bruce Lee)

Students will always tend to think that playing something through once constitutes practice. It doesn’t. But how many times should you repeat something? There’s no magic number here. It’s the goal that’s important: being able to play a piece through without mistakes, doing so with ease, such that it can be reproduced, “on demand.”

“Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong.” (Lang Lang)

The trick is, don’t think about a piece of music as a single entity which must be repeated in its entirety. Break it down into smaller parts. Ignore whatever comes easy, and work on the tricky bits. Repeating those – it might be a couple of bars, or as little as two chords – rather than the whole piece, is much more efficient and effective. You can repeat those two bars many times more than you can play the whole piece. One piece of music may have a number of these tricky sections, in which case time should be dedicated to each difficulty.

If you see boxes on your child’s music, that’s where attention should be focussed. I’ve often told students, “Drive your family crazy!” When you want to scream, “Play something else, can’t you!”, you know they’re practising right! Remember, the aim is to be able to play with ease.

“There is no such thing as a difficult piece, … a piece is impossible or it is easy. The process by which it migrates from one category to another is called practising.” (Ray Thornley)

I do recommend PARENTAL SUPERVISION in early stages. It’s helpful if you can sit with your child, or be close by where you can listen, and comment as appropriate. Surprisingly, this doesn’t actually require prior musical knowledge (have a look at my website for some tips here: go to https://davidmoffatblog.wordpress.com/ and look for the the “Learning Music” menu).

There might be any number of activities which are recommended for practice time, depending upon your child’s level of experience. They might include: clapping through rhythms from the music, counting aloud while playing, reading note names before playing a piece, finding hand positions and practising hand moves, theory activities. Look at your lesson communication book for recommendations here, and feel free to ask me any questions you may have.

Finally, A PRACTICE ROUTINE might look something like this:

1. SCALES and EXERCISES, if any have been set.

2. WORK ON PIECE[s]. Find what’s not right, and what’s difficult, focussing practice on these. Finish by playing through the whole piece (you probably won’t perfect it in a single day).

3. MEMORY. Play through something you can already play, to remember it. Something for a performance

4. FUN. Play something you enjoy, to finish.

I’ve got more to write on practice in the coming weeks.

War On Sight Reading (and shelf space)

Hello everyone,

I have been fortunate to have received donations of music from a number of sources. However, I have never had enough shelf space to house it all. So, it simply ended up in a pile in my office to deal with at a later date. That later date was today. I spent part of my morning beginning to sort through some of those piles in my office, and contemplating whether to simply throw it out, or build bigger shelves.

Then, I had an idea. Why not put some of it to work?

Here’s where you come in.

Many students struggle with sight reading, and as with most things, the simplest way to overcome that is practice. So, in the course of the next week or so, I am going to distribute some of the music I would otherwise throw out to students to practice their sight reading.

First of all, you may note the condition of the book you have just received. Some of them are falling apart, others look almost brand new. Be assured that IN EVERY CASE, these books are surplus to my needs. I simply have too many of them, and I am unlikely to use them myself, so it does not matter what condition they are returned to me, if they are returned at all.

Secondly, what should you do with them? I would like you (or your child) to spend NO MORE than 5 minutes during each practice session simply reading through some of this music.

You might look at:

  • a few bars,
  • a single line,
  • a page, or
  • a whole piece.

You can try:

  • the right hand,
  • the left hand, or
  • both hands (when you feel confident).
  • You can even just sit and name the notes.

The only important thing is that you spend a few minutes a day trying to read and/or play something that is entirely unfamiliar. So, each day, look at a different page or a different part of the same page. Open the book up at random and see what it contains.

Some of the music will look REALLY DIFFICULT. That doesn’t matter. Do whatever you feel comfortable doing. Then, as you become more confident, maybe try something that’s a little bit more challenging.

If you do happen to return the book to me when you’ve finished with it, I will pass it on to another student, and give you a different one. If you happen to loose it or destroy it, let me know and I’ll give you another one to try out too. Like I said, these books are surplus to my needs, so don’t stress about them.

Treat this like an experiment – Let’s see how your sight reading improves over the course of the next year.

The myth of talent and the power of practice

Several weeks ago now, I hear a speaker talking about a book entitled, Bounce: The myth of talent and the power of practice, by Matthew Syed. You can imagine, my ears pricked up and I determined to buy my own copy.

It came in the post today, so I’ll enjoy reading it and maybe tell you how it goes in another article in the future. “What good is that? You could have waited until you’d read it!” Well, I can tell you what I already know about it, and share a little from my own experience.

It’s written with sport as its focus: Syed is a writer and an international table-tennis champion. But it does mention music, and the speaker I heard referred specifically to Mozart: Syed’s suggests that Mozart wasn’t necessarily a “genius”, just a kid with a father who was a particularly gifted teacher, and who did a LOT of practice. We’re talking a thousand hours per year (that equates to two and three quarter hours a day). Given that he started at four years of age, it stands to reason that he was a pretty competent performer and composer by the time he was ten or twelve.

I’m sure I’ve told this story before, but I’ll tell it again, it’s a good one. My wife, Pam, worked in a Podiatry Clinic some years ago. One of the Podiatrists was a top triathlete, one of the best in the world. She often insisted that she got to those levels of competition purely through persistence and many hours dedicated to her training. She also said that she saw many, many athletes supposedly more “talented” than she was, who gave up along the way just because they did not sustain the effort required. It seems that any of us could become a top athlete if we put our mind to it. Or a musician.

So, here we are, at the start of the year, and I wonder what you want to achieve? Perhaps, like those elite athletes, having a goal might not be such a bad thing. It might be an exam, or working towards a piece of music you’ve always wanted to play, improving a particular aspect of your technique (a few years ago, one of my students decided he wanted to be able to play fast), or learning how to improvise or compose. My goal for this year is a couple of ballet syllabuses worth of piano music (I’m sure I’ve told you that before too!). I tend to need a specific – and useful – reason to do anything: I ride to work for exercise because I could never see the point of breaking into a sweat “just for the fun of it”, and my piano practice is the same.

Once the goal is set, then there’s the time and effort required to achieve it. Many students will have had a break over the summer. That’s OK, I have too. Now it’s time to get down to work. Every day, set some time aside. It can be as simple as making that decision. You’ll be surprised what you can achieve with even just a regular ten minutes.

When you do sit down to practice, don’t waste your time doing any old thing. Focus on something you know you need to work on. Make each practice session a step towards your goal. It’s OK to have some fun too: maybe play through an old favourite, or just spend some time fiddling around or trying to pick out a pop song you know. That CAN be good, a kind of a reward for having done some hard work. But don’t fool yourself, it’s not going to help you achieve anything worthwhile. It’ll just make you really good at fiddling around.

Have a great year everyone. I hope you achieve something to be proud of!

I can’t play that. Yet.

dscf0235We’ve all had the experience. The realisation that you cannot do something that has been asked of you, or that you expect of yourself. You may not play the piano, but the experience is a universal one. Any new challenge might be accompanied by these feelings. You don’t need to be a child either, it’s just that children’s lives are primarily concerned with learning.

Something else that’s almost universal about it: we do not like it at all. We each greet these unwelcome challenges in different ways. It is often accompanied with feelings of disappointment, frustration or failure, sometimes tears. I used to get very angry, I’d cry at times, perhaps bang the piano keys (I broke my piano once, but that’s a story for another time).

But there’s another side to this, buried unrecognised in the throes of my latest tantrum. To say “I can’t do this” is actually a statement of reality. Here is a thing you know you cannot do. It is important to know where you begin. The next important step is understanding that today’s inability says nothing about tomorrow: “I can’t do this … Yet.”

Several years ago, I read the following, although I can’t remember who wrote it: “There is no such thing as a difficult piece [of music]. It is either impossible or it is easy. The means by which it moves from one category to the next is practice.”

How will I conquer this new challenge?

There are all the usual techniques: separate hands practice, slow practice, memorising the passage, playing with eyes closed. These are good places to begin.

Take one step at a time. Some pieces might have a number of difficult passages. Choose one and focus your attention and efforts on that.

Identify the problem: what makes it so difficult? Be specific as possible. It might be a run of quick notes, a single chord change, an unusual rhythm pattern, coordinating the hands, a series of leaps. You will approach each in subtly different ways, and understanding the nature of the challenge will help you decide upon the best course of action.

Once that’s done, put it in context. As a young pianist, I’d focus on a particular issue and conquer it, only to have the bars either side of it fall apart instead. From this, I learned that I needed to slightly expand my practice – maybe one bar either side – so that I could move smoothly from the music I knew well, to the challenge itself and out the other side again. Typically that doesn’t take so long, but its an important part of the process.

Ask for help. Teachers exist to help their students do what was previously impossible for them, and to help them do it well. It’s what I’m here for.

So much for the techniques of practice, how about the emotional side? How can you keep from getting discouraged?

Walk away, or look at something else, then come back to it tomorrow. Understand that you’re not going to conquer anything in one sitting or on one day. It’s not because your stupid, it’s just the way the human mind works. Frequent repetition consolidates learning and new skills.

Remember past victories. You’ve been here before: true, not this exact problem, but you’ve met others and you’ve won! You can do it again. That can be difficult for a child to do, so it can be Mum & Dad’s job. Keep a note of your child’s accomplishments, especially the ones he really had to work for, and remind him of those times. Write them down if you need to.

Be ready to surprise yourself. I’ve played for ballet exams since 2003. This has involved learning a lot of music. I mean A LOT! In the first year I learned six grades worth of music in only a few months. About eight years ago the Royal Academy of Dance began issuing new syllabuses: more music to learn! Occasionally, I’ve been asked to play a new grade I haven’t seen before with only four to six weeks notice. Usually I look at the new work, and sigh with the enormity of it – “I’ll never do it!” But then I remember that I’ve done it before, and no doubt I will surprise myself again. No, I’m not unusually gifted, there are many pianists more skilled than me. I love playing the piano, and these challenges give me a reason to practise, that’s all. It’s simply a matter of committing the time required to gain the victories.

“You need to aim beyond what you are capable of. You must develop a complete disregard for where your abilities end. Try to do things that you’re incapable of… If you think you’re incapable of running a company, make that your aim… Make your vision of where you want to be a reality. Nothing is impossible.” (Paul Arden)