Exploring the Learning ProcessArticle by Adam Hay // August 02 2010
The right attitude is everything. If you can’t do something yet, you have to accept that straight away. You have to be okay with that. Take emotion right out of the equation. Don’t learn with emotion-it won’t help you to learn anything quickly.
With drumming, the quickest way to learn something is to actually slow things down. Never try to learn something at the tempo you ultimately want to be able to play it at. The slower you go, the faster you learn it.
First comes the math—understanding the problem—then comes the coordination and physical execution of the musical figure, then comes the feel and the musical application of what you’ve learned. The goal, always, is for you to learn the thing in your head (to get the arithmetic all sorted out) before trying to physically ascertain or acquire any physical feel for the lick.
Feel is always the goal. A robot has no feel. Feel is physical knowledge. Muscle memory is where you want to ‘know’ whatever you’re trying to learn. That’s what takes time, patience, and focus. The figure has to play itself.
Don’t forget: playing something badly is never that much of a challenge. Playing something well is always a challenge; it’s always a matter of focus.
Relax. Breathe. Take on the challenge. If there’s a voice speaking in your head, you’re not present enough. Be present. Calm down. Be a beginner, even if you’ve been playing for thirty years. To be an efficient learner, you have to be able to identify what slows down and inhibits the learning process. Your own mind is usually the biggest culprit.
You should not be thinking about a single thing when you’re learning. You should be focused on the task at hand. Focusing and being present aren’t synonymous with thinking. Don’t think. Concentrate.
Let yourself make mistakes. Mistakes are the sound of you learning something. The bigger your ego, the harder a mistake is to handle. If you think your ego is you, gargantuan amounts of joy will be absent from your drumming. Your ego is not you. Your mind is not you. When you play drums and you feel joy, when you are present, when you’re not competing, when you’re not thinking, when you are at peace as you play: that is you.
This is the reason I play drums. It is meditative, it brings me into the now. Into the eternal moment, whereby keeping time I am here, I am present. There is no mind in the moment, but I’m hyper-aware-awake, listening, acutely observant of every little happening, every sensation.
This is the essence of listening. To focus is to concentrate; to be aware is to observe. When your mind thinks, it sets off a firecracker racket in your head that makes it impossible to focus. Your mind is always in the past and in the future, and never in the now. Observe it and you’ll see.
What happens when you make a mistake as a student? Why are you so hard on yourself? What are you expecting of yourself? No one is in the study room with you, why do you pretend anyone else but you can hear your mistakes? It’s all in your head.
Take it easy. Relax. It’s just you. Make yourself adjustable to the problem. If the lick is five beats over four and you’re trying to learn how that all fits together, the lick does not judge you or your abilities. The lick just is. You must make yourself be like the lick.
Just be! The lick doesn’t search for other licks and compare its own musical soundness and coolness and inventiveness to other licks. The lick doesn’t have a problem with its identity. The lick doesn’t troll YouTube and comment on the pages of other licks and get into arguments with other licks. The lick doesn’t compete, it just plain exists.
Be like the lick. Be a scale in C# minor. Be an elm tree with its arms stretched wide. A student who hears their own mind when they learn, a student who doesn’t just use their mind for solely understanding the counting and structural rules of the problem is a student that is seriously impeded.
To be a mature student is to observe. The fact that something is difficult to learn or play won’t be a problem anymore. You’ll have learned that your emotions aren’t you either. When you can watch your emotions and your mind, you’ve got it. Learning will be so much easier, whatever level of difficulty the lick may be.
Struggling with coordination is a cerebral issue, not a mental one. Coordination has nothing to do with the mind. If your confidence is wrapped up in your mind, the difficulty of the problem will be magnified exponentially. Confidence has nothing to do with the mind!
Confidence is physical. There’s way more intelligence in how your body develops muscle memory, for example, than in what your mind knows. There’s far more intelligence in what your blood knows about you just in swirling around your body at sixty cycles per minute than in what your grey matter knows, just sitting there in your head like a crusty ol’ bastard.
Be your blood. Achieve the moment and be proud. Your mind, with its incessant chatter and commentaries—with its constant judging and comparisons, with its dependence on the past and future (time) in order to exist and to keep you and your happiness smothered—is not you. To know a tree, you don’t have to think about it. Just observe it. Look at it, touch it. Study it. Listen to it creak, watch it sway. Watch it be.
To understand a bunch of notes on a page, you don’t have to think about them. Observe how they’re put together. Just look at them. Listen to them. Study them without desire and without judgment. If you play the notes through your mind, it will show. When the notes have entered your body, then you’ll be able to use them musically. In order to acquire a physical ease (or is that physicalese?) with the material, the mind must be by-passed.
Let yourself make mistakes. Let yourself be a beginner. There’s an infinite amount of joy there.
About the Author
Adam Hay is a highly sought-after educator and freeelance drummer based out of Toronto, Canada. Visit Adam online at www.adamhay.net.
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