Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Discipline – It’s not a Dirty Word!

 As musicians we live with, struggle with, and reap the benefits from our discipline. During these final weeks of winter I find myself weary of the incessantly cloudy, frigid, blustery, monotonous, weather. And I consequently find my interest in any form of discipline waning. A closer look at discipline has provided a lift to propel me through until Spring arrives – as I hope it will do for you.

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (2016, Oxford University Press) provides four definitions of discipline. Let’s take a look at how they relate directly to the study of music.

          1.      the practice of training people to obey rules and orders and punishing them if they do not; 
                 the controlled behavior or situation that results from this training 

Most often musicians begin music study with a teacher at a young age. The teacher assigns rules or expectations for the amount of practice to be achieved each week with parental support to back up the expectations at home.  It the expectations are not met, punishment ensues: loss of privileges, fear of disappointing or a scolding from the teacher, a poor performance at lesson or in recital. All of these external methods do have the capability of changing behavior…for a while.  Much research has been conducted to support this premise. 

Although the results of this form of discipline are not long-lasting, it may be the best initial means to achieve the end until other forms of discipline can kick in and take over.  I encourage parents to implement negative consequences to impart on the student the need to follow the “rules of the roost” until they can see the inherent positive rewards for their work. And as a trained pedagogue, I provide much guidance and many positive aides to encourage accomplishing goals, which leads us to the next definition.

     2.      a method of training your mind or body or of controlling your behavior; an area of activity                where this is necessary

It is necessary for the student to seek a teacher to learn how to train the mind and body to be able to attain and improve skill.  Moreover, it is imperative to seek out a master-teacher who is proficient at the instrument and has pedagogical skill to be able to impart their knowledge to another.  It is here that internal discipline begins – a discipline that feeds on itself and creates the inner-drive to want to learn more. Once we have accomplished something well, the desire to learn more and work harder is self-perpetuating. This is when the external “because I said so” is no longer necessary because a love and affinity to the art has developed at a proficient level.

     3.      the ability to control your behavior or the way you live, work, etc. [oftentimes referred to                as self-discipline]

And here we are in winter; aware of the negative consequences of not practicing (being grounded, having a bad performance), aware of the positive consequences of practicing (becoming a better musician, having a great performance), but we just don’t wanna!  This is when we avoid “I’ll just play through things for today” because this is not practicing to improve. This is when we are disciplined and look at small, miniscule goals and improvements to carry us through the dark moments. When we choose one thing in our practice today that will carry us through to tomorrow. When we know that cleaning up that pesky four-measure spot or truly nailing down the dynamic plan today will pay handsomely tomorrow, next week, or at the next performance! When we do this, we have mastered the ability to control our behavior in music study – we are disciplined!

     4.      (formal) an area of knowledge; a subject that people study or are taught, especially in a                 university

When we have spent enough time dealing with and tackling definitions one through three, we can honestly say that we embrace the discipline of music study.

I invite you to take time during these final weeks of winter to examine your discipline.  What is motivating you today?  What are the positive elements that you can feed to drive you in your art; that will carry you through those “I just don’t wanna” stages? If we take the time to examine, understand, and adjust our perspective as it relates to discipline, growth opportunities to improve as musicians and in all areas of our life will appear. Find something you love.  Seek out a teacher to help you improve. Feed on and let your successes propel you to the next level. Be positively disciplined as you study your discipline.

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