I’ve been trying out spin classes this past year.
Spinning. You know – as in indoor cycling?
One of my harp students in responsible. She invited me, attended along with me, suggested what to wear and what to expect, and then introduced me to everyone at her gym. Grâce à Diane I’m hooked. For the first time in my life I have a gym (Torque Cycling in NE Mpls) where I feel comfortable and where I go on a semi-regular basis. This is rather remarkable because normally I prefer to get my exercise by gardening, walking, hiking, dancing, horseback riding, swimming or ice skating, rather than any of those nasty things like lifting weights, running or “going to the gym.”
Basically, I’ve discovered how effective it is to have someone else exhorting me to excellence: “You can go faster!” or “Only three more seconds!” or “This is good for you; it’s supposed to be difficult.” I’ve also discovered that some low key competition never hurts. (The competition is not created by the instructors, but noticing that everyone else in the room is working really hard definitely motivates me to push myself.)
One of the components that makes these spin classes so effective is the music. This connection between music and motion is nothing new. Workers have been singing together for as long as humans have existed to help synchronize their manual labor and motivate their bodies. (For more info, check out this article Waulking Songs.)
I’ve found that the music can effect a startling transformation in me.
I might be gasping for breath, heart pounding, legs aching, ready to ease off on my effort, and then a really great song will come on.
Suddenly I can close my eyes and push through the barrier that seemed so real a moment ago. I don’t really care what the song is about; it’s the mode, the mood, and the rhythm that motivates. I can speed up to 120 rpms no problem. Or I can add that extra gear and speed up.
But if I don’t particularly care for the song, often I can’t seem to add the extra 5 rpms my instructor is asking of me. I try. I WANT to do it. (All my personality tests betray the fact that I’m a rule-follower. I enjoy doing what I’m ‘supposed’ to do.) But if that music doesn’t connect to my soul, I can’t scrape together the ‘umph’ to get it done, no matter how emphatically I tell myself “You like this pain,” or “This is so good for you” or “Last week you did this and didn’t even feel sore afterwards.”
Nope. That music is important!
As a professional harpist and harp teacher, most of the lessons I learn in life eventually circle back to the harp. So I ask myself, “What effect could this human propensity to be motivated by music have on harpists’ practicing habits?”
The pessimistic answer is that playing a piece I really like makes stopping and correcting mistakes rather difficult. Effective practicing is all about noticing and fixing errors in a timely manner, but my love of the music and sense of rhythm and ‘grove’ pushes me to keep going and hope to fix my mistakes afterwards.
As harpists playing a piece we love, we’re tempted to skip over the hard work part of practicing for the sake of the phrase or the beautiful moment.”
How can we counteract this effect? Learning exclusively pieces that don’t make us want to continue is obviously not the solution. (Though scales and exercises fill that role quite nicely.) Self-discipline is a huge part of it. Remind yourself that if you practice properly you’ll reap the benefits in this piece, and in future pieces as well. Careful practice increases the speed at which you learn, and creates habits that will increase your ability to learn efficiently in the future.
Another technique is to put your emotions on hold while you practice. Locate your inner ruthlessness and use it to temporarily repress your artistic spirit. Don’t put your heart and soul into a piece until it can hold them. Yes, practice dynamics. Yes, think about the emotions or ideas that the music inspires in you. Breathe with the music. But don’t trust your whole self to fingers that don’t know the patterns yet. Those fingers are not trustworthy. Practice in a way that will make them trustworthy before expecting perfection from them. Don’t let your musical half walk all over your technical half. Cultivate them both!
As I’ve been writing all this I’ve realized that I have some work to do in my spin classes. Right now I don’t even have a technical side in cycling. Or if I do, it is infantile. It’s good to let the music motivate me. It’s better if I can learn how to push through those barriers even when I am listening to music that doesn’t connect with my soul.
I’ll keep you updated on my progress.
If you enjoyed this blog post, you might enjoy reading If At First (You Feel Like) You Don’t Succeed….
Stephanie Claussen is a professional harpist from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She performs on her harp throughout Minnesota in various concerts, recitals, and collaborations with other musicians. Sign up for her e-mail newsletter receive important announcements and notifications of upcoming performances.