So you’ve just started your music lesson with zeal. You’re all fresh to all those Do Re Mi stuffs, everything is new, exciting, thrilling to be unfolded. You happily set about learning notes, figuring out bowings and fingerings, and working at things until it sounded better. Your progress seemed quick and unstoppable!
Three months later, you find yourself in the middle of nowhere playing the same old piece with no improvement. But even far from it, your playing is getting worse. Could it possibly be that all your efforts were washed away from time to time?
Learning curve and the plateau effect
According to Wikipedia, The plateau effect is a state that is experienced when the human body fails to respond to exercise that has proven effective in the past, similar to the concept of diminishing returns. A person enters into a period where there is no improvement or decrease in performance.
As you can’t manage what you can measure, I recommend a scrutiny on What is responsible for that plateau.
We’re not in the same state of mind every time we practice. The mood, the physical ability may significantly affect your performance.
If you’re a hobbyist in music, I can imagine you coming back home after an exhausting day at work, energy drained out, struggling to practice a few notes, even just for 10 minutes.
2. Your instructor
Do you feel overwhelmed by the lesson you are given? If your hands are too short, and you’re simply can’t reach that octave on the piano, is your current teacher still continually pushing you to that level.
3. Your tasks
If you’re still motivated and still practice effectively (based on your instructor’s weekly supervision), why are you still stuck with no further improvement?
Probably that’s the moment you push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Congratulations! This is where growth occurs!
Hitting that plateau means you have outgrown the current level of your learning stage. That also means you have to start acquiring new skills, adopt new mindset, and even bear with controversial learning styles.
I’ve seen this happen to sight-reading performer who gets stuck on playing by ear. They acknowledge their problem, but it’s almost impossible for them to get help from their formal teachers, since the teacher taught exactly the way they have been taught (running around in circle!). Does it feel like a downgrade if a formally trained pianist looks up to his non-academic pianist for advice on how to play by ear? Can he stand admitting that he didn’t manage to play as effortlessly as his fellow non-formally trained artist? Not an easy pill to swallow I suppose.
With these suggestions, you can realize where your problems come from. When it’s clearly defined, you can choose to either put yourself in the right time frame of practice to eliminate mental and physical fatigue, or discuss further with your instructor to review your actual capability, or let go of your ego to ask for counsel from your non-officially trained colleagues to cure the habits that have been holding you back.
Pay closer attention on the marginal gain you obtain during your practice session. Adjust your habits. That doesn’t necessarily mean unlearn stuffs you have been long familiar with, but be mindful in selecting the right materials, watch out for the error you’re constantly making.
What you thought was a 10, now scaled down to only 7, and that was fine. Jim Collins, in his book Great by Choice, has explained the plateau by The 20-mile march which refers to a tangible point of focus that keeps you and your team moving forward, uncertainty and even chaos. This book will give you an idea on how to grow out of your discomfort and deliver consistent results. (Grasp a summary of Great by Choice here)
I wish you accountability to concrete, clear, intelligent, and rigorously pursued performance mechanisms on your quest to mastery.
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