Last Friday I had the pleasure of spending time again in a class with Anthony Plog, trumpet lecturer and scholar. A true thinker of the trumpet world, and of music and life practice generally.
He has his own very interesting blog at http://anthonyplog.com, so what I write here is an interpretation of his brief and condensed talk on being a student in the modern world.
He is absolutely right when he says as a student today it is easy to get disheartened with all the talk from older generations about how things are harder today than ever before, about how there are less opportunities than before… etc etc etc. It is reassuring then to learn that it was the same for him when he was a student. Becoming embroiled within all this negativity though does not lead to a successful career, but instead finding a way to counteract these problems will be the key to success: Social media and the Internet is not so much of a threat to our royalty cheques as the most incredible tool for research, connectivity and self promotion. Making the most of it will give the student of tomorrow the advantage over the student of yesterday. (And by student I interpret that he means anyone learning an instrument or discipline, not just those enrolled at college). The first keyword is: passion. Plog borrows a quote from Steve Jobs to illustrate this point:
“The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
With passion, you need a work ethic. Practicing something enough will lead you to discover the best way to do it, but only with constructive practice. Carefully considering your approach to everything you do will lead to gradual improvements, and eventually you will hit your goal. Setting targets and developing a work plan is one way to structure that, something I’ve discussed in previous writings: – See my practice planner template for more.
In essence, good practice can be defined as:
“simple things understood deeply”
This interview with Gary Player discusses the importance of Work Ethic:
With passion and work ethic, curiosity also drives forward our understanding of our subject. Be the one to ask a thought provoking question at the end of a lecture and put yourself amongst stronger minds in order to learn more. In other words:
“try to be the dumbest, not the smartest, person in the room”
By that, Plog means be the one with the greatest desire to learn and understand more, not the one to act the fool! Curiosity can improve greatness into further greatness. Surrounding yourself with others who share similar hunger and desire to improve makes that process ever more fruitful and rewarding.
Perseverance is also key. Setting realistic targets for yourself leads to short term reward and long term progress. Often this is referred to as ‘SMART goals’. Google that, it’s useful.
For this concept, Plog provided what is my favourite analogy from an unlikely source:
I say ‘unlikely source’, perhaps by my own ignorance that Will Smith would have been anything more than a great comedy actor or a likeable star of some decent Hollywood blockbusters. What it obviously took him to get there was a great amount of faith and perseverance. From this, he leads us to this lesson – make small steps towards your goal and take great care over each one of them.
Plog struck us with a snappy quote about how to refine this practice:
“care more and more about less and less”
As with the earlier quote, there is a slight irony to being able to take this as meaning the total opposite. Instead of instructing us to care less, this statement describes the process by which we can really refine technique by getting into the detail of something. For example, as brass players; perfecting our control of articulation by increasing our attention to detail with the process of tongue movement in relation to air.
These are just some of my key understandings about practice strategy from Anthony Plog’s talk, but I would thoroughly recommend a visit to his own blog site for more inspiring ideas and thoughts on wide range of topics.
Read more on his views of being a student today in this article: