The basics: more simple and valuable than you think
When I teach and coach basics, someone in the audience always wants to know about some advanced application of the material. I understand why they ask. When you’re learning the footwork to dance salsa, you really want to do the fancy spin moves, so you ask about that. The great dancers concentrate on their footwork, though.
The masters seem always to suggest sticking with the basics. I find that the more advanced someone’s skills, the more they stick with the basics.
A movie came out recently about a piano teacher, Seymour Bernstein, who I heard was a great master but stopped performing to teach piano. I think he teaches at NYU so maybe I’ll meet him. I’ve heard people say he’s an incredible teacher.
What does the incredible teacher teach? How to play the most advanced pieces? How to skip to the advanced material faster?
I found these four videos. He teaches incredibly basic material, barely even talking about actually playing music. He talks about the instrument, the bench, how to move your arms, and stuff I think many people would consider worth skipping to get to the stuff they want to learn.
I recommend watching them. When you see how basic his material, you can translate it to the basics in your field.
When I took voice and movement classes when I studied acting, we didn’t speak in the first several weeks of voice class and we spent the same time lying on the ground in movement class. We worked on breathing and awareness in both. When we finally got off the ground and using our vocal chords we progressed faster than I would have expected.
Whatever your field, if you don’t know the basics, you probably have a weak foundation. Learning them may feel painfully slow, but if the top teachers choose that pace, I suspect they have reasons. After all, they have to spend the same time on those basics. It’s probably not painful for them. They see something in practicing the basics that you don’t. Isn’t that motivation enough—to learn what you’re missing?
I think doing the exercises, slow as they feel, is their way of sharing what you’re missing and they know.
By the way, he teaches piano as a way of improving your life—more than just making music. I think if piano can contribute to so much of life, then many other things can too, especially if you stick with the basics there too.
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