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By: Konner Scott

Red and black electric guitar positioned in front of a black drum set

One of the most fascinating things I encounter as a music teacher is students who are looking for the “shortcuts” or “secrets” that will get them to the top. For students that come in with this mindset, communicating the necessity and effectiveness of consistent practice and hard work can be difficult. Often times, these students will quickly become frustrated at their lack of progress and leave lessons after a few months.

With these students, I will often encourage them to examine their own field of specialty (whether it be their career, sport, hobby, etc- as long as they’re quite proficient). Most people who come through the door at our studio have a field at which they excel. I implore them to compare the time, work, and consistency necessary to rise to the top in their domain to what they’re demanding out of their musical experience. Occasionally, this message will resonate, but the pervasiveness of this specific type of cognitive dissonance is shocking.

With that being said, I am a huge proponent of secrets and shortcuts. Surprisingly, I take issue with the “hard work gurus” that claim there are NO secrets, NO shortcuts, and the only pathway to success is one of painfully grinding it out until one day you wake up on the top of the mountain.

I believe the answer lies somewhere in between. I tell my students that I’m a fan of anything that helps them get from point A to point B more quickly, or helps them “look better than they really are”.

The example I use is this: say a student buys into the concept that nothing but a mindless grind is required to reach their goals. This student learns the 12 major scales, then practices those scales three hours a day for a few years. Finally, they decide they must now be a qualified performer, and they grab a Chopin etude off the shelf and open it up. Does this student have the skills & experience necessary to successfully learn the etude?

I try to frame it this way: begin with the perspective of hard work, consistency, and diligence, and then keep two eyes wide open for tips, tricks, and techniques, that will alleviate the pressure along the way. Eventually, all of these “shortcuts” and “secrets” will compound into the makings of an effective performer. There is no single “fix-all” shortcut that will get you there, but there is certainly a smarter way of getting to the top… and there’s definitely a harder way.

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