Music Memorization For Pianists

Music Memorization For Pianists

Can we talk shocking revelations for a minute? Despite studying piano from the age of 7, I had never memorized a single piece of music until college. Not “Hot Cross Buns” or “Jolly Old St. Nick.” Not even Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique which I played at state solo and ensemble when I was in high school. No music memorization whatsoever for this gal.

In no way do I blame my beginning piano teacher for missing anything in my early musical education. I have always been very headstrong and I’m sure that I met attempts at encouraging music memorization with resistance. And I honestly did not take lessons seriously when I was younger. I loved to play and learn new music on the instrument! I never gave much thought to truly developing my skills or the incredible benefits that memorization brings to overall pianism. In fact, I had never considered a career in music until I entered college.

Check out this post to learn more about my musical journey.

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Sight Reading and Music Memorization

I am also a strong sight reader which often translates to less reliance on memorization. I could simply play the notes written on the page so there was no need to memorize. At the time, I saw no reason to go further in-depth into music memorization than that.

Flash forward to college and suddenly I was expected to memorize my pieces for periodic performances and evaluations every semester. When first confronted with this information, I had absolutely no idea where to even begin this seemingly monumental task. At one point, I vividly remember my professor handing me a sheet of paper with tips for memorization. Although some of the tips made sense, I still found the information disjointed and unclear.

Even after reviewing any information I could find on music memorization, I still had a ton of questions. “But how do I go about transferring the written notes on the page to technically accurate and emotionally compelling performances?” It all seemed so vague. I honestly felt that I would never excel at memorization because in all my 18 years, I had never before done it. Surely it was too late to learn now.

Challenges with Music Memorization

Somehow I pulled myself through my degree, painfully memorizing as required. Despite fulfilling the requirements of the degree, I never fully grasped the bigger picture of memorization. Memorization enables learning a piece to the point where it truly becomes a part of you. In those days, I relied heavily on muscle memory. As discussed below, this is a technique which often fails when in the midst of a high pressure performance situation. At the time, I had no understanding of the different types of memorization. I also had no understanding of how different types of memorization work together to truly solidify memory and strengthen performance. Even though I eventually succeeded at memorization, it remained a task which I despised and I never felt as if I truly mastered it.

After my college graduation, I continued to freelance as a church organist. I also accompanied for everything from high school choirs to singers and instrumentalists competing in solo & ensemble. Accompanying doesn’t require music memorization and as my life became busier, I put it on the back burner.

Benefits of Music Memorization

About a year ago, I decided to once again expand my solo pianistic skills. I absolutely love pieces from the Romantic period, especially composers such as Frederic Chopin and Sergei Rachmaninoff! I therefore focused on these pieces. After all, what’s the point of learning a piece if you’re not absolutely in love with it? Check out this post for a piece which steals my heart every time! As beautiful as I find these pieces, they are incredibly difficult. In most cases, memorization is required to deliver a performance worthy of their distinction.

Once again faced with the prospect of music memorization, I began searching for any information I could find on memorization. My ultimate goal was to facilitate more solid music memorization and therefore better performance.

First things first … let’s talk about different types of memory.

Muscle Memory

Repetition leads to muscle memory. Creating muscle memory requires a great deal of time and many repetitions. Our brains are constantly looking for ways to automate activities in order to use as little energy as possible. Muscle memory is a great example of automation in action and was the type I solely relied upon in college. Unfortunately, this also resulted in my very tenuous grasp on performance.

Automation does allow for increased attention to the other aspects of creating music however there are also drawbacks. This is especially true if this is your sole form of memorization. The biggest is that if anything impedes your muscle memory during a performance, you’re stuck. If you have no other forms of memory, picking up again with only muscle memory is incredibly difficult. It can be nearly impossible to resume where the slip occurred and continue on as if nothing happened. Unfortunately this is also the least secure type of memorization. It is the first type of memorization to vanish under pressure.

Visual Memory

Looking at information creates visual memories. It is this type which allows you to hear a word and form a picture in your mind.

Visual memory is similar to muscle memory in that it is subject to high rates of recall error. This type of memory is also especially prone to errors in the face of contradiction. Imagine you’re playing through a section of a memorized piece. Suddenly, you question whether the melody travels up to the C or C#. Doubt begins to creep in. You then make a note error two entire measures prior to the note in question. Unless you have a photographic memory, it is nearly impossible to use strictly this type of memorization. Despite the drawbacks, visual memory can be a useful type of music memorization in combination with the other types.

Auditory Memory

Auditory memory is similar to the other three types in that it relates to one of our senses. In this case, it is the sense of hearing rather than those of touch or vision.

This type of memory allows you to recall the piece even when you are not actually playing it. Auditory memory also enables you to anticipate your sound prior to even playing a note. Developing this type of memory is an incredibly useful skill beyond its function in memorization. It does, however, require time and a great deal of practice. Having a solid auditory memory of a piece in conjunction with the kinesthetic and visual aspects solidifies your memory. It is also extremely helpful when engaging the next type of memory, analysis.

Analysis

Although music theory is not always the most engaging subject, it provides an excellent foundation for creating memory through analysis. Knowledge of key signatures, harmonic structures, and cadences can all be helpful beyond passing a music theory test. It can help with memory of a piece through enabling you to improvise a section if your memory does falter.

The ability to find your way through a memory slip contributes in a huge way to confidence on stage. Take just a minute to think about the different types of memory we have discussed. Consider approaching a performance guided only by your finger memory of thousands of repetitions. But suddenly, a baby in the audience starts crying. How would you know where to start up again once distraction strikes? The same can be said of memorizing music strictly through vision. With analysis to back you up, you have the confidence of knowing you could improvise through any potential slip-ups!

Let’s Get Started!

Combining various aspects of each of the four types of memorization creates solid memories of the piece. It also facilitates better performances. Below, I outline the process I use to create solid memorization of a piece. If you’re new to music memorization, start with an easy piece below your current playing level. Memorization can be challenging! Take this opportunity to become proficient in memorization by downgrading the difficulty of the piece.

Your first task is to analyze the piece starting with form. Chunk the piece into sections and determine whether any of the sections are repeats. Do key signatures or time signatures vary through the sections? What about tempo? Does the piece remain in the same tempo throughout or does it have contrasting tempos? How should dynamics you shape dynamics? Spend some time analyzing the harmonic structure as this will make memorization easier.

Engage your auditory memory by listening to the piece several times and write down the emotions it evokes. Dig into the history of the piece to determine the deeper meaning behind its composition. Was it composed for someone in particular? Or perhaps to commemorate an occasion? Are there political undercurrents? What was happening in the composer’s life at the time? Consider the historical context in which the piece was composed. All these details can work together to enhance your understanding of the piece. This information later transforms your performance from mediocre to memorable.

Break it Down to Small Sections

Once you’ve analyzed the various aspects of the piece, it’s time to choose where to focus your memorization efforts first. I typically pick out the most challenging part of the piece to focus on first. You may decide to start at the beginning or even the end. The key to memorization is only attempting memorization of small pieces of information at a time. When first starting out and depending upon the difficulty of the piece, this may only be a note or two. Break the entire piece into smaller chunks of between 2-8 measures and work to memorize each individually. Memorization solidifies over a period of time. Attempting to shove too much in your brain in a short time period only results in a jumbled mess.

I simply cannot over-emphasize the importance of attempting to memorize only small sections per day. The other alternative is to work in short time increments repeatedly throughout the day. The most important concept is to allow your brain to rest in between sessions. If you don’t, your hard work will be for nothing. Your brain will simply jam the information into a jumbled mess instead of creating usable memory.

The Temptation to Read vs. Memorize

If you are the pianist who sight reads well, this is where the challenge really begins. I struggle so much with memorization because my tendency is always to read the notes written on the page. Producing the notes on the piano without written notes in front of you requires different thinking. You therefore have to employ different tactics to bring forth a completely new type of thought process.

When I first began memorizing again, I had to put the music I was memorizing away from the piano. It’s otherwise too tempting for me not to look at! This tactic forced me to visually remember the note pattern to play it. It otherwise forces me to get up and look at it. And let’s face it … we all have a slightly lazy side which prefers to continue sitting whenever possible! While looking at the notes you are memorizing, try to hear in your mind how this will sound. When you go back to the instrument, focus in on how the part sounds. Continue to visualize the notes while you play so you can further solidify your memorization.

Life Hacks Useful for Music Memorization

Track your memorization progress by putting check marks behind each measure as your memorize. When you have tough practice sessions, look back at all the progress you have made. This will motivate you to continue making progress!

Never under-estimate the importance of sleep on your brain’s ability to assimilate this information into your working memory. Memorization is an incredibly active process which requires your full attention. It will therefore be infinitely more difficult if you are not well rested.

In line with this is choosing a time of day when you are most alert. As a working mom of three, I can’t always practice during my ideal times. If you also find yourself in this boat, be patient. Lower your expectations about how long this process will take you. You’re juggling so much right now! Does it really matter whether it takes one month or five to memorize that piece you love so much? The only thing that really matters is that you keep making progess in your goals.

And speaking of making progress … I’m always looking for other great resources on the topic of musicianship to propel me forward. I stumbled across this book a few years ago and have taken an incredible amount of knowledge away from it! From practice tips to performance anxiety to musician wellness, there’s a wealth of information to be gained in it!

Memorization is a skill much like learning to play an instrument. The more you do it, the better you become at it. When you do it correctly, the reward is elevation to a level of musicianship not otherwise attainable. It also comes with a sense of pride in that you are accomplishing something which is meaningful and fulfilling.

Now get out there and start memorizing something! Drop a comment below on what you’re working on and whether you have also struggled with memorization. I’d also love to hear whether you have your own tips and tricks on memorizing!

Top 3 Reasons Why You Need a Creative Side Gig

Top 3 Reasons Why You Need a Creative Side Gig

Side gigs have always intrigued me. They represent another side of you, a side which may not be immediately apparent to others. An opportunity to break away from the person you are for 40+ hours each week.

Don’t get me wrong. My 9 to 5 is great (most of the time anyway!) but it does not completely fulfill my desire to contribute. Sometimes we have a tendency to be so completely wrapped up into our identity at work that we forget we are actually so much more. I believe that everyone has been given a creative gift of some sort and whether that is painting, crafting, or singing, there are opportunities everywhere to turn your creativity into a side gig. Although there are arguably dozens of reasons why you need to pursue a creative side gig, this post outlines my top 3.

1. Creative side hustles make you a more well-rounded person. Sure. You may be great at accounting, being a nurse, or writing contracts. But what about that tiny voice inside reminding you that you used to be really great at ____ (you fill in the blank here with whatever creative activity applies to you)? Remember the feeling you got when you pursued that activity? And how about the extra skills which came along with it? Wouldn’t it be great to hone in those skills again? Along with creativity comes a host of important aptitudes such as ingenuity, problem-solving, and perseverance which may actually benefit you during your work day.

Despite my current day job as a nurse practitioner, my first course of study was actually a liberal arts degree in music. People often give me funny looks when I tell them my background because it seems worlds apart from where I am today however I have always valued the lessons taken from my first degree. Music taught me to never give up on something you think about every day because it adds purpose and value to your life.

Through the course of this degree, I also learned that you get out of life what you put into it. If you work dilligently and with focus, you will see positive results. Lastly, when gauging progress, you can only make comparisons to yourself. Everyone has been given completely different skills sets but only you can sift through to figure out how to optimize your individual gifts. Comparison to others is useless and only serves to discourage you from your individual progress. These are incredibly valuable lessons which are beneficial regardless of the path I ultimately chose.

2. Doing something completely different pushes you outside your comfort zone and inspires growth. When was the last time you said “goodbye” to your comfort zone? Was it last week when you took a cooking class? Last summer when you signed up to run your first half marathon? Or maybe it was ten years ago when you took a yoga class?

You will never make progress or grow as a person by continuing to do the same old thing day in and day out. Growth requires challenge of some sort. You have to be vulnerable, put yourself out there, and possibly even experience failure to become a new and better version of yourself. Even if you didn’t feel exhilerated or even moderately intrigued by the activity, at least you tried it and perhaps realized that it actually wasn’t your jam. Congratulations … You are now that much closer to finding your actual creative outlet!

3. Who doesn’t love extra income? There are opportunities everywhere to collect a paycheck for everything from knitting cute baby outfits to being the bassist in a band and playing local bars every Friday night. Maybe you’re an amazing violinist and also excel at teaching others. Check into offering violin lessons to others who want to learn. People out there are looking for your specific type of creativity and are willing to shell out for it. Don’t keep them in suspense any longer!

I hope this post has gotten you thinking about the possibilities out there. Maybe you already have a creative pursuit in mind or maybe you still have no idea what that would even entail. Either way, take a few moments to clarify what your next action step toward pursuing creativity would involve. Granted, my time is valuable as it is divided among being a wife, mom of three, and working full-time, however freelancing as a pianist and organist makes it so much more fulfilling and meaningful. It’s truly the icing on top of the cake!

Do you have a creative side gig? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

4 Steps to Ditching the Comparison Mindset

4 Steps to Ditching the Comparison Mindset

“A flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it. It just blooms.” -Zen Shin

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

It was Friday night. My hubby and I were doing our typical but very sophisticated Friday night thing. I was attired in the very latest of fall fashions with hair and make-up perfectly done while my husband was similarly decked out. Minus the hair and make-up, of course. We were headed to one of our favorite top-notch hang-outs downtown for wine and live music but had just enough time to stop and snap a pic commemorating yet another highly successful date night.

Just kidding. We were actually lounging on the couch, he attired in athletic shorts and I in my favorite pajamas which unfortunately happen to have a gigantic hole in the crotch. Some type of sports ball was playing in the background and he turned to show me a Facebook pic. A married couple we know was doing exactly what I described in the first paragraph and the thoughts started rolling through my mind.

“They always look so happy. I bet they never bicker about household chores or the kids. And they are always dressed like they walked out of a fashion magazine shoot. We’ll never be as happy or as successful as they are.”

Social media is a double-edged sword. One side facilitates communication with friends and family. But the other side displays everyone else’s highlights and greatest accomplishments for all to see. And I am as excited as the next person to see professional family photos, job promotions, and brand new baby photos but sometimes my mind goes to a dark place of comparison.

Suddenly everything that I’m doing (or not doing) somehow seems inferior and everybody else is having all the fun. Everyone else is prettier or more successful or has their lives way more put together than I do. Surely no one else forgets school picture day. No one else can possibly forget parent teacher conferences or to send a snack for the kindergarten class. Those pictures of one isolated moment don’t only reflect perfection in that moment but also in all areas of life.

Inevitably this line of thinking then brings me to comparison and ultimately, scarcity. As if there are only limited amounts of beauty, organization, or love in the world and I am definitely missing out because my Facebook feed doesn’t highlight lovely photoshopped versions of myself and my family doing artsy, sophisticated hobbies. There cannot possibly be enough love or beauty to go around for everyone and especially not for someone who has no idea how to capture a decent selfie.

Have you ever caught yourself in this same trap of negativity? It starts innocently enough with five minutes of scrolling here and then ten there. Suddenly, you realize an hour has gone by and you’re feeling anxious and depressed with no idea why.

In my own life, I’ve reached the conclusion that comparison sucks the joy right out of living. Not only that but thoughts that resources such as success or admiration or even hard work are limited and only bestowed upon a very select few people are closely tied with thoughts of comparison. The entire package is a devastating blow to positive progress in your life if you’re not aware of the insidious nature of these thoughts or how they’re tied together.

Comparison leads directly into scarcity because the very nature of competition implies multiple people going after the same thing. Only one person goes home with the trophy. We are all driven by competition to various degrees and therefore it is a natural progression of our minds to see other people’s success and almost subconsciously reach the conclusion that we will never attain that level of success because that person already went home with that trophy. There isn’t room on the Olympic podium of life for more than one person to have success in a particular aspect of life.

But the truth lies in the fact that there is no finite amount of success, love, beauty, or talent in the world. These qualities are out there in such abundant amounts that they can never be used up. Furthermore, one person’s beauty in no way diminishes your own beauty. We have all been given a specific set of interests, talents, and abilities to share with the world. The only fair and valid competition is that which exists between the person we are right now and the person we either used to be or the person we are evolving into.

Just as there are infinite amounts of the incredible qualities which make life worth living, so too is the truth that you are on a completely different journey than anyone else. No one on this earth has had the exact same life experiences, setbacks, influences, or education that you have. No one else in the world is faced with the same questions and decisions about which path to choose. You are unique and beautiful and deserve to free yourself from the self-defeating mindsets of comparison and scarcity.

Challenge yourself to grow in the areas which are important to you and minimize comparison and scarcity by taking action on the 4 steps listed below:

  • Spend time reflecting upon where you have been, where you are now, and where you want to go
  • Set goals which are measureable and have clear action steps
  • Periodically check your progress toward those goals
  • Celebrate your successes and learn from your mistakes

Having a clear sense of your own goals, priorities, and successes makes celebrating the accomplishments of others easier because you have outlined a road map for your own life. You know where you’re going and how far you’ve come. You embrace celebrating your own achievements as well as the knowledge which comes from missteps. It’s incredibly easy to be sucked down the rabbit hole of comparison and suddenly lose focus of all your own progress but you have something to share with the world and although it may be vastly different than what others are doing, it has value. Don’t let your progress be stalled by competition and scarcity.

Only by celebrating your achievements and maintaining a mindset of abundance can you truly ward off the trail of negativity which can be precipitated by mindless scrolling. Start being mindful of how you feel when spending time on social media and take steps to alter these behaviors if you find it puts you in a negative space. As the saying goes, “Ain’t no one got time for that.”

If you find yourself struggling with the flip side of comparison, which is fear of what others think of you, check out my previous post about freeing yourself from the opinions of others. It can be a tough mindset to change but absolutely crucial for a happier and more joyful life. And if this post hit home for you and you’re ready to take an even deeper dive into mindset, click the image below for more information on one of my favorite inspirational books by down to earth, tell it how it is Rachel Hollis.

Never forget that you have value in simply who you are as a person regardless of your profession, accomplishments, or talents. You are amazing!

I’d love to hear about the impact this post had on your mindset! Leave a comment below with new revelations or ways you plan to implement this into your daily life.

Living with Intention: The Busy Mom Version

Living with Intention: The Busy Mom Version

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

Have you ever been initially intrigued with an idea only to find out that it actually didn’t fit into your life as advertised? One example from my own life is the Bacon Express. I dislike cooking bacon and therefore never make it but my husband is obsessed with it. To clarify … he is obsessed with the eating part, not the cooking part.

This past summer we were walking through a store when my husband spotted the Bacon Express, a device which advertised the cooking of bacon as mere child’s play. Since it was on clearance, we took the plunge and brought it home. We used the Bacon Express a couple of times before we became disenchanted with this product advertised to make our lives easier.

Our first issue was how long it took to cook an entire package of bacon. The device was so small that you could only fit about 5 pieces on at a time, a highly inefficient feature when trying to cook for a family of 5. Our second issue related to its cleaning. One had to practically dissemble the entire device to clean it, which wasn’t necessarily the issue. The challenge arose when I realized that I clearly lacked the engineering degree required to re-assemble this thing. Highly disappointing.

A similar experience occurred when I became interested in living with intention. The idea is that you essentially take a long, hard look at your life, figure out your values, and re-align your activities based upon those values. Intentional living captivated me because it facilitates an alternative goal setting method and I’m a sucker for anything and everything related to goals. Once I became aware of the concept, I set out to uncover how I might incorporate living with intention into my own life.

Although some of the advice I found was helpful, some of it was clearly not adapted for a busy working mom of three kiddos. Ideally, I would love all the time in the world to sit and brainstorm about my values and how to adapt my activities to reflect said values. But let’s be real. I work 40+ hours a week and have primary responsibility of the housework. Quiet reflection time is almost non-existent in my world.

Becoming a mom comes with a whole package of things no one really wants to do but nonetheless, must be done anyway. Who really wants months of sleepless nights, loads upon loads of more dirty laundry than a small army could ever produce, or hours of whining and crying from a small being with so many of your own best and worst traits? No one wants that.

And yet, we endure these unpleasantries because any negatives are vastly outweighed by the gift of caring for and raising our babies. It’s true that we sacrifice so much but they also give abuntantly in return. This is the struggle in balancing all that comes with motherhood with pursuing your own goals and this is the spirit in which I present my advice to other busy moms looking to live with intention.

I know you also have goals. Whether they are personal, relational, or professional, goals inspire growth and come in all shapes and sizes. Spend actual quality time with your kids. Plan weekly date nights with your husband. Drink water. Read a book instead of watching Netflix. Get more sleep at night. Take up a new hobby. Try a cycling class. Cook dinner instead of eating out. Any one of these activities has the potential to improve your life but if you’re anything like me, the days fly by and keeping up with everything you’re already doing feels impossible. How can you possibly add one more goal, no matter how small, to your already packed schedule?

1) Take a careful look at what you’re already doing right now. If you are currently raising little ones, making sudden, sweeping changes to your lifestyle is most likely not feasible. But you can find tiny pockets of time here and there to spark larger change. Is there anything on your daily schedule which isn’t serving you? Although you may not be thrilled with your job right now, what small steps can you take to make an alternate one a reality? Or maybe you find yourself with more screen time than you care to admit. Do you feel energized and engaged after spending all that time interacting on social media? Or could you find a more productive use for your time?

Some parts of your daily routine may not necessarily be your first choice in how your time is spent but are important to the stage of life you are in. This is one of the ones I struggle with because I have all these goals and a constant feeling that there is never enough time in the day. Meanwhile, my time is sucked up by housework, driving kids to and from various activities, and grocery shopping. Hardly inspirational.

But then I remind myself that this is a season of life. Seasons don’t last forever and although they are very necessary aspects of raising kids, there are always ways to free up time here and there. Remember … you’re looking for tiny pockets of time and not hours upon hours. Grocery pick-up apps are everywhere now and are a complete timesaver! There are cleaning services out there which will come and clean your house while you’re at work. Consider carpooling with other trusted parents to and from sports and other activities.

2) Plan ahead and budget your free time carefully. You may only get a few minutes of quiet time here and there but plan this out in advance so you know exactly what you should be doing with that time. In my own life, I have found that a paper planner is the best way to stay on track with my goals. I searched high and low to find the planner that I currently have and absolutely love it because it provides space for monthly goal planning including the ability to highlight my top priority for that month. Each day of the week has space to write a daily goal as well and I use this to come up with daily motivational messages for myself.

Intention always precedes accomplishment. Think about it. When was the last time you accidentally cleaned the bathroom? Or ran 3 miles? What about that time you just kinda sorta earned a degree. Or how about the time you unintentionally ended up at the movies with your hubby on a Saturday afternoon? Ok, maybe that one could actually be unintentional but the desire to strengthen your relationship through quality time together is most definitely intentional. Accomplishing a goal, no matter how small, must always start with the intention to do so and putting it down in black and white makes prioritization much easier. Click the picture below to check out the planner which smoothly incorporates intention into your already crazy schedule!

3) Seek accountability in becoming more intentional about your goal. About a year ago, I decided that I wanted to become better about learning new piano repertoire. My practice habits in the past were terrible and I had never been great about consistent practice. It was always hours of sporadic practice here and there which never amounted to true progress.

I knew that if I wanted to improve, I would need accountability so I began searching for ways to make myself accountable. It was then that I stumbled upon an app which logged your practice time and counted up consecutive days of practice for you. This app changed my practice habits and I became obsessed with daily practice because I loved seeing the consecutive day count go up. Even if I only had 5 minutes a day, it didn’t matter because it still counted.

Find accountability for yourself in accomplishing your goal. Accountability will keep you honest and will inspire you to take action even on those long days when the work never seems to end and everybody wants more from you than you have to give. It may be a tracking app, a friend, or your spouse but find whatever makes the most sense for what motivates you and get moving on putting this into place

I get it. Change, even if it’s the best possible change, is hard. But what about that nagging voice inside reminding you of your goal to run the half marathon this fall? Or the one reminding you about how accomplished you feel after making a homemade meal for your family? What about that stack of personal development books you ordered last fall but never got around to reading? And the memories of those date nights in your pre-kid days? Wouldn’t it be amazing to bring that magic back again?

Living with intention is a powerful technique to hone into what matters to you and then going after it with everything you have inside. Without intention, a goal is simply a wish. A pipe dream which will never come to fruition. It is a road map for previously uncharted territory. When you lack intention, you are dragged in a million different directions and are unsure whether any of them are what you actually want. I sincerely hope that these 3 actionable tips for incorporating intention into your daily living are helpful and inspire you to chase after your goals even as you chase after your babies!

Elegie in Eb Minor

Elegie in Eb Minor

This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see our full disclosure for further information.

Pianos are my jam! I am a total piano nerd and there’s nothing that excites me more than reading about pianos, looking at pianos, and playing pianos. Although I’m a sucker for any music involving the instrument, my interest lies espeically in the classical piano repertoire.

I am so passionate about bringing these pieces to life and pianos in general that I am devoting a section of Only Getting Better to this very topic. You can expect regular posts about a variety of piano-related subjects and updates on what I’ve been working on.

The very first piece I’d like to introduce you to is by my all-time favorite composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff. The piece is Elegie in Eb Minor, Op. 3 No. 1. An elegie is a somber piece often considered to be a lament for either a tragic event or a death. Rachmaninoff composed the Elegie in Eb Minor in 1892 at the age of 19 and it is one of five pieces published under Opus 3, another of which being his infamous Prelude in C# Minor.

Rachmaninoff is known for keeping his life extremely private and in the biography Sergei Rachmaninoff: A Lifetime in Music written by Sergei Bertensson and Jay Leyda, a quote by his daughter sums this up: “I remember well how he once said to someone in my presence that words are useless for such a purpose – that all he felt and experienced was told far better, more clearly and truthfully in his compositions, and also found expression in his playing.” The Elegie is certainly a hauntingly beautiful expression of intense emotion. Click the link below and I hope you enjoy my performance of one of my favorite pieces within the piano repertoire!

https://akbradley.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/elegie-in-eb-minor.mp4

Find Your Why

Find Your Why

Decisions. You are hit with a million of them every day. Some are straightforward but others are fraught with challenge and seemingly impossible solution.

“What’s for supper tonight?”

“Which daycare will provide the best experience for my kids?”

“Can I see myself building a life with this person?”

“What do I really want to be when I grow up?”

Regardless of the question, it seems that everyone around you has an opinion about your decision. Chances are, your kids won’t be thrilled about your decision to make broccoli cheese soup and ham sandwiches for supper. Your in-laws may feel that the new daycare location is too far from their house. Although you can clearly picture a fantastic future with the person you’re dating, your sister loudly objects to basically everything about them. Every single person in your life asks how you will possibly make money with your chosen college major.

Sound familiar? Teaching your kids to expand their palate is an area of resistance that if you’ve been a parent for any length of time, I’m guessing you expected. Despite their protests, your decision to proceed with the dinner of your choice is completely unswayed. But what about your sister’s protests about your dating choices? Or the career field you choose to devote your passion, time, and energy into? How do you navigate decisions with larger ramifications without feeling like you’re settling or giving up a piece of yourself in the process?

My previous post outlined the impact opinions can have on your self-esteem but the other piece of the equation is having a solid foundation in your “why.” In other words, you need to spend time clarifying the motivation behind a particular decision. If you don’t have a grasp on the “why” behind your decisions, it is much easier to doubt yourself and give in to the endless array of opinions.

Keep in mind that not every decision is worth putting the extra time, effort, and energy into clarifying. Reserve your brain power for decisions which may cause controversy and inner doubt. The very biggest decisions which have the power to propel your life in one direction or another. Decisions such as whether to confront your fears and chase after your biggest dreams or live with the regret of not trying.

And my advice for the other decisions? Those smaller ones which truly have no bearing on who you are or your goals? Practice letting them go. For example … you’ve been working all day and are completely physically and emotionally exhausted. Dinnertime is right around the corner and the hamburger you bought at the beginning of the week has gone bad. Stopping at the grocery store at this point in your day would push you over the edge of whatever remaining sanity you have.

Takeout. Mac & cheese. Spaghettios. Whatever your go-to quick fix dinner which requires no crazy 5 pm grocery store lines entails. Unless of course you are one of those people who finds relaxation in the act of grocery shopping. Then by all means, shop away. Or maybe you revel in the opportunity to concoct a meal from a random assortment of pantry items. Whatever your jam, this type of decision will have no bearing on your life five minutes after finishing your meal so do yourself a favor and make the decision which fits best into your evening.

But when faced with a potentially life-altering decision, you’re going to need a better “why” than justifying takout after a long, hard day. You’re going to need a “why” which motivates you during the tough times and inspires confidence under even the toughest scrutiny. Figuring out your “why” up-front fills in gaps about the overall importance of this decision to you personally, useful information when faced with confrontation.

Spend time reflecting upon not only the decision but also your own core values. What are the qualities you feel are integral to making you, you? Will this decision violate your core values? Self-reflection looks different for everybody. Maybe it involves journaling. Or maybe you think better during your morning commute. I do some of my best thinking on the treadmill before anyone else in my house is even awake. Give yourself the space and time to truly dig into the pros and cons of the decision you’re facing and to determine your feelings on the subject.

Figure out the motivation behind your decision. Is your decision motivated by passion, love, and a deeper sense of purpose? Or is it motivated by insecurity, self-doubt, and a complete lack of confidence in the existence of other options? If your motivations are the former, I’m willing to bet that you’ve reached a solid decision with a strong “why.” If, on the other hand, you feel your motivations are out of self-doubt and insecurity, it’s time to re-examine the “why” to ensure it actually serves you and the person you aspire to be.

Decisions are never easy. At the end of the day, not everyone in your life will agree with your decisions. But if you have put in the time to thoughtfully consider the various aspects of the decision, your own core values, and the motivations behind them, you can rest assured that you have arrived at an airtight “why” which will serve you when the going gets tough.

Stop Caring What “They” Think

Stop Caring What “They” Think

You’ve been there before. Stuck between the rock of living your own truth and the hard place of the opinions of those around you. Whether those opinions belong to your spouse, your best friend, or your aunt, sometimes it can feel like you are living your life according to someone else’s rules. It can feel like you are constantly seeking someone else’s approval.

Whatever happened to those days when you did whatever you wanted to do whenever you wanted to do it? Perhaps the more important question is in regards to the days when you just couldn’t care less what anyone else thought about what you were doing. The days when you didn’t give a second thought to what you were wearing, where you were going, or what you were going to go do. No permission required to be you.

Living your best life. But then, something changed. Maybe it was an offhand comment or a sideways glance. Words or actions which caused you to pause and question yourself. What starts as only one person’s viewpoint of a tiny aspect of yourself can lead to widespread questioning within about all aspects of your life and personality.

In my own life, the opinions of others weasel their way in through a path of insecurity. A minuscule break in my self-confidence which can open a wider freeway of doubt, propelling me toward negative thinking.

The biggest manifestation of opinions leading to self-doubt in my life also involves one of my greatest passions … piano. I have loved playing piano for as long as I can remember and I spent many happy hours banging away at the keys when I was young.

I loved piano so much that when I entered college as a pre-veterinary science major, I promptly changed majors to music within the first week of class so I could study piano more intensely. Unfortunately the decision to follow my passion came with a host of unchecked negative thinking in which I began to base my self-worth upon the opinions of others.

Although I loved the piano, my practice habits were less than stellar and I dreaded my weekly lessons, in part due to my lack of preparation. I am sure that I completely exasperated my piano professor however she continued to give feedback and I began to take it personally. Each critique felt like a blow to my ego and further proof of my incompetence. Combine that with the comparisons I made between other pianists and myself and I was in a perfect storm of negativity.

At the time, I was unable to separate myself from the opinions of others and sunk into a deep pit of depression, believing that I would never be good enough to make a living playing the piano. Further adding insult to injury was the significant performance anxiety I developed soon after beginning my studies. All of this negativity stemmed from placing too much importance upon the opinions of others instead of honing in on my own truth and passion.

I had completely lost sight of my “why” amongst the flurry of constant critique inherent to studying music. The danger in putting stock into everyone else’s opinions is how insidiously it starts and the strong hold it can take on your life. It has taken years for me to process through this phase of my life and to gain perspective on the emotional cost of listening to everyone else instead of the still, small voice inside.

At the end of the day, only you can live the life you were given. Only you have the authority to make decisions which steer your life in the direction you want to go. Every time you spend energy on someone else’s opinion, you are exerting energy which could be better spent elsewhere. Valuable energy which could instead be used to push you closer toward your goals.

My call to action for you today is to think about how your life is influenced by the opinions of others. Think about what you would do if your decisions weren’t dictated by the opinions of people who aren’t living your life. Ground yourself with a solid understanding of your own “why” and use this as a compass to guide your thinking when confronted with the inevitable barrage of comments and unsolicited opionions. Stop giving everyone else the power! Stay in your own lane, run your own race, and go after that big dream!