hand-on-strings-for-setback-blogI got an email today from an artist in my creative-project program,  who’s working on an album.  She recently joined a rock band, suddenly has extra rehearsals and a half-dozen performances over Valentine’s Day weekend.

All of that is great … and at the same time, it’s set back the timeline we laid out for her creative work on the album.

Or has it…?

This is what I found myself writing to her (and, OK,  I edited it a little to post it here)

Great! Setbacks are their own game, and living within them, learning to chunk your project down and find tiny spaces inside the setbacks are the ‘win.’ As in “Ha! How can I chunk what I really want to do into tiny enough pieces that I can actually USE the inevitable ’empty time’ in the middle of setbacks to move forward on what I WANT?”

If you can also make that fun you get bonus points.

When we can learn to USE fragmented time … (she said putting on her lecturer’s robe … and we all roll our eyes … but she’s listening intently to herself … because this is something she really needs to hear) … we can move FURTHER FASTER in some ways – like in working out certain technical/coordination issues that actually BENEFIT from being done over and over in small spaces of time interrupted by ‘forgetting’ time.

Accept the Condition

It’s really about managing and taking advantage of a particular condition – the condition of the setback.

So …

1. Never go anywhere without the set list for your album – or the outline for the project you’re working on

2. Today, identify 3 small places you’re having technical trouble with the actual music, GIVE EACH A NAME, and commit to just playing through them (not ‘practicing,’ just playing through) whenever you have a spare 15-30 seconds.  In other words: VISIT THEM.

If you have an electric harp, figure out how to quickly turn it off or down so you can do this ‘silently’ when there’s a small empty spot in the rehearsal.

Or close your eyes and visualize doing it (OK, but not when you’re driving) — trying to see and feel more and more explicitly exactly what you’re doing. Sometimes this is more powerful and effective than actually doing it – not sure why – just know from experience.

It doesn’t really matter how you visit or engage with it – just don’t ‘practice’ it – only just VISIT it in the empty spots.

You won’t see the Empty Spots at First

You won’t see those empty spots in the fragmentation or setback at first, then you’ll start seeing them all over.  They’re the times when someone else is asking a question that’s not relevant to you, or when there’s a bathroom break and you can find 15-30 seconds at the beginning and end, when the teapot or microwave is heating up, the webpage refreshing slowly, etc.

These fragmented moments can become INVALUABLE to working out technical issues which are waaaaay better to work out in those tiny repeated segments separated by forgetting-time rather than by a single focused session.

Then, when you HAVE focused time, those little trip-holes will be more filled in.  

And as you get some of them filled in, start adding others to your list.

But – really – the salient detail – is to simply start seeing those empty times and know you have something cool to fill them with.

I use small, frustrating computer-beachballing times, for example, to play through a Left-Hand Bossa pattern I’m trying to get fluent with or a maddeningly fast, complex turnaround thingy in one of my tunes. Or even for things like … gad … situps.

Building Fluency & Micr0-Strength

It’s about fluency and micro-strength-building – and these seem to grow stronger not in ‘focused periods of practice’ but in many fragmented repetitions separated by forgetting-time.

I haven’t studied this.  I’ve just noticed it.

It’s also part of a larger category of what I think of as “Aikido-thinking”: to take the thing that seems to have ‘negative’ energy, and redirect that energy so you protect it from hurting you.  But in this case, you actually use it to empower you.

So – bravissima!  Get back to that Set-back!

p.s. to blog readers – yup, that’s a bandaid-type thing on my finger in the photo. It just happened to be there when I took the photo, the result of shelf-building last week, which definitely set me forward.

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