Nothing Is Easy, Nothing Is HardJun 14, 2022
One of the most motivating thoughts that will carry you through challenging times during practicing will be the unmitigated FACT that nothing in life is easy and nothing in life is hard. Things are only familiar and unfamiliar.
I’m going to say that again louder for the folks in the back: Nothing in life is “easy” and nothing in life is “hard". Things are only FAMILIAR or UNFAMILIAR.
That’s it. If you believe something is “hard”, it's only because you are unfamiliar with doing it. Once you become more familiar with the task, then it appears that it is easy.
So was it ever “hard” to begin with? What changed? NOTHING! The task you were working on didn’t change at all. You just became more familiar with your task.
Think about anything you’ve done in your life that you thought was “hard”. When you were a child, walking was hard. Talking was hard. Reading was hard. Do you think any of those things are “hard” now? Why not? Did the physics of walking get easier since you were a child? How about the things you’ve had to learn as an adult? A physical skill or a job skill perhaps. The things that you found “hard”, with training (familiarity), became easy or simply more familiar. Take a moment right now and think about some things in your past that you thought were difficult and became easy, even if it has nothing to do with music. Heck, especially if it has nothing to do with music! When you reminisce about these things, can’t you see that you simply made each new skill more familiar, and that’s what you’re actually thinking of when you say something is now “easy”?
Why does this matter? How does this little change of semantics help you? Well, if you believe things are difficult, you will be more likely NOT to engage in practicing those things. If you understand that they are simply not familiar at that moment, you will be driven to work on them and master them. You’ll be driven, because you now know a big secret that keeps other people from engaging in learning challenging things. You now know that the concept of “hard” and “easy” is a completely false one.
Yes, I know…flapping your arms and flying to the moon is actually hard. I know that if you’re 4 foot 10 inches tall that it’ll be hard for you to get into the NBA, but let’s not get ridiculous or silly about punching holes in this concept. Nearly everything you want to achieve, regardless of how “hard” you think it is, is totally achievable as you start to make it more familiar. The more familiar something becomes, the more easy it seems to be.
I brought this up with a young saxophone student recently. She said she was going through her old music and found the classic song “Ode To Joy” from Beethoven. Although Beethoven is a heavy-hitting legend in the world of music, his beautiful yet simple “Ode” melody has been taught to beginner music students the world over for centuries. In fact, it’s sometimes one of the first melodies a new musician will learn.
Apparently, this song kicked this sax student’s butt when she first started playing. I asked her if she reviewed it and she said “Yeah, it was easy”. I said, “Didn't you think it was hard before?” She said “Yeah, it was hard but now it's easy”.
I said “Wait, I don't understand. How did the music itself go from being hard to easy? Did the notes and rhythms on the page move themselves around so it'd be easier for you to play?” She laughed and said “Noooooo”.
I said “Well, the music didn't get easier, did it? The music stayed the same. So what changed?” She said “I guess I did.”
I said “That's right. You became more familiar with that song. You became more familiar with the notes on the staff and being able to read rhythms. Since the song itself never changed, you can't say that it was easy or hard; only that you were unfamiliar with it…then became more familiar…then became really familiar with it”.
I could see the lightbulb going off in her head. She said “Yeah” I said “Well, the next time you think something is hard, you'll know that's not true. It's just new and unfamiliar. All you need is to put in some time and effort, and you'll be able to accomplish anything” She said “Yeaaah!!”.
I POUND this into every musician I meet. When my private students would slip up and use the words “easy” or “hard/difficult”, they would immediately catch themselves and say (with a slightly annoyed tone) “I know, I know...nothing is easy, nothing is hard...it's only familiar and unfamiliar”. Their whole attitude would instantly change, and they would continue moving forward and progressing. They were convinced all they needed to do was to make something more familiar, and they would accomplish whatever they were working on. They knew this because it’s true, and it works for anything you want to learn.
Remember, the best way you can change your mindset about ANYTHING in your life is to:
Replace the word EASY with the word FAMILIAR
Replace the word HARD with the word UNFAMILIAR
Nothing is easy and nothing is hard. It is either FAMILIAR or UNFAMILIAR.
Yes, this blog post is short. It’s simple. Many of life’s greatest lessons are. If you apply this concept of Familiar and Unfamiliar to any challenge you have in your life, you’ll find yourself more open to taking on those challenges. You’ll also find that you will accomplish things you never thought possible.
Of all the things I’ve taught over my 30 year career as a player and educator, this simple concept has helped more musicians achieve their goals than any other nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned and imparted. Get rid of the words “easy” and “hard” from your vocabulary, replace them with “familiar” and “unfamiliar”, and you’ll find a whole new world open up to you.
Good luck. You’ve got this!
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