Ryan Howard is a baseball powerhouse. He’s led the majors in things like slugging and home runs, and is known as a Big Bat, for good reason. If you’re not a Philly fan, you probably just feel a little uncomfortable when he’s up against your team. If you’re a Philly fan, there’s a different dynamic entirely. We know him better. We know the dark side of all of those hits.

You see, when you lead in things like slugging, you also tend to lead in strike outs. Swinging the bat a lot means missing a whole lot. Hardly anyone thinks of Howard in those terms, just like hardly anyone thinks of Janos Starker in terms of how many times he’s wrecked the double stops in the Kodaly sonata. But you know it’s happened. Because when you play a lot, you screw up a lot. And if you’re not screwing up, it means you’re not practicing anything that is improving your playing.

So for you, my dear student, who collapsed in tears after a craptacular run through yesterday, know this:

You are capable of more. And on the way to that place, you are going to fail in more ways than you can imagine. Be proud of your strike outs, though. It means you’re in the game.

Here’s a list of strike out leaders. Not like we’d recognize any of those names, eh?

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10 Responses

  1. I hear you!

    And yet I invite a more objective ear into your lessons and practice. I suspect you are slugging the hell out of the cello, but your ever increasing standards keep you from feeling like you're even making contact.

    With the cello, the park keeps getting bigger. Hit it over the 400 foot mark? Great! Now here's a park with a 600 foot wall. Go.


  2. Although I shouldn't be anymore, but you sometimes surprise me when come up with these great posts! When my daughter get down on herself with her "I sound terrible" chant, I have to bring up your analogy. Thanks Emily!

  3. Hey Emily, it's Ann in Atlanta. We had a recital a couple of weeks ago. I gracefully made it past the hiccup with pianist . . . got through the first big run in the Chopin and finally to the last big run when . . . my hand disconnected from my brain. Last weekend we watched "The King's Speech" and i realized his explanation about stuttering (not knowing what is going to come out) expressed how I feel about what happened. A strike-out but without feeling like I really took a swing. What's that about, oh great goddess of the cello brain?

  4. Ann: If we're clarifying the analogy, you're still swinging, because you're playing. But really, I think this is another thing entirely.

    Now I'm no neuroscientist (I just play one on tv) but there are a few things that could be responsible for your zone-out.

    It may not be a coincidence that it happened on a difficult part. Pressure does wild things to the brain and tests the "inner game" of even the most devoted players. Stress can play havoc with executive function, where your usual mindful effort to take care of the notes gets hijacked by the more primitive fight or flight system in the lower and middle brain.

    Another option involves your eyes. Were you playing by memory? Looking at the page? I have had several instances of weirdness where I had the music in front of me but was playing from memory and then looked at the page. As my eyes searched the page, my hand was running on autopilot until I had the moment of "oh crap, where am I?" and I got lost. And I mean lost, mentally. I knew where I was in the piece, but I was trying to exercise effortful control in too many directions at once. The other eyeball issue could be if you were looking around. Did you know that if you look up, your brain starts scanning? Like, if I ask you to tell me where you were when Ford was sworn into office, you'd probably look up. That's what we do when we need to recall novel information. I have been advised by numerous teachers to look down when I play, which is a more constructive locale for focused concentration.

    Last, and most likely, since you don't have a history of brain blanks and you didn't smell burning toast or go numb (so your brain is probably functioning perfectly) you likely had a brain fart. The stress messes with us and the brain is so complex and charged with so much responsibility, it sometimes short circuits. We've all had to pause to recall completely mundane information. I've sat there for more than a few uncomfortable seconds trying to remember a friend's name or my own address. Then *poof* it comes right back. I'm betting you just had an inopportune moment of random brain wackiness.

    What do you think?

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