I think the world is too noisy. Always clamoring for our attention with solutions, suggestions, entertainment, distraction….
I have this feeling a lot. Most of the time, honestly. Usually I try to turn down what I can and keep plugging, feeling that if I drop out of the sea of voices online I won’t be able to claw my way back in. But it goes against my intuition and my preference for space, for quiet to keep up with the chatter all the time. Against my knowing that everything we have to say isn’t worth shouting, saving, or re-sharing.
I love introspective practices like yoga and meditation. Maybe it’s because I’m an only child, or a mildly extroverted introvert.
It is not always easy to find, but one of the things I value most in life is the space to think and just be. It gets harder and harder to carve out as we get older, and in a culture of constant connection and sharing, so I do my best to intentionally make time to keep knowing how to be with myself. Even if we don’t enjoy it, it’s good for all of us to practice this.
Sometimes, though, even with a regular practice of just being, we still get swept up and swept away in the noise, and the events, and the ideas and images of other people’s lives.
Over the last month, I’ve really thrown myself into my reading habit. I always read a lot, but I know that when I go full bore with reading it’s often because I need to disconnect, to stop letting my attention be drawn to so many exterior places each day.
It’s not monumental to take time off from your phone or social media or the news, but did you every notice how often people do it and then follow up more noise? Maybe a list of things they’ve learned or ways they became a better, more balanced, more intentional person.
This weekend I made a point to stay off my phone as much as possible. I still answered messages from friends, emails, and I did open up social media apps once or twice.
None of that is monumental. It felt good - it felt like what should be closer to our baseline behavior around media. It feels silly to me to even write about doing something so simple, and annoying that it took so much intention to do it at first. After a day or so though, and as I always do, I realized how boring social media and the media is.
Don’t get me wrong, I love knowing what my friends are up to and it’s important to understand current events, but I would argue that most of our media consumption is neither of those things.
I love the accounts of creatives I admire who their writing, art, and inspiration, but you have to weed through a lot of stuff to get to them. It seems to me that the internet is a lot of people pitching side hustles, sharing their "wild successes”, and their brilliant, usually unoriginal ideas.
Of course I know I’m guilty of sharing revelations that are not necessarily new (like this one!). I love a good quote or a moment of self-realization. I enjoy sharing things that I find helpful in the hopes that someone else might also benefit from seeing a helpful tidbit at just the right, fortuitous moment.
But, if you take a step back for a little while and then re-enter the cacophony that is our day to day life, it is suddenly a giant echo chamber of people repeating ideas that sold for someone else, or mimicking videos and posts that went viral or gained a lot of attention. With a broader perspective, it becomes easier to see the redundancy of what is said in our news and social media feeds.
Sometimes it’s fun to participate, and a healthy dose of reality can make social media into a manageable, even enjoyable, part of life rather than a monster that looms over everything we do. It’s certainly harder to hold that healthy perspective when social media can help your work or business.
I find it hard to write on this topic without rambling. What I know is that it’s easy to feel drained by the internet when you love to be alone, and that I feel nostalgia for a time when all my hopes, dreams, and shortcomings weren’t presented in the pretty package of an app on my phone.
I also know that we always have more say in how outside voices influence us than we think. That it takes the same willpower muscles as practicing to exercise protection of our own emotions and of what is most important to us in our lives.
There isn’t going to be a list here of what I learned in my weekend (and hopefully longer) off from social media. I have no suggestions for cleaning up your habits or improving your relationship with your phone because we’re each different, and we’re not all prepared to face the habits that we know need changing that we have been avoiding (myself included).
I just know that we all need a little peace and quiet, and we need it a lot more often than the world leads us to believe. Our participation in the noise of the moment is not mandatory.
When was the last time you enjoyed a little silence?
Value and Cost of Sharing
Back when I started blogging again, I was unconvinced at the value of sharing online for myself. I am more convinced now, but more bothered by the interesting trade off that we see everywhere in business and technology: the value traps of constant and relevant. (Get more likes more followers don’t miss a day or a week….)
It’s the same for creatives as it would be for any business - although maybe slightly more challenging due to the unscripted nature of our work: if we get so absorbed in whatever the process is, social media or otherwise, we can forget life happens outside of that whether we acknowledge it or not.
Especially now that we can carry some or all of what we do around with us in our pocket, there is a serious need for us to draw distinctions. Not boundaries necessarily (although those are also good), but clarity for ourselves about what is real life and whether that really needs to be monetized or curated as part of our image or work.
For me there is also always the question of whether it matters at all if we can or can’t manage our usual volume of output online. Even though social media has become an expectation personally and professionally in some ways for almost all of us, and even though I hope what I share is useful, none of it affects my day to day interactions in lessons, rehearsals, or my personal life.
It’s well established at this point that social media has a way of making us all feel as if we aren’t good enough or doing enough, but I also think it adds a tremendous amount of effort to what, for creatives, is already an extremely difficult work-life balance.
I saw (a little ironically) an interesting social media post recently that said practice is unpaid work (at least monetarily it’s quite true that the two to three hours a day I try to put in prior to a difficult gig go without compensation other than the hours I am actually in rehearsal).
It seems we could add to that:
Social media is unpaid work.
Obviously that’s not true if it’s actually gaining you a sale or a new student every or most of the time you post, but for most of us I would guess that’s not the case.
So, as you consider where to put your time or what you are making yourself feel guilty about, remember your priorities.
Remember what makes you feel rested and prepared. Remember what work is most important to you, whether it’s paid or unpaid (there can be value in both). It will be unique to you, and it should be.
Remember that we can all be empowered in our own choices about how we interact with our life, and especially in our enjoyment of the passage of time.
Using Our Ears
Tuning is something I address often in my teaching, partially because I feel like it was missing in my early music education. With so many things to address in young players, it’s not surprising that intonation gets left for later.
As a young player I knew I didn’t really understand tuning. I could tell if something was really wrong, but I never knew if I was sharp or flat and it took me what felt like forever to remember if you push in to be more sharp or flat. (If you’re reading this and you don’t know: to make the instrument higher push in to be short and high like a piccolo; to make the instrument lower pull the headjoint out so the flute is longer and lower.)
What I did know as a young musician was that if I tried something - rolling in, rolling out, pushing the headjoint in or pulling it out, I could figure out the right way to adjust (it becomes pretty clear if you go the wrong way!)
A few of the tools that truly helped me along the way to develop practical skills and understanding of intonation were playing long tones with the tuner, harmonics, and playing duets with others.
My skill in intonation improved steadily but slowly as I went through high school and college. Along the way I learned the difficult lesson that if we play a note out of tune long enough, our ears memorize that incorrect tuning as where the note belongs.
For example, as flutists we often struggle with the intonation of notes that are quite flexible like C# and high G. Not only does that mean we end up memorizing the placement of those notes out of tune, but also that we memorize the distance of intervals involving those notes incorrectly as well.
As you might guess, one of my major tasks was to correct my ear’s memory. I needed to really understand where each note belonged.
I knew leaving undergrad that I was still facing much of this task, and during my Master’s degree my teacher Stephanie Jutt helped me tremendously with this by catching the places where I had a wrong relationship memorized, and by reinforcing the usefulness of playing with a drone.
Using a drone for practice was not new to me, but making a point to do it consistently was. Like most things that are worthwhile, it takes time and patience to start to hear more intricately what is happening with tuning beyond just the large, glaring discrepancies. Although it may seem mundane, one of the greatest benefits of doing scales and chords with a drone is learning to hear and feel the correct relationships between the notes in a scale, a chord, or a specific interval.
When I was in school we used “The Tuning CD” (yes it was an actual CD) which had midi versions of chords that you could play along with. It worked, but if you’re familiar with earlier midi sounds, it wasn’t the most pleasant thing to listen to for a long period of time.
One of my favorite resources for playing with a drone now in teaching and my own practice is on Spotify (and probably other music services, although I haven't checked): Cello Drones for Tuning and Improvisation.
Playing with the cello sound is not only more pleasant than midi, but I think comparing our tuning to a natural timbre is helpful with providing perspective on how tone color and quality can impact our intonation.
When we practice with a drone, or any time we practice intonation, the activity we’re taking part is a simple and obvious one: listening.
What makes this particular type of listening so different from our day to day listening is the depth we are cultivating. When we intently listen with intonation in mind, we are listening for the slightest variance we can detect in that moment. We are actively growing our capacity to hear smaller and smaller details.
Intonation is all about relationships.
We can’t tell if we’re in tune or not if there is nothing to make a comparison to. When we are playing by ourselves, this means we need those note-to-note relationships to be accurate, and we need to use them as a guide. When we play with others, it means committing to listening without making the assumption that we’re the one who is right and then being willing to adjust as necessary.
A willingness to listen deeply and adjust are the prerequisites for good intonation.
Ultimately, this requires us to get outside of ourselves and experience what we’re hearing both intellectually and physically (Most of us have encountered the physical feelings of dissonance - when you can actually feel the vibration of the notes fighting against each other).
Playing in tune also requires us to let go - to release the previous placement of notes that we committed to if we can learn a new and better way. And, to let go of the need to be right (does it matter if your intonation is right if you sticking to where you put the note makes everyone sound bad?).
Being a musician who plays with good intonation looks a lot like being a human who plays well with others - both require us to learn to trust ourself and our ears fully but not blindly.
All The Information
How many times have you caught yourself searching the internet for an answer? Or, just for "a little more" information?
Most of us use the internet this way all the time without even thinking twice.
You might want to know what spice to substitute when you are missing an ingredient. Perhaps you are looking for information about a piece or composer, or you aren’t feeling well and have taken a deep dive on WebMD looking for the reason.
We’re curious creatures, and there is a lot we want to know. Learning is for a lifetime. It's good for us, and helps us become better at our jobs and being human.
But I don’t really believe our desire to learn is the ultimate driver of endless internet searching.
What I really believe moves us to look endlessly for all these types of answers is our desire for an easy solution.
Surely with all the information that’s out there someone can tell me exactly why my high G sharps are not centered or consistent. There has to be somewhere on the internet that could solve that, right?
I am as guilty of this type of searching as the next person - self improvement newsletters, books, and websites are a dime a dozen. It is so enticing to think that the answer is already out there somewhere.
Why do you think everyone can make so much money online selling courses and programs?
On the flip side of finding the easy solutions is hours of time spent searching and very little time spent experiencing.
(Please don’t get me wrong, we can find a lot of helpful information on the internet - obviously I hope that my blog is helpful! - but at some point we need to try for ourselves.)
If I'm being honest, most of my internet searches leave me with a feeling of having all the information and no solid answer. That's because so much of what we understand and are able to do is dependent on our own personal experience.
Lately, I have consciously put a lot of energy and focus on stepping away from the unlimited resources that are available online and exploring my own personal resources: experience, the tangible feelings of practice, and investigating possible solutions by accessing the information I already have and my experiences in the moment.
Doing this hasn't gotten me anywhere quickly, but it has moved me infinitely further ahead than spending hours looking for someone to tell me how to fix those G sharps.
We don’t move forward by simply reading or watching how someone else has done it. We have to feel our way through. Only by building on our own experiences do we continue to step forward.
Quality over Quantity
"Quality over quantity."
I grew up hearing my mom say this often throughout my life. It's ingrained as part of my perspective on the world, but I feel whole heartedly about the value of this approach to many aspects of life.
Over the past year, so many things have become available online. Even more than we had prior to the pandemic - which was still a LOT of information that you could access from anywhere. I think music and music education could benefit tremendously from this transition - imagine accessing whoever has the skills you seek no matter where you or they live! Through this push to move online, I've seen many musicians take different approaches to marketing themselves and their skills.
You may have already noticed the typical "format" that is used for online marketing. Some snazzy looking instagram posts, a website, and some generic text about the value of the product or offering. Over the past year, a lot of companies have included their social, moral, and ethical causes in effective and not so effective ways. You may have noticed marketing on every digital platform that is both compelling and genuine, and overwhelming and insincere.
Like when we meet people in real life, we make judgements based on our impression of a person or product. Sometimes those judgements are wrong, but you can usually trust your gut if you think someone is being untruthful or if something just doesn't "seem right."
When more and more musicians began expanding their online presence as things shut down in 2020, this was very much the case. You could tell if something special was being offered, or if the person sharing it seemed on the level.
But there's another layer in between legitimate, high quality educational or performance offerings, and offerings that look amazing and don't live up to the hype. In between these two rungs on the ladder is what's offered because people would rather share something than nothing. A lot of the internet falls on this middle rung, in my opinion.
This is what makes me wonder. Is sharing something always better?
This is not just a question for musicians. This is a question for all of us who share on social media as the digital face of a business, and also as humans.
Let's say you are a chef with a large following online - sharing your morning breakfast and coffee routines is probably pretty interesting to those who follow you. It's also relevant to your business and gives insight into how someone with a lot of knowledge in their field is using it in their personal life.
But, let's say this same chef starts sharing bits and pieces of their personal life, maybe no-makeup selfies and personal clutter. Is this interesting in a human interest kind of way? Yes, maybe to some. It might make them more relatable, but does it really add quality to their mission? Not that I can see. From my perspective, this adds to the clutter online. It's just one more thing we can use to distract ourselves. Now, instead of only checking this chef's Instagram account for new recipes, I find myself watching ten minutes of archived stories about skin care.
My point with this example is that while some people do find more information and sharing more interesting, I don't think it's helping us. (I have certainly fallen guilty to wasting a lot of time on this kind of content - I am human, after all).
I don't think that selling basic skills like they are unique and ground breaking is helping us, either. Of course you need to market what you are good at in a genuine way, and you should be good at the fundamentals of what you do (a lot of my studio's success is because I am good at teaching the basics, and that is a worthwhile and marketable skill without trying to display it as something it's not!).
I'm also not suggesting that we don't share anything fun. You should be yourself. Love to meditate? (I do!) Maybe you love video games or reading. Or, you're training for a half marathon and love the enneagram. You can share the things that make you you in a meaningful way, and to some extent you should. It will help you connect with like minded people and project who you are and what you value at your core
What I am suggesting is that we share thoughtfully. That we share genuinely what our real skills are for their intrinsic value without overplaying them, and without cluttering those genuine skills and interests with a lot of noise just because we can.
Maybe this means you post a little less, but when you do I bet it will be really good, really worthwhile for those who read it, and way more appealing because the value will be evident to your audience (however big or small).
That's quality over quantity, and quality is how I believe we make an impact.
I had a bit of a technology melt down last week.
It was spurred on by several things that coalesced into slight (major) loss of calm. I don't think it should have surprised me - months of learning or using new skills you're not necessarily interested in can be tough, and then when things don't come together because you're not quite good enough at editing yet or that microphone wasn't in the right spot, etc., we're bound to feel a little defeated.
Alas, my technological struggles are not the point here.
We have some options when we get frustrated. We can wallow in our sorrows (sometimes, a good therapeutic wallow is good for the soul). We can keep banging our head against the wall (this would be an example of efforting in the wrong way) and try to hash something, anything, out of our frustrations. Or, we can put it down and come back later.
I have long been an advocate of "bad practice is worse than no practice." If you are fighting yourself, then you are definitely not getting anything done and you might be creating some nasty habits.
So, my usual reaction, when I am thinking clearly, is to walk away, cool off, and come back to it.
But, beyond giving the task space, we need to make space.
Perhaps even if you give yourself some time to cool off you may have residual frustration when you come back to the task. You may sit down to a flood of emotions remembering how peeved you were at the problem when you stopped.
To bring yourself back around from the space you gave to your task, you now need to create space in and around yourself so you can work.
This will likely mean:
- Giving yourself room to focus (no phone in the room, not cramming the activity in between other tasks, picking a productive time of day to work)
- Checking in with yourself before you get started: What do you want to accomplish? How are you feeling? (It's hard to work when you are hungry, for example.)
- How are you sitting? Find your feet on the floor and your sit bones, check in with your spine.
- What is the most specific thing you could focus on that would help fix your problem? If I'm practicing, that could be just my stance, just my air, just one note that will resonate the way I want. If I am working on the computer, that could be figuring out how to create a template from an effect I want to reuse in a video
- Taking some deep breaths. Have you ever caught yourself holding your breath when you are concentrating? Yeah, me too. Make sure you are breathing (and blinking if you're working at the computer).
- Reevaluating your task entirely. Are you making things too complicated? We usually are.
I definitely wallowed a bit last week. Once I got it out of my system, though, I came up with a plan. I adjusted some goals to make things more reasonable. bought a pair of bluelight glasses (who knows if they actually work, but even if the relief I'm noticing is all in my mind, sign me up!), AND found a way to make space for myself.
If I'm being honest, making space did mean some time completely unrelated to the problem playing as many meditative long tones and technique exercises as I wanted, but I know that will allow me to come back open to my work. Making space for yourself will look different for everyone.
As you approach your next big task, how can you give and make space to/for yourself?
Emerging from the dark ages...
- I have been skeptical about technology as applied to teaching music in the past. Not conspiracy theory, totally antiquated levels of skepticism, just regular skepticism. It's mostly that I have been unsure of what role technology should play in the career I am building for myself.
We live in a world where there is a lot of pressure to be online - both from a social and professional standpoint. There is a lot of encouragement out there to create your "brand" and make something that you can sell online no matter what field you are in. Passive income, for example, is a hot topic right now.
This has always rubbed me the wrong way though when it comes to my work. Isn't it kind of backwards to take something that most of us love because it is SO tangible and turn it into something that can be mass produced? And, call me old fashioned, but learning to do a lot of musical things is not a one-size-fits-all process.
Playing an instrument is about as tangible as it gets - the sensation of moving your air, feeling your fingers on the keys, breathing deeply and using your breath to shape a meaningful phrase. Even listening to music falls into this category, I think. The emotions that it brings up, the goosebumps or excitement you feel when you connect with a song, or even just the need to tap your foot or dance when the beat is good. If you've ever sat in the middle of the orchestra and actually felt yourself buzzing from the collective vibrations, you know exactly what I mean.
Don't get me wrong, technology is amazing for connecting to students and audiences when there just isn't another way - say, snow days, those who just can't access live music, or, I don't know, a pandemic.
But beyond the applications to our traditional model of teaching, I have always grappled with what practical use my career as a musician has for social media "networking" and technology.
As you might expect, though, 2020 has made me reconsider all my past musings on this particular topic. I don't ever want to be antiquated about my approach to teaching or performing, but I do want to take on whatever I do in a genuine way and it just so happens that a lot of the things I enjoy in life don't require the use of a screen or keyboard (flute, yoga, hand lettering, cooking, and even reading - although I do love my Kindle).
I always have in the back of my mind that many of the subtleties I think make me a good teacher, musician, and human are things I learned through in-person experiences and careful observation.
So when the pandemic started, I was faced with a problem. How does someone who genuinely loves to stay away from the screen come up with dynamic ways to use the internet and technology to provide quality instruction to the students I can no longer see in person?
The answer so far has been to split the difference a bit - to use technology as a way to fill the void of in-person lessons and performance, but not to try and replace them (If you've streamed a flute lesson or have tried to get students to check in on just one more platform, you might have more ideas about why a lifetime of online teaching could be tedious).
There are positives in everything. I have enjoyed having to be creative about teaching topics that I have done the same way for years, and have also enjoyed the need to create new events or goals for my studio to aim for.
Recently, we moved our annual fall recital (Flutesgiving!) to an adjudication style online event. We used flipgrid and had guest teachers give video feedback, then culminated in a Zoom masterclass. We even had an oboist as one of our guests! Flutesgiving 2020 was something great that my students would have never experienced otherwise.
I've also enjoyed learning a bit about how to make videos I am, well, maybe not proud of but at least not embarrassed by. New skills and continuing to learn are always good, and I am enjoying a new perspective that is sparking different ideas about how and what I want to teach and focus on.
Will I ever have something I can "sell" in a sustainable way online? Maybe. Maybe not. That doesn't matter to me. Going back to the need to be genuine, I want to take what I offer in my performances and teaching - an openness, a plan and path to reach goals or a musical destination, an intuitive sense of what my students or audience need, a direct pathway to music and all it's emotions - and continue to provide it to those who enjoy or benefit from it.
I hope that this new relationship I have with the concept of technology in teaching leads to worthwhile and dynamic offerings that make a difference for even one student....but I also look forward to being in the same room with my students again and feeling the air vibrate when they play something great.
Hi, I'm Morgann! A flutist, teacher, meditator, aspiring yogini, and life long learner figuring out how to create my way through life one crazy idea at a time.