A few years ago, my wife, a surgeon, told a story about a medical student who rotated on her service. When she asked him what he had hoped to learn on the rotation, he said that he was hoping to “learn some tricks.” I’m not exactly sure what surgical “tricks” are but I assume he was referring to little shortcuts or efficiencies that you gradually learn through practice. The story bothered me slightly for reasons I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
But now I think I understand why. And it relates to what we do in Suzuki talent education.
It bothered me because, however innocently, it implies an expectation of unearned knowledge - a desire to advance one’s practical knowledge without going through the practical part.
Learning to play an instrument at a high level is arguably one of the most skillful tasks that humans undertake. Naturally, when we see an expert player we might wonder what the trick is. What’s the key that when found unlocks that level of playing?
So in music, what is the trick?
Well, the trick is to realize there isn’t a trick at all. There are still endeavours that are simply impervious to tricks. You can’t tweak your bow hold slightly and suddenly play the Paganini Caprices. You can’t stare at the score long enough and suddenly play the Rachmaninoff piano concerti. Learning to play well isn’t like that at all. It is more like building a 747. I’m not an engineer and I know nothing about how a 747 is actually built. But I’m pretty sure it starts with one piece of metal and a rivet. The result is not the application of a trick. It’s the sum of millions of small tasks. The same as learning to play.
The trick of learning to play beautifully is not a trick at all. It’s just accepting that some things can’t be rushed. It’s coming back to practice every day. And for the thing done well, its price is time itself.