10,000 Hours*

guitar handsMy eldest daughter has just driven off to take her grade 8 classical guitar exam.  It seems very different from when she did her first music exam, but in reality not much has changed.

Outwardly driving herself to the exam is obviously not how it was back when she was in 2010.  Back then I recall picking her up from school and taking her to some church hall where I nervously hung around – adding to her tension. Now we are hanging around nervously at home.

She is older so we’ve let her determine the effort she puts in (well ok we do nag a bit) but the pattern is the same.  She slowly, over a long time, works on the set pieces, learns the scales, practices the aural tests.  Again and again and again.  She and her Tutor (a big thank you to Jim Bateman) break each piece down into tiny sections, perfecting the techniques to be used for each few notes.  Then slowly the sections are joined together until eventually the whole piece can be played.  At first this may be a little halting but repeated practice creates the fluency.

With the exam date looming there is a usual crisis of confidence and a lack of self belief.  Jim never falters in his absolute belief, tempered with realism.  He knows she can do it, if she puts the work in.  Two weeks to go and the pieces are ok but they lack the subtle nuances that create a true performance.  Practice, practice, practice.  Until her hands ache and her fingers are sore.

A few days to go and suddenly, as if by magic, those stuttering early renditions have metamorphosed into beautiful pieces that take the listener on a wonderful journey.  Reflective quiet passages, intricate finger work, joyous rhythm leading to a crescendo make the playing a true performance.

Watching her fingers you’d better believe she has a talent.  That’s a prerequisite.  But it’s not enough on it’s own.  Without the determination, without the effort, she’d still be strumming chords.

Tonight we’ll get a phone call.  Passing matters.  It matters a lot.  Enough to spend 10,000 hours* on.

*In the book ‘Outliers‘, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field.

I hope that God decides to talk through him
That the people decide to walk with him
Regardless of pitchfork cosigns I’ve jumped
Make sure the soundman doesn’t cockblock the drums
Let the snare knock the air right out of your lungs
And those words be the oxygen
Just breathe
Amen, regardless I’mma say it
Felt like I got signed the day that I got an agent
Got an iTunes check, shit man I’m paying rent
About damn time that I got out of my basement
About damn time I got around the country and I hit these stages
I was made to slay them
Ten thousand hours I’m so damn close I can taste it
On some Malcolm Gladwell, David Bowie meets Kanye shit
This is dedication
A life lived for art is never a life wasted
Ten thousand

Ten thousand hours felt like ten thousand hands
Ten thousands hands, they carry me
Ten thousand hours felt like ten thousand hands
Ten thousands hands, they carry me

10,000 Hours Macklemore

Thank you (fallettinme be mice elf agin)

view-from-the-terrace-outside-the-edgemoor-innA week or so ago I was fortunate enough to have the time to get out on my bike whilst the UK was bathed in unseasonably warm sunshine (the warmest Halloween on record).  I was conscious that I hadn’t posted a blog for a while and tried to direct my thoughts to create  the structure of a piece.  I did have a couple of great ideas – now I cannot for the life of me remember them, they were great ideas though!

I have just reviewed the ride in my training log as it was a great, flat route.  The headlines as captured for posterity by Strava were 56km in 2:18, averaging 24.4kmh, total elevation gained 220m (it is pretty flat around here), on my 16 year old Scott Vail MTB.  The weather was a sunny 22.2 C and I burned up around 1,900 calories.

If I had been using my heart rate monitor, cadence meter and a power meter I would have captured more data about the ride.

That evening I was finalising a presentation and I came across the old maxim:

what get’s measured get’s managed

That of course leads to various conclusions around “measures that matter”.  Reflecting on the day I wondered what really mattered. The data captured was of use only from a training perspective.  The bare facts don’t come close to describing the experience.  If asked why I run, cycle and swim my Strava account is the wrong place to start looking.

The truly important things about the ride were the things that can’t be directly measured: my emotions and feelings.  I started out in a fairly flat mood, a few opportunities I had been pursuing were looking less likely to come off and those that were promising were not the most exciting.  I finished feeling energised, relaxed and renewed.

We keep a jar in the kitchen into which all of the family put small notes of gratitude on a regular basis (we’ll review them over New Year in a celebration) and I found I had a whole list of notes to write:

Thanks for the time and fitness to be able to get out;

the glorious sunshine;

the privilege to live in the Cotswolds;

the wonderful views;

the Autumn colours…

None of which can easily be measured.  Maybe if what get’s measured does get managed, do we fall into the trap of simply managing what we can measure? I wonder if we should really focus on those things that defy simple measurement?

Dance to the music
All nite long
Everyday people
Sing a simple song
Mama’s so happy
Mama start to cry
Papa still singin’
You can make it if you try

I want to thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin
(Different strokes for different folks, yeah)
Thank you falettinme
Be mice elf agin

Thank you (fallettinme be mice elf agin) – Sly & The Family Stone

Breathe

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On Sunday morning I was quietly drinking coffee and doing those Sunday things, my wife was at the gym and the kids fast asleep (it still being a few minutes before noon).  Suddenly I was shocked when my youngest almost fell down the stairs and wobbled into the kitchen.

She was in great distress, very pale, sobbing, breathing very rapidly and incoherently trying to say something.

“I can’t breathe”  or was it “I can’t see” ?

After doing what all Dad’s would do – wishing Mum was there – I started asking her to calm down, but that had no impact.  So I started breathing very noticeably, a little faster than usual and very calmly asked her to copy me.  As she did I slowed it down gradually until she was more or less in control.

Now she could tell me that she had felt a bit odd on getting up, gone for a shower and then had felt light headed, lost her vision and started to fall over.  At this she had freaked out.  I’m no medic but I figured she’d fainted and just needed to calm down.

I asked her to visualise the outline of a square and put a bright dot in the left hand corner, the dot moved along each side with each in and out breath.  In…along the top, out…down the side, in…along the bottom, and so on.  With her I gradually slowed the dot and with it her breathing until she was very relaxed (in fact she was in a light trance).

Afterwards she said she felt very relaxed, if still a little light headed.

Whilst not exactly rocket science it does demonstrate how powerful our breathing is on our emotions.  By focussing on our breathing and slowing it down we naturally calm down and get more oxygen to help us think.  Worth remembering next time you are feeling a little stressed before that meeting or presentation.

Breathe, breathe in the air
Don’t be afraid to care
Leave but don’t leave me
Look around and chose your own ground
For long you live and high you fly
And smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be

Pink Floyd

PS – my wife, a trained first aider, has now told me what I should really do if anyone faints.  The breathing was good but I should have laid her down with legs up a little.