Distracted and Derailed

After several months of once a week lessons and 30+ minutes of daily practice, I was feeling more comfortable around the keyboard. The exercises were coming easier and I was plodding through a few basic tunes. That’s when I got the idea to check out how others had progressed in the first few months.

The top comment for this video, with 1.7K likes, was “Adderall’s one hell of a drug…”

Drug-addled or not, seeing this sort of progress is deflating. My suggestion to anyone learning piano as an adult is to avoid looking around and comparing yourself to the rest of the world, especially to students who are in their peak learning mode, have time on their hands, and can withstand the demands of Adderall and the like. It me took a week to get motivated again.

It’s an age of distractions. Focus on your own motivations, your own goals and your own pace of learning. Mindful practice and showing up will take you a long way.

Buddies Help 2

I’m reading a book called Stealing Fire by Steven Kotler that talks about group flow states, and so far I’m surprised that he has not mentioned how musicians achieve that. (He’s focused on Navy SEALS, Google’s leaders, and other high performers.)

Not being a musician , I can’t speak from first hand experience, but I gather from others — like Laurent de Wilde, whose biography of Thelonius Monk describes this suspension of the self to merge with the group — that it’s an addictive experience.


I think one of the benefits of learning any musical instrument is to enjoy playing with others. Learning with others is a great way to maintain enthusiasm, stick with the program, and gain another perspective. My kids are doing much more collaborative learning than I ever did at that age (that’s a whole other post.) Right now, my younger daughter and I have a pact to practice 10 minutes a day of our respective instruments for a week. Piano for me, cello for her.

Particularly for younger children, practicing can be a chore. If you can introduce an element of gaming and togetherness, it makes it much easier. So we begin with an easy 10 minutes per day, rain or shine, no matter what. This begins to establish a daily routine. Everything I’ve researched about skill acquisition suggests that practicing 10 minutes a day is more effective than 30 minutes every 3 days.  So that is the objective and we are half way through the week. Carry on.

The Right Way to Fix Universities

The Right Way to Fix Universities

Many would agree that higher education in the United States is broken and in need of reform. But the so-called tax “reform” bill currently wending its way through Congress is a blunt instrument hitting the wrong targets, as the authors point out:

“Taxing graduate students is a crude, destructive mechanism for extracting goods from academia because it would diminish both scientific discovery and the size and scope of the educated public that has been improving our country for generations. The current plan for taxing endowments does not address the problems that rightly drive citizen fury: soaring costs, educational inequality and schools’ resistance to change.”


The article offers up some interesting ideas, but for anyone looking for in-depth analysis, well grounded research and concrete ideas about how education should be designed for the 21st century, I recommend “The New Education” by Cathy N. Davidson. She has been there and done that and knows whereof she speaks.

Buddies Help


Dragging yourself out of bed and into the pool or the gym or onto the trail is a whole lot easier if you’ve got a friend or two waiting to do it with you. I know from personal experience that without a group of friendly swimmers at my ability level and a coach to guide us, I would never have shown up at the pool at 6am for five years plus, rain or shine, to swim a hundred laps or so. Among other things, workout buddies turn a lonely grind into a social event, keep you committed to showing up, and provide a self-reinforcing feedback loop of positive behavior. Anyone who has stuck with an exercise regimen consistently and successfully knows that showing up is half the battle. And if your experience is anything like mine, your workout buddies turn into lifelong friends that you spend more and more time with. After all you’re already sharing an important part of your life with them – you must have something in common. So whenever possible, find a buddy or two – and preferably more – to share your obsession with. It changes the game completely.