Musings: The Joy Of Beginning

Image: Pixabay

Yes, I’m a beginner. Right now, I’m learning to play the recorder, and I’m honing my drawing skills. While it may be uncomfortable (and possibly a tad embarrassing) to realize that a 10 year old can play your chosen instrument far better than you, it should serve as inspiration, rather than a reason to never begin at all.

When you think about it, beginning something is often one of the most exciting phases of a process: it glows with promise, accentuated by the allure of discovery. The oyster awaits, the pearl yet to be revealed. But what exactly is the pearl?

For me, the pearl isn’t mastery of a new skill or language; realistically, that may never happen, for many possible reasons. Changing priorities, new interests, lack of commitment – these could all potentially derail achievement of goals. While I think goals are good to have, they need to be tempered by reality and the understanding that goalposts may need to change; flexibility and compassion for self are, arguably, equally important. The process of learning, itself, can be immensely satisfying.

I subscribe to the philosophy of “use it or lose it”, particularly when it comes to the brain and intellect. Why slide into senescence content that all you’ve experienced and learned up to that point is enough? In other words, why stop actively learning? Wouldn’t learning, for example, a new language, how to make music, how to paint, how to use new software, or physics improve your life?

Besides the valuable health benefits of learning new skills, there’s satisfaction in taking up a challenge, isn’t there? Even if there are periods of frustration and confusion in trying to master a skill, just persevering and sticking with it until obstacles are overcome can provide a big boost to your self-esteem.

While learning to play the recorder, I found the transition from B to C surprisingly tricky: feeling comfortable going from B (first hole covered) to A (first two holes covered) to G (first three holes covered), I figured the next step, C, would be manageable, too. But C is played by covering only the second hole, and my finger kept trying to cover the first, too – playing A, instead. Instead of learning a new note per session, I repeated the C lesson twice, and played a practice piece 30 or so times. Yep. Was it fun? No, it was actually rather exasperating. Did I throw in the towel? No. Instead, I kept practicing until I could comfortably play C when I wanted to. Then I practiced it more – muscle memory comes from repetition.

Experienced recorder players may be grimacing and thinking “but that’s only C, and there are far more difficult notes to play!” Yep. And when I get there, I’ll have the confidence of surmounting the C challenge.

It’s a new year, a great time to learn a new skill. Just think: if you start now, you’ll have (nearly) a year’s worth of learning in by this time next year. And you’ll be helping keep your brain fit!