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How You Do One Thing is How You Do Everything
How you do one thing is how you do everything. This story is something that has changed my life, and can change your life too! Those words changed my life forever and can change your life too. I was 12 years old at the time, and I was going for my diploma exams.
I just finished my eighth grade piano. And I found a new piano teacher. So my mom had found this new piano teacher, everybody said she was very, very good. So I worked really, really hard because I wanted to impress this piano teacher. So I worked hard every single day, I practice three, four hours in the two weeks leading up to the very, very first lesson, and I prepared a program of four pieces. I walked in, and I see this woman and she is stern, strict. There was no smile on her face. And she said to me, “Come in.” I walked in, I remember so clearly, it was a, it was a black Yamaha piano. And as I sat down, she said, “What do you have to play?” And I said, “Well, I’ve got a Bach English sweet that we can play.” And then she said, “Okay, begin.” And I played three notes, dum bum bum, the right hand, three notes dum bum bum. And she said, “Stop!” And I was like, “Did I do anything wrong?” She said, “Do it again.” I did it again, dum pum pum. “Stop! Do it again.” Dun dun duh. “Do it again!” And this would go on for about 10 minutes. And my mother and I would look at each other completely bedazzled, confused, unsure of what’s going on. And after about two to three minutes of this, she said, “Stop,” And I’ll never forget this moment, she grabbed the piano lid. And she shut it. And I sat there and I was looking at my mom again. I was like, “Did I do something wrong? Did did? Did I play something wrong?” And she asked me, “Steven, when you play, what do you think about? What do you think of? What comes to mind?” And I said, “Well, I think of E, A, and A”. And she looked at me. She’s like, “No, not the notes. What do you think about?” And I’m like, “What do you mean, not the notes because the notes are all I know, it’s E, A, and A.” And, again, this interaction would go on for about a minute until I realized that what she was trying to say is, what emotion do I think about?
What kind of emotional picture is painted by those three notes? She basically said, “Steven, that is all. I know what your weaknesses. I know what your problem is. Let’s go.” And I was very confused. Because I was like, “Well, I’ve got an entire program, 20 minutes of three other pieces. And the rest of this piece, you’ve only heard three notes. How on earth could you possibly know what’s wrong?” And then she said it: “Steven, the way you do one thing is way you do everything. All I need to hear were those three notes. Once I heard those three notes, I know how you play, I know what your weaknesses are, I know what your strengths are. So let’s work on it.” And for the rest of the hour, we spent the entire lesson on just those three notes, dum bum bum, dum bum bum. Needless to say, by the end of the class, I’ve learned something I learned how to play it very, very well, learn how to use my fingers, how to use my wrist, the very right amount of pressure, what dynamic level I learnt all of those things. But my mom was very, very angry. At the end of the class, we walk out and she says “Steven, we’re not going to wind up going back to that teacher ever again. That teacher was horrible. She taught you three notes in one hour.” And I went back. And I started just working on those three notes. When I went back I didn’t know anything else do I didn’t have any other piano teacher at the time. I was directionless, lost, so I just worked on those three notes.
What’s so profound was that even though we spent our entire hour on just those three notes, I could play the entire piece. Because that motive, dum bum bum; that motif, that theme is repeated over and over again in that piece. And so I knew how to play the left hand, I knew how to play in all the all the different inversions. And so by the end of an hour practice, I’d master the piece. And I was playing it and my mom came in and she’s like, “Steven, that sounded a little bit different. Who taught you that?” And I’m like, “the Russian lady.” And that’s when it clicked. Because for so long. I’ve been practicing 2, 3, 4 hours a day in preparation for this. And all that time was wasted. Why? Because I didn’t master the basics. I didn’t master the first three notes. And so when I get parents asked me on a daily basis, they’re like “Steven, we’re working so hard. We’re doing so many of these selective test and oc test trail tests. We’re working three hours a day, four hours a day. I look back and I chuckle because I made the same mistake.
Steve Xu 04:48
And the question that I ask all parents who tell me “Steven, I’m working so hard. My child’s working every single day. they’re doing all these questions, all these selective test and oc test trial tests.” The first question I ask is, “Well, how are you correcting the mistakes? Are you correcting the mistakes? Are you going through what you went wrong? So if you did a forty-question, English trial test, did you go through the 14 questions that you got wrong?” And they’d look at me blankly, and they’d be like, “No.” And even if they said, “Yes,” I’d be like, “Well, when you went through those 14 questions, did you simply look at the answers, or did you try it again? And how long did you spend on each question?” They’d be like, “Oh, yeah, we just glanced through it.” Glancing through it is not enough. It’s mastery. And mastery only comes by dissecting, understanding every single little inflection that is wrong with your mistake, right? Where did you go wrong? If it’s close passage, where did you go wrong? If it’s evaluation, where did you go wrong? You need to figure that out. And so to all parents who are kind of watching this or kids who are watching this. You need to remember this lesson, which is the way that you do one thing is the way that you do everything. If you do one thing badly, doesn’t matter how many times you do, it doesn’t matter how many times you repeat it, it’s still going to be bad. So focus on quality. Once you have the quality, welcome the quantity. The way you do one thing is the way you do everything.