Since many gifted children don’t tolerate boredom well, how can we convince them that they should persevere through the long slog to mastery of any subject or skill? I succeeded with my cello students, but only after I had stumbled into the benefits of accumulated effort in my own musical development.
Although at the time I didn’t know about Malcolm Gladwell’s discussion of the 10,000-hour rule of proficiency in his book, Outliers, the force of my discovery was compelling. My cello playing had just leaped forward in one of the most important areas of technique: tactile knowledge of the fingerboard. After years of what felt like groping, I could suddenly see where to put my fingers. In my mind’s eye, I saw lines going across the four strings or sometimes dots or flashing lights where the notes were.
With this graphic guide, I played much better in tune; could read music faster; and maneuvered around the cello more easily. In addition, almost every other sector of my technique improved, whether directly connected to fingerboard knowledge or not. I soon saw the cause.
By that stage in my development, I’d been playing about thirty years. For that entire time, I’d been placing my fingers on the fingerboard, attempting—and often failing—to play the right notes in tune and on time. This effort, saturating my musical life, included rehearsals, practice sessions, performances, and numerous recreational chamber music sessions. Dictated by conditions far less controlled than those in a practice room, a high percentage of this finger-placing activity was random, or at least unorganized for the purposes of learning the fingerboard.
Nonetheless, I saw in hindsight how effective it had been. A finite number of attempts to place my fingers had led to those clear mental pictures. True, that finite number was huge, but I was impressed by two obvious facts about the process: 1) it had been effective despite the absence of a systematic procedure 2) I could devise a simple method for accelerating it.