Friday, February 15, 2013

The Dreaded "Third Week"

I've recently started working with two of my friend's kids. They are young, i.e. six and nine, and they want to learn music. Specifically, the six year old wants to learn how to play guitar, and the nine year old wants to learn how to sing.

As I've been working with them over the past few weeks, I knew that this most recent lesson would be one of the toughest, and I was 100% right. Not because I'm teaching anything hard, or because it's something difficult to understand... nope, it's because this would be week three, and if history has taught me anything, the "third week realization" would make its appearance... and sure enough, it did.

Here's how it works. In the first week, everyone is excited, it's new, they are looking forward to learning, and we're just getting to know what each other expects. The second week, we give them something to hang it on, something relevant that they can compare to. The third week, all comes crashing down, usually. Why? They realize now what is required of them, and the level of practice needed to do even the most basic of things. I introduced a drill to the guitar student and showed what needed to be done to "master" the drill, and as we worked through it, I saw it in his eyes. His fingers on his left hand hurt. His right hand was getting tired. He was slouching and grabbing the neck of the guitar with a death grip. He was frustrated. This part HURTS! It's not enjoyable. Most of all, it doesn't sound like music. It's trills and hammer-ons, using different fingers, and it sucks. The sad thing is, without learning this, I can't really teach him anything of interest.

My vocal pupil, likewise, after getting over the amusement of my asking her to repeatedly yawn-sigh, and sing through a few chromatic scales, found it frustrating that she could not sing along to Tears for Fears "Shout" (picked because it has a very simple melody line). I saw it in her eyes, too. She was struggling, she was wondering why she couldn't hit the notes. She looked at me with a share of disappointment and bewilderment. Again, I had to show her that these annoying little drills were necessary, that she had to learn where her voice actually was so that she could use it to vocalize correctly and accurately.

I could have been all business, and just shrugged it off and said "keep practicing, it will get better", but I remember many times doing the same thing for things I wanted to do in the past, and not getting any encouragement or a pep talk of any kind, and I subsequently abandoned a lot of those things. Maybe there's a better way to do this.

I decided to share with them my own experiences of the dreaded "third week", and to let them know that this was perfectly normal, but to also show them that they could get through it if they really wanted to. I stopped and asked them why they wanted to play guitar and sing. Was it just something they wanted to do to impress their parents, or was it something they wanted to do for themselves? If it was something they wanted to do for themselves, I asked them what would be a "quick win" for them. I'm a firm believer in quick wins. If a quick win for the guitar player was to put one finger on a single string and slide up and down to different note to make a melody, then cool, do that. For the singer, I asked her to find her favorite song, and I'd do whatever I could to help her sing it. I pulled out my bass, something I hadn't played for, at this point, several months, and goofed around with them a bit, got some laughs out of them, and then showed that we all had that dreaded "third week" in our pasts. In short, this is the hinge-pin moment for most, when they will decide to tough it out, or quit. Getting a "quick win" at this point is vital.

In testing, I think we often face similar situations. There's a lot we realize we don't know and need to know to be effective in a particular sphere. As I've been going through Selenium 2 Testing Tools, I've found a few times I've had to stop what I was doing because things weren't working the way they should. That's frustrating because, often, you don't know WHY they are not working. You're missing some of the details, or you don't realize that there's some library somewhere that you need to access or have an understanding of to use the item effectively. I've probably spent more time going over remedial Java in the past two weeks than I have cumulatively over the past eight years. More than a few times, I've thought to myself "aw heck, why am I subjecting myself to this?"

The reason, for me, is I've publicly put myself on the line to do it. I made a pledge, and in that pledge I said I'd allow myself to be either brilliant or stupid, enlightened or foolish, knowledgeable or ignorant. Even with that caveat, I still want quick wins to help me know that I'm on the right track, or that what I want to do is at least conceivable if not immediately attainable. It's no different with other endeavors. If we get something we can smile about, or makes us feel like we are making progress, we are much more excited about pushing forward. Take the time with the people you work with to get them to relax, drop some of the frustration, if possible, and share some of your own screw-ups and frustrations with them. Trust me, it makes that "third week" go by much smoother. Time will tell if my advice and approach will work for these two :).
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