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Are you thinking about learning a new skill?

Would you like to learn a new skill but struggle with self-doubt? Allow me to address your concerns. Four months ago, I decided to learn to play the violin and it’s been quite the journey! 

I’ve always loved listening to violin pieces, both classical and contemporary and one evening while listening to a Brooklyn Duo cover of Despacito, I was compelled to take up the art. After an internal struggle, I arrived at a state of cognitive dissonance, clearly visualising two versions of what might happen, version one where I could expertly bow the notes into a beautiful melody and version two where a lonely violin sat in the corner of my room, gathering dust, only to be pulled out for the occasional ear bleeding rasps.

After blogging about this, I received a lot of positivity and encouraging dm’s. Putting both versions to the back of my mind, I reasoned I should just have some fun with it and booked a music tutor. There was a bit of an odd start to this when I accidentally sent some of my content to my tutor instead of a colleague and bearing in mind I had not yet met her this could have gone horribly wrong. The moment of horror set in as I realised what I had done – having sent a video of various men prancing around in knickers and fishnet stockings to the wrong person! I apologised profusely for the error. Fortunately, my good-humoured tutor glazed over the error and said she had assumed it wasn’t for her and hadn’t looked at it – phew! 

With that behind me, it was time for a lesson! The sounds that came from my bow on the strings in that first lesson were somewhere between someone scraping their claws down a chalkboard and a fight between rabid, feral cats. Still, I managed to identify the strings quickly and read the open strings from the music sheets. Having retained no musical knowledge whatsoever from school, this came as quite a surprise. As a kid, I was diagnosed with hyperactivity disorder, which is now known as ADHD. I would wait at the back of the classroom with my hand up ready to ask a question but would quickly get bored if ignored and would drift off into a daydream of magical lands. It didn’t help that my hearing wasn’t great either so I would miss quite a bit of instruction. When the school teacher asked us to create a piece of music on the keyboard I was lost. When my turn came I would randomly press keys in no specific order and Miss Barlow would just mumble, “Erm, ok, next!”

My first violin lessons were extremely challenging. For starters, I struggled to hold the bow and my whole hand would cramp up within minutes. I would hit the wrong strings, sometimes managing to hit two or three at one sometimes! I even struggled with holding the instrument in the right position and crushed my face against the instrument, terrified of it falling to its death and shattering into a million pieces. Yes, I have quite the capacity for catastrophizing, but can generally force it down.

Primavera violin

Each sound was jarring and I could feel my face morphing into a cringe, much to the bemusement of my tutor who encouraged me to accept that it’s always difficult in the beginning and that I just needed to keep practicing. With my bulldog chewing a wasp-marinated-in-lemon face, I persisted.

As the weeks went on, my wrists and fingers strengthened up and I was able to hold the bow correctly and for longer periods of time. We practiced simple pieces from a children’s book and in each lesson, there would be some progress. Next, I learned to use my left hand on the fingerboard to play scales and D major. 

Over the Christmas period, my family came over for a pre-Christmas meal and asked me to play. I’d had several Gins and protested that no one wants to hear someone play badly, but they implored me as they hadn’t even seen a violin in real life before. I played a simple piece called Rowing Boat after a few false starts and whilst it was quite dreadful, they were extremely complimentary. A few days later I realised that I could play the piece from memory – much to my excitement. Four months on, I throw the violin under my chin as if it were a feather and the bow feels right in my hand. Each piece I play still sounds amateurish but I’m hitting the correct strings, I am making fewer errors on the fingerboard, and am able to play some duos with my tutor. One thing I’ve noticed is that I am able to focus intently on what I am doing, my concentration has improved and while I’m playing, everything else just drifts far away. There are no worries about life, anxiety is banished.  I am just in the moment, enjoying the feeling of following the pattern and connecting all the dots.

Many people are put off learning a new skill as they doubt themselves or think they have left it too late in life. I assert that it’s never too late and yes you can! Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but your self-doubt has held you back? Whether it’s learning to play an instrument, paint, write a book, or learning to cook, you have everything you need within you. You just need determination and a patient teacher to draw it out of you.

Many of us struggle with that internal dialogue that says, “You’ll mess it up, what’s the point?” That voice is your fear of failure but it’s wrong and what’s so bad about failing anyway? You have to fail multiple times at anything before you start to make progress and get it right. Accept that you are going to fail at first then do it anyway! You’ll also find the therapeutic benefits of learning a new skill is immense. For one, it’s confidence building. Once everything starts to fall into place you think, I didn’t think I could do this but I’m learning, so what else can I do that I didn’t think I could? My second major purchase was a mandolin, which is currently being repaired by my fantastic tutor who is highly passionate about music and has been a massive inspiration. The instant it arrived I decided to have a go at tuning it myself. I was a bit overzealous which lead to an almighty twang and the string snapping. You have to try these things though! What’s the point in being scared to tinker with something? What’s the worst that can happen? A snapped string is not the end of the world.

Another benefit is to learning a new skill is that you will also create stronger neural pathways in your brain that will help with memory, mental health and give you a greater sense of wellbeing.

So, feel the fear, laugh in its face and do it!

What will you decide to learn today? Good luck on your journey. 

Kaz B

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