Adagio: At the Speed of Nature

“The Pace of Nature” Photo by M.J. Murphy


“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The musical instruction “adagio” comes from the Italian phrase “a dagio” which means “at ease”. It’s a good word, and it got me thinking.

The question always comes up: “How long will it take me to learn to play guitar?” as if there were a secret equation for calculating it. There is of course no way to answer this question. The only answer that can honestly be given is “It depends”.

“Depends on what?” is of course the next question.

Most teachers will answer this question with “well, it depends on how often you practice.” This answer is as true as it is obvious.

But I believe there is a great secret to learning how to play any musical instrument, and it is a very simple one, one we hear about all the time but, because we hear it so often, we don’t consider it deeply enough – the secret, in a word, is patience.

Our society has become an extremely impatient one because we live in an age of instant gratification. The world now offers us so many things instantly that in previous generations took much longer to acquire.

Think about how easy it now is to buy a book, a newspaper, a music album, a song, a movie, or for that matter anything else that is information based. It’s all just a click away. Even material goods can be ordered online and delivered the very next day if you are willing to pay a little bit extra shipping fees.

When it comes to acquiring knowledge, or wisdom or skill however, things have not gotten any easier. You still can’t buy the ability to understand particle physics or calculus or molecular biology or purchase the ability to hit a ninety mile per hour fastball, and you can’t buy the skill to instantly play a musical instrument either.

You can however choose from thousands of books about how to play guitar or piano or cello; and if you are wealthy enough you can hire the best teacher in the world, or subscribe to expert video lessons on the Internet. But none of these things will help you learn any faster than the next if you don’t bring a healthy dose of patience to the effort.

The good news is that patience comes completely free, and it is free in more than one sense of the word

Patience is free because it requires no money to obtain it; but more importantly, it is free because it also requires absolutely no effort to manifest it. It results from the very absence of effort. That is, the absence of energy spent worrying or fretting that your practicing is not getting you anywhere. In fact, it is getting you everywhere and taking exactly as much time as is required – no more, no less.

Impatience, on the other hand requires a vast amount of energy: energy in the form of the worry, stress and anxiety you feel when you desire something that you don’t yet possess. This “something” could be an object, a skill, or simply a state of being. This type of desire is effectively negative energy and it charts the shortest path to quitting.

Paradoxically then, our desire is both our inspiration and our nemesis. Many philosophers urge us to let go of our attachment to intended outcomes as a way of manifesting the things we want to accomplish. This seems counterintuitive at first but it really isn’t.

In Deepak Chopra’s book “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success” the sixth law is called: “The Law of Detachment”.

“The law of detachment says that in order to acquire anything in the universe you have to relinquish your attachment to it. This doesn’t mean you give up the intention to create your desire. You don’t give up the intention and you don’t give up your desire. You give up your attachment to the result.”

This is a difficult concept to communicate in a single quote, so I urge you to read the book. It is a short but fascinating book and I have read it several times, always finding some new revelation in it.

What Deepak is advising is to free yourself from the urgency of obtaining what you desire by not being so bound by instant or for that matter even inevitable success. Urgency causes impatience and impatience creates the illusion that you are making little or no progress when in fact, if you are practicing at all, you are always making incremental progress – even if you don’t readily perceive it.

Accepting the fact that impatience requires energy, and patience requires zero energy means that learning to play music just got a whole lot easier.

In the movie “Groundhog Day” Bill Murray’s character found that every day when he awoke, he lived the same day over and over again. This initially drove him crazy, to the point of trying to kill himself because he feared facing the same exact events day after day, night after night. Killing himself was of course impossible because each day simply started over at 6:30 in the morning regardless of whether he killed himself or not.

He eventually figured out that worrying about his situation was of absolutely no value and he stopped stressing out. When he released his fears and accepted that he had all the time in the world, his life changed in miraculous ways and he soon became the most talented, loved and respected person in his community. He learned many new things with this new sense of time, one of them was how to win the heart of the woman he loved, and another was how to play the piano like a virtuoso.

What he actually learned was patience; and he learned it by letting go of fear and worry about how long the things he wanted might take him.

What this means in practical terms is that you should go about your daily practicing with no worry about whether or not you are getting anywhere. The simple truth is that if you are practicing at all, you are most definitely getting somewhere.

The number one reason that students quit learning a musical instrument is that they feel their efforts are not getting them what they want fast enough.

Patience is the simplest yet most profound secret to learning music. Simply pick up your instrument for a while each day and work a bit on your lessons. That is all you need to do.

I would repeat that tired phrase “just be patient” but saying this has become so cliche is it meaningless and it implies that you have to DO something or BE something in addition to practicing. You don’t, the practicing is enough. It may be better to simply say instead, “practice, and then don’t worry”. You will achieve your goals in time.

When a student of mine expresses regret that they aren’t learning fast enough, I always ask them. “How old are you?” When they answer “ten” for example, I say “Let’s say it takes you five years to learn this song (which of course if won’t) but even if it did, by the time you are fifteen you will be a great guitar player, so don’t worry about it, just take your time and keep at it.“ As you can see, this applies equally well to students of all ages, whether they are ten years old or sixty.

Patience simply means letting go of your preconceived notions about how long something will take and just know that it will happen when it happens, all in good time. This is exactly how nature operates.

To quote from Deepak Chopra’s book again:

“Nature’s intelligence functions with effortless ease… with carefree-ness harmony and love. And when we harness the forces of harmony, joy and love, we create success and good fortune with effortless ease.”

It seems at least Chopra and Emerson are in agreement then:

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s