Learning an Old Skill in a New Way

Inverse Window, Day 151 of 2017. June 19, 2017. Design parameters: Warm colors in horizontal stripes surrounded by grey frame. These parameters are the opposite of my Windows series.

In my experience, it can be just as confusing and just as challenging to learn a new skill within an established broader skill set. My dad has played the piano for most of his life. He has a unique style he learned from his second piano teacher when he was in high school. He uses chords to play a rolling rhythm with his left hand and alternates between octaves and chords to play the melody with his right hand. He can play by sight just by reading the melody notes in this way. It has always seemed like a miracle to me because the song sounds like he has practiced the song for weeks when he really is just playing it for the first time. This summer my children asked my dad to teach them all how to play this way. I sat in on the lesson because I always wanted to know how to do it as well. 

I took nine years of piano lessons in my youth. I was taught how to play the notes on the page. It's a logical approach where you are just learning the notes and then putting your own emotion on top of that. This is a whole new approach of playing the piano for me by learning chords and playing different variations of them as you play the melody. Honestly, it was kind of mind-boggling. And a little overwhelming. As I was figuring how to approach this new learning of an old skill, I thought about my tried-and-true method of just putting in the time.  I can do this for a half an hour a day. It takes the pressure off of focusing on how quickly I will learn or if I will understand. I just put in the time

Window, Day 105 of 2017. May 3, 2017. Design parameters: One grey square surrounded by warm color rectangles. These parameters are the opposite of my current Windows series.

I drew a parallel with a situation a reader of my Studio Notes shared with me. In the quilting world, many people follow established patterns either from traditional quilt square patterns which have been around for over 100 years or new designers who sell specific patterns they designed. This means you buy specific fabric and cut it in specific shapes and you sew it together in a specific order to complete your project. I stopped doing this style of sewing almost 18 years ago. It seemed like a natural thing for me to forge my own path because I liked the design phase of fabric art making. But I can see how people who are new to this kind of improvisational sewing and design would have a hard time. It is like me learning how to play the piano in a very different way. Reading music and playing it note for note vs. reading a quilt pattern and sewing it square by square. Playing the chords and improvising the music vs. playing with the fabric you choose and improvising the design. When you play using chords and following the melody there's a certain amount of improvisation of what chord to use with the melody. It is a whole new approach. And I am feeling a little uncomfortable about it. So I can sympathize with people approaching fabric art with a new improvisational attitude. Sometimes it really is uncomfortable.  

So I gave this reader the same advice I'm giving myself. Put in the time. Set aside 15 to 30 minutes a day of just playing with fabric. Pick pieces of fabric and put them in a pile. Sew them together in a random way and see what you get. You have to learn by doing and experiencing. In my case, spend 30 minutes a day learning the chords and how to put it all together with the melody.

This applies to any form of creating. Maybe you are used to landscape photography but want to start doing portraiture. You have the basic photography skills down but you are figuring out a new approach to your artwork. The same could apply for knitting. Perhaps you're used to making socks but you really want to start making sweaters. It all comes down to putting in the time and learning a new way of approaching an old established skill. You are not starting from scratch but you do need to keep an open mind and be aware that getting outside of your comfort zone can be challenging. But it is still worth doing because you may find that you like this new approach even better than your old approach.

Learning new skills is one of the fun adventures in life even if it can be a little nerve-racking. When you're learning a new way of doing something you've done before, be patient with yourself. And just put in the time.