Seeking control? Try a musical instrument

As human beings, one of our basic personality traits must be certain to be control. How is this so? It can be observed on many levels. We try to control our physical circumstances. We decorate our homes in a way we like and to project a certain image. For example, if you want your home to reflect glamour, you fill it with objects that are perceived to be exclusive and expensive. If you wish for your home to reflect your minimalist lifestyle, then you would reflect this in the design of your physical surroundings as well. The control also extends to other fields such as social relationships. We surround ourselves with people who have similar interests and with whom we can talk to, otherwise it would be hard work to find common ground.

But we can only control a finite number of this around us. It is impossible to regulate everything to suit our liking. What if you are applying for a job? You don’t have control over the work circumstances. You cannot choose who you work with. You may have control over the hours you work (or not) but if you are starting out on a junior level you may find many things you can’t control!

We can deflect from the lack of control in various parts of our life by seeking to establish control in others. For example, if you are dismayed by how the lack of control you experience in your work environment, establish one outside where you are in control. Start by learning the piano or a similar instrument. Balance the lack of control you have at work with the mastery of your instrument. Many people already do this – it is no wonder that people who have routine jobs go home where they are Lionel Messi on the Xbox and PlayStation, or masters of their own social media pages.

The significance of numbers

Numbers can be significant markers along the journey of life. Think about it; we celebrate birthdays such as the sixteenth because it means the progression into adulthood. But why sixteen? It could be that it is the legal voting age and so reaching that milestone is worthy of celebration. Another number that is often used as a marker is eighteen. But it pales in comparison to twenty one. Perhaps part of the fascination with that particular number is that it holds a particular association with luck. In the game blackjack, one of the ways you win is if your cards total up to twenty one. Twenty one is the age associated with maturity and adulthood, with growing responsibilities. Reaching that age implies reaching a particular stage in life.

As one progresses further along the journey of life, we tend to mark our progression by decades. We reach our thirties and then our forties. Perhaps the most significant marker after that is our fifties. After all, it is at that particular stage in life that we can move on part of the way to the next rung.

Century.

The age of fifty is not so much thought of as five decades, but as reaching the midpoint of a venerable century. A person turning fifty is seen as having attained a wealth of experience and has attained some stature, so his our her opinion on matters holds more weight than someone who has turned twenty one.

We can extend the attachments to number significance beyond humans to objects too. A company that has been in existence for forty years is more reputable – or viewed that way anyway – as one that is recent.

The London Underground’s Victoria Line turns fifty this month and its achievement in ferrying millions of passengers in that time is commendable. At the same time, it has opened up employment opportunities to millions. You can live in Brixton while working in Walthamstow. You can enjoy different work and recreational opportunities.

One of the recreational opportunities you can enjoy around Finsbury Park is the gift of music. If you are ever looking to learn a musical instrument like the piano, a good starting point is the pianoworks website, where you can find out about piano lessons in N8 and N4. It’s only a short hop away from the Victoria Line, but you needn’t worry about travel – the piano teacher comes to you! Now that is a 100% winner!

What do you want for your children to attain by the particular milestones?

Don’t work out what to do; just work!

When you are sat down at a lunch or dinner with someone that you don’t see very often, what do you talk about? You may find that invariably conversations stray to the subject of work, the kind of issues people face, relationships with colleagues, and in this day and age, probably funding cuts and how they affect jobs. And why should people not talk about work? After all it is the thing that most people spend their waking hours on. When you wake up in the morning you are primed for work, the travel in, the journey on crowded train rides et cetera. Some people even commute two hours to work from the outskirts of the capital, taking advantage of cheaper housing in suburbs and the higher salaries in the city. And that is two hours each way. Take a eight or nine hour job, tack on four hours of commute, eight hours of sleep (or less) and you can see how much of a percentage work takes up in our daily lives.

But what if you are out of work? Even those who are unemployed – not in education or employment or training, known as NEETS to the government, social conversations can be about work. The only difference is that conversations centre around the lack of work rather than the quality of work. And conversations are likely to take place in the virtual world rather than in the real world.

But what can you do if you find yourself in the latter situation? The thing to do is to make yourself go out and still meet people. Find opportunities to volunteer at charity shops. Because it is important to still keep maintaining that drive to get yourself out of bed, to keep up the routine of getting prepared for employment, even if volunteering is not paid, so that when a paid opportunity develops – maybe you get offered a job somehow – that you don’t get lulled into being “not bovvered” about it because the thought of getting out of bed and ready in the morning is too much.

As a Harringay Ladder piano teacher tells us, practice and getting into a routine makes a difference. Don’t think about doing something; just do it! That is a good skill to impart to children; to spend less time considering job decisions before applying for work, and to actually do the pondering after you are in the job!

Managing Content: A Skill for Life

Shubnum Khan is the face that welcomes immigrants to various countries such as Canada and Uruguay. But she is busy balancing a career as a writer and artist, in addition to a business in New York that sells carpets. When she is also not leading treks to Cambodia, she has involvement with McDonalds group in China, dentistry in Virginia and oh – by the way – she has links with a French dating website.

Does this sound too good to be true? If it does, it probably is. (By the way, it is.)

It turns out that the South African author’s image was used without her knowledge as part of a stock photo image group – that is to say, companies and website owners can use her image if they remunerate the photographer that took the photo, if he happens to own the image rights.

The photographer does.

But how is it that she gave away her image rights, and allowed her image to be associated with causes that she does not even promote? It turns out that many years earlier she had participated in what was called a 100 Faces Shoot, where a photographer promised professional portraits in exchange for being snapped.

Let’s pause for a moment here – if someone offers you a free professional shoot, would you take up the offer? The more sceptical among us might say that a free shoot, when photographers normally charge upwards of hundreds of pounds, might be enough of a signal that something is amiss. There must be a catch right? The younger ones among us might leap into the chance to get free professional photos which might help in launching their careers, with good pictures to go on CVs and websites. But there must be something in it for the photographer, right?

It turns out the photographer said it was all part of an art project, but that’s a vague term that didn’t turn out well for Khan.

Sometimes a level of shrewdness in business dealings can work to your advantage. For example, Michael Jackson did not sing the Beatles songs, of course(!), but he owned the rights to them, giving himself a large sum from royalties. (You can read more about this from the Finsbury Park piano teacher blog.)

We live in a technological world where content is abundant. Our children need to grow to learn the skill of managing information and content – not to plagiarise it from the internet, to be careful of how their images are used, and most of all, it would be a good skill to know how to speak up if in doubt, and not to roll along and accept things blindly on trust!

World Cup lessons

How did a country with four million people beat a country with over sixty million people to get into the finals of the World Cup? That is the question posed by everyone, and let’s faced it, if you haven’t faced one person talking about it, or come across such conversation while on public transport, that it is conceivable that you have spent the last month in hibernation, missed the scenes of jubilant England celebrations in pubs all across England, and have instead been living in a basement. You can’t have really missed it, and avoided all the back pages of tabloids and broadsheets chronicling the highs and lows of the Lions.

Everyone has been struggling to deal with the loss of the Lions to Croatia. But coming back to the question, how did a country with few people beat a country with an established football team and league, which is arguably the best in the world?

In answering the question, the assumption is that ratio-wise, a country with more people should produce a country with more quality players. In this case you would be right to assume England should have won. But it is not really the players that decide victory. Victory is done to a variety of factors. More of these factors can be found in Croatia. The most important of these is desire.

Footballers in Croatia have to ply their trade overseas to succeed. Of the world cup team representing Croatia, the majority play outside of their country. For those who hope to make it overseas, by being the best in the country, competition is fierce. The most important quality to succeed is hunger. There are many young people training in poorly constructed areas. Prospective footballers have to raise money even sometimes to take part in tournaments. When you have invested a stake in your own success, then there is more drive to succeed.

So it is desire and heart that gives an individual the edge. Taking a reference from a different field, in the realm of classical music, when the strings of the piano, which were suspended on the wooden frame, were switched to a tougher, metal-backed frame, this expanded the potential of piano music by allowing more notes and chordal music to be played. (You can read more about this in the Piano Lessons N4 website.) And without the electric guitar, which toughened up the sound of the acoustic guitar, we would not have the various kinds of music that we have nowadays. It was metal that gave the music mettle!

What can we teach our children then? We can highlight to them that size does not entirely matter, but quality does. It is not the size of the dog in the fight, it is the size of the fight in the dog!

For information that sticks, look for meaning

School trips. Love them or hate them? I suspect that it depends on which side of the equation you are on. The children that go on them would likely be excited at the chance of doing something different, away from the classroom, and not having the “boring” learning, of information thrown at them that they would be forced to absorb in order to pass a test.

For the adults, it might mean anxiety at being out of the classroom, in an environment where you have little control, and have to establish control, in the face of excited students who are seizing upon the opportunity at freedom.

It is funny how adults and children have two different perspectives.

Trips are important though. They are difficult to co-ordinate, involving shepherding children on public transport to places, doing headcounts, making sure children are safe, and generally cause high levels and anxiety for the organising adults. For the children though, it is a meaningful experience and a chance to attain information and internalise it in a meaningful way.

Imagine the students reading about historical events in the classroom. They may have read about the battles in France in Ypres, or Flanders, and learnt how many people died in these battles. But to them, the numbers are just that; statistical information that needs to be recalled for the purpose of writing an essay or passing an exam. But take them on a school trip to Flanders, where you can see the poppy weaths laid out over the fields, and they get a meaningful sense of scale of the wars. Look at the scenery around and visualise what life might have been like, with bombs raining from the sky, and history comes to life and is made more meaningful. And long lasting.

We can take the same approach to anything we encounter in life. By trying to look deeper, and going beyond the obvious factual information, we can create a deeper sense of relevance and meaning. Playing music on the piano? According to Piano Teacher in Finsbury Park, rather than looking at the music as a list of information and instructions on which keys to depress, try and understand the motivation of the person writing it. Why is the music alternately loud and soft? What is the composer trying to depict? What are the circumstances behind the composer’s life? These questions spin off more thought and discussion beyond “Play these sections loud and soft”.

Meaning is everywhere in life. Meaning gives us relevance. But to find it, look beyond the obvious, first-layer of information. And when you find meaning, the information becomes more internalised, relevant, and sticks for longer.

Teaching our children new skills to cope

According to Seth Stephenson-Davidowitz, a data scientist who uses data to draw insights into human behaviour, people are less inclined to tell the truth face to face or in a survey, because of perceived reaction and perception. This means that they are afraid of what people might think of them and hence try to soften or cushion their words. The problem with this though is that information around us is hence not necessarily the best source. The data scientist believes that because there is a higher perception of anonymity afforded computer users – people believe they are anonymous when they are not, but that is a post for another day – many go on Google to search for answers to thoughts and hence the data trends are more accurate.

One of Stephenson-Davidowitz’s research on data trends has focused on depression. According to data searches, August 11 and Christmas Day are the happiest days of the year – there are less searches for the word depression, while depression is highest in April, the month called the “cruelest month” by poet T S Eliot. Google data also suggests that climate matters a great deal. But also highlights that money is the perhaps a strong underlying cause – searches for depression are less in areas which a large percentage of people are college-educated, which – for those of us in the UK – means they have degrees, and are not to be confused with sixth-form college.

While we all know that money underpins a lot of our concerns – those who have financial freedom, and power, a BBC report revealed the extent to which it can affect us. A young man who took up a job as a delivery driver found himself in debt because of traffic violations, and that, coupled with the low-paying job he was on, meant he earned next to nothing and this mental stress caused him unfortunately to end his own life prematurely.

We all have worries about job security and for many adults that live from paycheck to paycheck with huge financial commitments, we must be careful that this stress does not impact on our children. Children that live in such households where there is latent stress grow up to be more negative and resentful, and fearful of life, instead of embracing it.

What can we do in such situations? After all, the modern world for most people creates tensions for us, and increasing demands of work, family, commitments and family and personal needs all never fit into of what a friend of mine calls the Tetris of Life.

We can find outlets of expression for us and for our children. Music is often seen to be a good outlet because it only costs a device (a phone which most of us already have) and some bandwidth. But listening to music is passive, involves mental processing and receiving input, and when they listen to more music, they are already cramming more into their minds and suppressing more mental triggers which want to manifest themselves in activity.

Instead, encourage them to try doing some activity instead. Take up a skill like learning to draw or playing an instrument like the piano which will give them outlets of expression. And these are activities they can do indoors in colder season (climate is another trigger for searches of “depression” in Google).

Like many other composers in the past, children can learn music to channel their inner emotions and give them an outlet from the stresses of their life and those that we may inadvertently transfer onto them.

Learning a musical instrument is not just a good idea for children, but for you as well, for the same reasons. Learning the piano activates different parts of the brain which relieves the pressure on the cortex and the word-processing part of the brain and gives you some form of mental escape – instead of being lost in the maze of Google searches without a way out. And speak with someone too, and try to dissipate the stress of the environment around you.

Teaching Children the art of balancing

Among the useful life skills we can teach or children is the skill of learning to balance. Because life is about balancing. And when I speak about balancing, I don’t mean the physical skill if riding a bike or going about on a scooter. I refer to the skill of leaning on one set of rules on one occasion, and on another set at a different time.

Why is balancing important? It is because as adults we give children many layers of instruction. Depending on perhaps how liberal a parent it, the instructions can come more positively-wrapped, or a series of admonishments. “Stay close.” “Don’t do that.” “Don’t go there.” When we give children a seires of instructions that we expect them to follow through, in their minds they will be working out the reasons for these. Why does Mummy not want me to go near the tree? Because she is afraid I may fall. Why does Daddy want me to stop at the end of the road. In fact, why is he hollering “Stop!” at me when I know to stop? Because it is dangerous.

The unfortunate thing about negative parenting – or what appears to be negative anyway – is that compounded over time it can just bury the child under a series of Not To Dos. And repeated over time, it does foster a spirit of not trying, because everything is dangerous. If we repeatedly rein in our children, and curb their spirit, affter a while they do it to themselves.

Growing up, I knew of a friend that had often been told by his parents not to do this and that. Perhaps it was because he was the youngest of three children, and their instructions to him to keep safe (“Don’t do that) were more a way of keeping him reined him while they tried to manage the other two children. Slowly this friend grew to adopt the spirit that had been trained on him. But when he was in his teens and seemed to his parents to be developing into some sort of anti-social spirit (he is fine by the way), they were trying to encourage him to go out and make more friends. “Go out and socialise! Go meet more friends! Leave your room and meet new people!” Unfortunately the advice he was receiving was in direct contradiction to what he had been previously taught.

We give instructions to children because that is the quickest way of getting them to do something that is safe. Some of it is positive, some is negative. Sometimes there are two different sets of rules for social situations. We sometimes, for example, encourage children to give their best and try their hardest. Yet, at a birthday party for a friend, sometimes we have to teach them the skill of letting the birthday boy or girl win at a game of say, pass the parcel. We have to teach the children which rule to adhere to, and the skill of balance – knowing which one to choose.

We encourage children to be compliant, but sometimes we have to encourage them to be creative and go against the grain too. The Classical composer Richard Wagner was trained – as most musicians were – in the past generational ideas of harmony, and while his earliest work displayed a strong influence of the past, he realised that it was artistically sterile to merely repeat what had been done already, and if he did so, his own self would merely be subsumed in a long ancestral line of artistry. He needed to break free, and this is why as his musical work progressed, it broke free of the past structures of harmony. But Wagner could not merely write chromatic and dissonant music in a complete break with the past. Otherwise his music would be completely at odds with the status quo and he would have been an outsider inhabiting a different world to his surroundings. It was in the balance of new ideas with old existing ones which produced his best masterpieces, one where new ideas of harmony blend with traditional ones. Wagner found his balance. You can read more about this from the piano teacher crouch end blog.

Balancing is the switching between two sets of rules as the situation dictates. In life we are often given set rules but none of them are fixed; only situational. The skill of balancing is an important one to pass on to our children.

Daring children to fail

It seems that we are such a goal-oriented society and measure our progress by the attainment of success, that we have forgotten that in failure there is much to learn to.

Think of a child making a Lego set. He or she follows the instructions, and then perhaps after a nunber of steps encountes a point where the pieces do not fit as the diagrams intended.

What do you do? Should you just break up the whole thing into the constituent blocks and then start all over again?

Strangely enough, this is how some people approach their learning.

Some piano players that I have encountered, for example, are so intent on getting it right, that when they make a mistake, they merely keep returning to the first bar, and try playing again from the beginning hoping to get a complete error-free version.

The problem with doing this is that you get familiar with the opening stages of the process. You don’t really learn as much as dealing with the difficult stage. What you are doing is repeating the process and banking on, or gambling on, that the next time you do it right something will magically sort itself out. ¬†You have not really learnt to deal with the obstacle, as you have attempted to do the thing again and hope it will be right.

Imagine if you were that child playing with Lego. You hit a snag and somewhere something must have gone wrong.

What should you do?

You should retrace your steps, until you get to the point where you can identify what you have built does not match with the instructions. There you learn where you went wrong, how you misintepreted the instructions, and how to watch out for that step again if you ever decide to build your model from scratch.

If you do ever make a mistake and then decide to start from scratch, you may think your perserverance is a positive factor, but actually it is not. You are merely masking a lack of initiative to solve problems by hoping hard graft can make up for a lack of perserverance and the will to develop intelligent problem-solving skills.

Daring to fail is not a bad point. It gives us the opportunity to gain maturity and intelligence by overcoming the problem ahead of us.

In life, everyone frequently hits a snag. This presents an opportunity for growth. This is what we should teach our children. Dare to fail, dare to make mistakes, so that in overcoming them we grow. You don’t need to produce perfection. If you don’t try for the fear of making an error, you have lost out on the opporunity for growth.