Comfortable: providing or experiencing physical well-being or relief (`comfy’ is informal); free from stress or conducive to mental ease; more than adequate
Why do we always want to be comfortable? It’s a topic my violin teacher and I have been discussing a lot lately. For many years I worked on being comfortable when I was playing. In fact so much so that I payed attention to how things felt rather than what sound was coming out of the violin. I would play through something, and then immediately ask myself how it felt with no attention to how it sounded. My fingers hurt, or I was pressing to hard, my brain would start processing how to make it more comfortable. It amazes me how little I thought about the sound coming out of my violin. The focus was never about sound quality, something that frustrated my current teacher for quite some time. My quest for comfort over shadowed any thought I had about what I heard. I didn’t listen.
Then I started working with my current teacher because I wasn’t happy with my violin. I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t getting very far with my career. Gradually I came to learn that I really wasn’t listening like I thought. I was feeling, and it was creating a less than appealing sound. He pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I came to realize more and more that being comfortable doesn’t mean that it’s right. The more I listened the better I got. Instead of asking myself how things felt, I worked hard to ask how things sounded. My sound started to change, along with many other aspects of my playing. And in an odd twist I relaxed more, and worked much less than I ever did when focusing on comfort. It still surprises me how uncomfortable I feel sometime, but how right it sounds. It’s something that I struggle with a lot with the Bach fugue I’m working on. I feel so uncomfortable playing it, but it sounds right.
I have this struggle with my own students on a regular basis. “Do you hear that the note is out of tune?” “Well yes, but that’s where my finger lands.” “there’s just one problem, it’s not about where your finger lands, it’s about playing the right note. Your finger isn’t doing that. You need to listen.” “Oh, but the other way isn’t comfortable.” “But the other way is right!” they are so concerned about how it feels that they forget to listen to what they’re doing.
How often do we fall into the trap of wanting to be comfortable? It’s one of the reasons I run marathons. I want to challenge myself, to push myself out of my comfort zone. It’s the reason why my violin playing has gotten significantly better. Not everything has to be comfortable, it just has to be right. It might mean pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, but sometimes taking a risk has a huge reward. The more I listen the more I learn, not just with playing, but with everything in life. What are my students really saying? How are they acting? What are their parents doing, or saying? What do I hear? Sometimes the answers to these questions are uncomfortable, but important. It’s how we learn, how we grow. I never want to stop growing even if it means listening to feedback that I don’t like, or critic that isn’t fair. It’s what we choose to do that is more important. So, sometimes I may have to be uncomfortable. I’m okay with that. It’s making me a better violinist, a better runner, and hopefully, a better person.