Friday, February 01, 2008


February 1, 2008

“That was pretty good,” I mentioned, trying to be encouraging, “but I’d like you to play the piece again. This time, however, don’t watch your fingers. Keep looking up at the music and listen carefully. Your ears are a far better teacher than your eyes.”
The young piano student sitting next to me responded with an exasperated sigh and began to repeat the piece she had just struggled to finish. Like most of my students this was far from the first time she had heard such admonishment from me. In order to prevent her eyes from wandering from her music and focusing down on her fingers I held a music book over her hands to block her view. This tactic works well enough during the lesson while the student is with me, but when she practices at home I suspect she will go back to trusting in her eyes. My hope is that she will become so dissatisfied with her poor playing that she will take the necessary steps to fully develop the talent with which she has been blessed. Those who lack motivation usually become discouraged by their mistakes and give up. Those who strive for excellence are motivated by their mistakes to improve. The latter are the ones who learn to trust their ears. These are the students who captivate the heart of their teacher.
“Does that sound right to you?” I asked after my student struck an obviously sour note.
“No, I guess not,” she responded correcting the mistake.
“That was a great mistake,” I offered. Then seeing the look of confusion on her face, I explained my comment. “A good mistake is one you hear and correct. Trusting in your ears does little good unless you obey what they tell you. Just now you followed what your ears were teaching. Good job! You are well on your way to becoming an excellent student and a virtuoso performer.”
So what’s the problem with focusing on your fingers rather than trusting your ears? When piano students keep looking back and forth from the music to their fingers they invariably lose their place causing a pause in the sound. It is a sign that they are unsure of their own ability, a sign which can be heard as well as seen. Relying on your eyes results in a sloppy, halting, insecure sound. This bad habit will prevent them from ever maturing into a quality musician. No matter how much talent they may possess they will never live up to their potential. It is essential for pianists to have the confidence that their fingers will strike the correct notes. When they make a mistake their ears will tell them, not their eyes.
Unfortunately, it is terribly difficult to break a student from the habit of staring at their fingers and a constant struggle to convince them it is far better to trust their ears. Guitar students often suffer the same affliction but for them the problem is compounded. In order to look at their fingers guitar players will often tilt their instrument thus moving their left hand out of position. Not only will they lose confidence in their ability to play they will also struggle to reach all the notes with their fingers. Most of my students, both on the guitar and the piano, wrestle with the problem of being over reliant on their eyes. More often than not, when forced to look only at the music, their playing improves.
“Well done!” I proclaimed when my piano student finished the piece for the second time. “You played much better without looking at your fingers. In fact, that’s the best I’ve ever heard you play. Now, what does that tell you?”
“I know; I don’t need to watch my fingers,” she reluctantly admitted. “But this was a new piece for me and I didn’t know what it was supposed to sound like. How am I to know if my ears are hearing right?”
“I can answer that with one word,” I countered immediately, “practice!” Observing her puzzled expression I expanded my thought. “The more you practice staying focused on the music rather than looking down at your fingers, the better you will be able to read the notes. The more you practice trusting in your ears, the more confidence you will gain in your playing. The more you practice listening to yourself, the better your ears will be trained to discern between what sounds right and what doesn’t, even when playing a brand new piece. Practice builds confidence. God has provided you with a marvelous tool for learning how to play a musical instrument, a tool which is always available for you to use even when I’m not around. I’m talking about your ears; they are your best teacher. I highly recommend you use them!”
I was reminded of this conversation with my piano student during a discussion in one of our simple-church gatherings. The topic was centered on our need to always be listening to the Lord, willing and eager to obey what we hear. The difficulty lies in the fact that it is far more natural to rely on our earthly vision rather than our spiritual hearing. So what’s the problem with trusting our eyes more than our ears? The answer can be discovered by observing a young, aspiring pianist with a propensity for relying too heavily on her eyes.
When we remain too focused on the world around us we will invariably lose our place in tracking God’s will for our lives. Trusting in our own eyesight can result in being so out of position that we can no longer reach those around us with the love of Christ. It is a sign that we are unsure of our Lord’s ability to guide us, a sign which can be seen by others who may be affected by such uncertain behavior. Relying on our own vision results in a sloppy, halting, insecure witness. This bad habit will prevent us from ever becoming mature in Christ. It is a roadblock barring us from reaching our full potential in the kingdom. It is essential for Christians to have complete confidence in their Shepherd, trusting fully that He will instruct us in the way forward, that He will direct us in the correct path. When we make a mistake it is the Spirit’s voice that will correct us, not our earthly vision. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2Corinthians 4:18.
Unfortunately, it is terribly difficult to break the habit of looking down at our feet rather than focusing on Christ, on seeing what lies before us rather than above us. Our eyes seem to be always getting in the way of our faith. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” – Hebrews 12:2. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” – Colossians 3:1-2.
Somehow we need to come to the realization that God has provided us with a marvelous tool for learning how to play the part He has ordained for us in this world. It is a tool which is always available to us, even when we are not sitting in the assembly of the saints, even when we are not near another member of our church, even when we might be temporarily separated from God’s written Word. I’m talking about our ears, our spiritual ears. They are a far better teacher than our eyes. “We live by faith, not by sight.” – 2Corinthians 5:7.
But what if using our spiritual hearing is a new experience for us? How are we supposed to know if we’re hearing the right voice? How are we to determine between the sounds of our own voice, that of the enemy, and that of our Shepherd?
I can answer that with one word, practice! The more we practice staying focused on Jesus rather than relying on our earthly vision, the better we will be able to follow His leading. The more we practice trusting in our spiritual hearing, the more confidence we will have in following the Good Shepherd. The more we practice listening to His voice, the better our ears will be trained to discern what sounds right and what doesn’t, even when we are being led in a new direction. Obviously, becoming intimately acquainted with our Lord’s voice as it is recorded in the Bible is an excellent way to learn how to recognize when He is speaking to us. But understand He may choose to address us through the words of a fellow believer, or through life’s circumstances, or through His “still, small voice” speaking into our heart. Just as a child knows the voice of its mother, or a dog knows the voice of its master, so we will learn to recognize the voice of our Lord. Practice builds confidence.
“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” – John 10:3-5. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” – John 10:27. “He who belongs to God hears what God says.” – John 8:47.
Of course, trusting in our spiritual hearing does little good unless we obey what we hear. “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” – Luke 11:28. We have a saying in the simple church movement which should ring true in every corner of the kingdom of God. “Listen to the Lord, obey what you hear, and teach others to do the same.” We are blessed to have a Master Teacher who does not condemn us for the mistakes we make in our daily performance. Instead He reaches out to us in grace, implores us to listen, tells us where we have struck a sour note, and patiently waits for us to make a correction. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." – John 3:17.
There have been many times in my life when I wished my Master Teacher would have held His hands over my eyes and forced me to rely on my ears. But as a wise instructor, our Lord knows that our own mistakes can serve to be another effective teaching tool. Some believers become discouraged by their mistakes and are tempted to give up. But those who truly strive to be like Christ are motivated by their mistakes to improve. The latter are the ones who learn to listen in faith, to trust in their ears rather than their eyes, to obey the voice of the Good Shepherd rather than the bleating of worldly sheep. These are the students who captivate the heart of their Teacher. One day, when their performance is finished, they will hear His praise. “Well done, good and faithful servant!…Come and share your master’s happiness!” – Matthew 25:21.

Bill, a child of God, with ears to hear


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