Welcome to Rob's Blog, Pauses Between Notes!

Courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica

The notes I handle no better than many pianists.
But the pauses between the notes—ah, that is where the art resides.
— Artur Rubenstein


Hello everyone, and welcome to my blog, “Pauses Between Notes.”  I’ve always loved Rubinstein’s phrase about artistry—and I think it applies equally to the pauses we all enjoy between our literal and metaphorical practice sessions and performances.  As I’ve read more, thought more, and experienced more (two little kids will make you philosophical real quick!!), I’ve felt more of a desire to share thoughts and insights for whomever cares to read!


My name is Rob Auler—husband, father of two little girls, concert pianist, professor at SUNY Oswego, obsessive Chicago sports fan, pub trivia enthusiast, tennis player.


While most posts will have something to do with my job as a pianist and teacher, apologies in advance if I occasionally just feel like posting about something funny I saw, stupid ideas of mine, or my latest enthusiasm, whether craft beer, craft TV, travel, kids/family, etc., etc.


August 3, 2016

Professional Pianist/Below average tennis player….

One of my projects in my old age has been to adopt a fledging “second career” as a below average tournament tennis player. I’ve learned a ton about process, about perseverance, and about finding joy in a new pursuit. I can’t recommend enough getting out of your comfort zone and finding something that you have to learn from the beginning all over again. It teaches you about learning and teaching, it sheds new light on your existing areas of comfort, and it’s an absolute blast.


As a college piano teacher, one of my chief roles is to provide mentorship and information for my students—in a way that celebrates where they are on their journey—and that’s sensitive to their hopes, fears, frustrations, expectations, challenges and accomplishments.


About four years ago, I switched my teacher role for a student role. While participating in a weeklong piano residency, I snuck away one afternoon for a tennis lesson that would galvanize in me the desire to make a progression from a weekend hack to someone who understands tennis deeply and plays at an increasingly high level in sanctioned leagues and tournaments.


This lesson was different than most of the other tennis lessons I had taken. 

  1. It was incredibly specific/detailed
  2. It used video feedback
  3. It provided a template for systematic improvement
  4. It was positively and enthusiastically delivered

I realized that I wanted to strive to be the type of piano teacher that this tennis teacher was. I realized the impact of a focused/strategic plan for students. What I loved most was that there was a systematic way to get better—and that it championed the universal idea that we can all improve if we adapt a growth mindset.


(Briefly—a growth mindset implies less harmful judgment, more neutral assessment, less focus on the end result, more faith that we’ll get there eventually with a positive mindset and a love of practice, process, and assessment.)


That lesson helped me decide to really invest in tennis improvement, and I couldn’t be happier with the decision. I soon realized that I loved the “getting there” (learning, improving, analyzing matches, talking with competitors) as much as I enjoyed playing matches. I also began to see similarities between what tennis teachers were telling me, and what I was telling piano students. 


Most interestingly, though—I found myself identifying with my own students in a different way now that I was in the role of a student myself. And I found myself reenergized about the process of teaching, the process of growth, and the incremental excitements in small but important weekly gains for my students.


I love the fact that tennis is not natural to me, and I have to work so hard to make small gains against the much more experienced players I face in leagues and tournaments. And I’m finding more and more that best practices apply across genres. My “career” as an evolving tennis player actually informs my conversations with my evolving pianists and students. In both spheres, process is everything, and great results follow from great process.


I think tennis helps me empathize with my students in a new way.  I started the piano so early in life (age 4) that it’s hard to remember exactly how daunting it felt to be just starting out. Tennis, though, gives me that visceral reaction to the kind of effort you have to make to improve even a little bit. And I have seen real gains on the tennis court—which further enhances my belief that all of us can improve in whatever we put our mind to. I’ve had to construct an “improvement template” for tennis—and it’s amazing how applicable it is to musical growth as well.


More broadly, I think there are some cool takeaways:

  1. Just get started on something new that you love
  2. Enjoy the process of improvement. Trust that great results follow great process.
  3. The best way to see lasting gains is to “do today’s work today.” 

Thanks for reading, and take care, all!