Whether I am lost in the wilderness or fixing a technical issue in my flute playing, I like to take a tactical and scientific approach to solving problems in my life. I think I can boil down my problem-solving process into 3 steps: Diagnosis, Prescription, and Recovery.
Diagnosis (Name it!)
There is something powerful about naming something. Naming it gives it an identity and thus makes it easier to figure out. Doctors name diseases so that they can follow in each other’s footsteps to treat the condition and avoid reinventing the wheel. If I’m lost in the woods on a backpacking trip, merely saying “I am lost” is progress because many people wander the woods for days thinking themselves to be headed in the right direction (or in denial). Naming the technical passage (for example “a B-diminished arpeggio”) can open up roads to its resolution. Naming the issue is even better (for example “C to D is hard”). Fixing something that is unnamed and mysterious can be a daunting and stress-inducing endeavor and prove, eventually, to be futile.
Prescription (Work it out!)
Now that it is named, it is possible to solve the problem. And it may be necessary to try many processes. Like the scientific method, it is important to try something, see if it works, gather what data is available, reassess, and repeat until it is fixed. Doctors do this by prescribing medicine (although one hopes the doctor gets it right the first time). Once I know I am lost on the trail, I can figure out where I am through triangulation and then chart a route home.
When working on a technical passage, I call it “working it out” like a massage therapist works out a knot in a sore muscle. Assuming I have named the issue, I can apply pressure to the weak or uneven spots in the passage. Working slowly, I try applying pressure to each part of the run in the hopes that I find the key to unlocking it. I try something and see if it works. If it doesn’t work, I hypothesize why it didn’t, develop further action, and repeat until the passage is easy and effortless.
Recovery (Let it settle.)
After fixing a problem, it is important to let the solution settle. After completing a course of medical treatment, it is often still necessary to rest or take it easy for a few days. After getting lost and found, there is a process of regaining trust for the map and eventually not having to question it every 5 seconds and enjoy the hike. For music, it is important, after working out a passage, to play the difficult part daily while not beating it to death. Letting the passage settle involves playing it accurately at a comfortable level, with no pressure applied.
Name it, work it out, and let it settle. Repeat as needed.