A word about trying

Jedi Master Yoda (or at least George Lucas) was on to something when he said “Do. Or do not. There is no try”.


Just like Luke learning to use The Force, when I ask some of my students to sight-read something, or play something in a different way, I often hear words along the lines of “I’ll try….

Well, let me tell you, that’s one of the most non-committal things you can say and you’re really holding yourself back by approaching something with the attitude of “trying”. By saying that you’ll “try” to do something you’re actually sitting on the fence. You’re actually saying “look, I’m really not sure if I’m going to be able to pull this off and I don’t want to lose face/ embarrass myself/ get laughed at if it doesn’t quite go as planned, so I’ll just hedge my bets here and give myself an “out” just in case, at least I’ll be able to say I tried”.

If that’s what you’re thinking then I can say why you’d want to say “I’ll try” – it’s a lot fewer words so it’s a lot more efficient! However, if you’re serious about learning a new skill or changing an approach to playing something or playing something in a different way then “I’ll try” just isn’t going to cut it. “I’ll try” is hedging your bets in case it doesn’t work out.

And if it doesn’t work out, whatever it is you’re “trying” to do, then so what?! Just give it another go or do it a slightly way different next time. Just decide and commit – am I going to do this? Am I not going to do this?

You’re also actually confusing your brain by saying, or thinking, or coming at something with the attitude of “trying”. Your brain is this awesome goal-chasing machine – it’s looking the whole time to help you at a subconscious level achieve those goals that your conscious mind feeds it, however big or small. Trying is confusing for our poor ol’ brains!

Want an example of that? Well, give this a go.

Place an object in front of you – a pen, a cup, your computer mouse, anything will do. Right, now I want you to pick up that object. Done that? Good. Put it back down again. Excellent. You’re a natural at this!

Now then, take a look at that object again. This time I don’t want you to pick it up. Do not pick up that object. Right. Doing that? Doing “not picking up”? Excellent. You really are very good at this!

Now then, one more instruction for you – I want you to try to pick up the object. No, no. Don’t actually pick it up. That’s not trying. Just really try. And don’t not pick it up, that’s not picking it up. Really try. Come on!

Do you see what I’m getting at here? Asking yourself to committing to picking up that object, and then to not picking up that object, it was very clear what you needed to do and the outcome that was expected. Easy. However, asking you to try to pick it up was a different story, it was quite peculiar. Not really sure what you should be doing?

OK this a reasonably simplistic example, but perhaps the case may be that this is the kind of process going on in your mind (that you’re not even consciously aware of) when you say things like “I’ll try to practice more” or “I’ll try and play that phrase more piano” or “I’ll try this piece of sight-reading”.

So to paraphrase Yoda – Do play. Or do not play. There is no try.