On The Benefits of Elf Ears.

By Lynn Timpany, NLP Trainer and aspiring musician.


Art Tatum was born in 1909 in Ohio. With severe cataracts causing blindness, the young mans world was quite restricted.  From the time he was able to operate the pedals, he amused himself by playing piano rolls on a pedal piano and trying to put his fingers in the places where the keys moved.  By the age of six he could manage it pretty well.  But here was something even more astounding about this.  The piano rolls were all duets!  They were pieces played originally by four hands, not two, let alone two six year old hands.   Art went on to become an outstandingly dextrous and fast jazz pianist.  His first recordings were not hailed by the critics however.  The critics couldn't accept that it was just one player, they suggested that it must be two people and therefore a fraud!


Most musicians would think of Art Tatum as a naturally gifted virtuoso.  Jazz education talks much about talent and giftedness and not much about the underlying structure of such profound ability to learn.  When I first heard this story I asked myself, if Art Tatum knew that they were duets, would he still have achieved to the same level? 


When I began working toward a degree in musical arts this year one of the required papers was called Ear Training.  I was in a situation of learning and taking exams in purely auditory context.  Frequently in classes I experienced not even being able to hear that there was a difference in the sounds played, let alone knowing what it was!  As exams approached I was struggling to differentiate the most basic musical interval, the minor and major third. We were expected to be able to differentiate at least a dozen different types of chords and to be able to transcribe melodies and chord sequences.  I realised that if I didn't do something radical I would certainly fail the exam. 


I set a goal and immediately realised that I didn't believe that it would be possible to achieve it in such a short time.  I also believed that the practise required would be boring and hard.  And that I didn't really want to do it.  That led to a couple of sub-modality belief changes and a parts integration for the part that thought I should just skip the exam and stay in the garden.  In working with the goal of really enjoying the process of learning and the exam I explored, using clean language, the symbology of having huge elf like ears. 


With just a couple of days to go before the exam, I set a timer to go off each hour and promised myself that I would practise for just 3 mins. (That’s all the garden loving part would agree to!)  The first practise time I accidently went 15mins, which was really exciting.


On the day of the exam wore a green jacket to match my large green elf ears and used a lot of playful imagery to enjoy the exam and stay relaxed.  I imagined the tutor giving the exam as a fairy.  I really did enjoy myself and got an excellent result. Much better than I had believed could be possible. 


I am reminded of the power of belief in any outcome, and the usefulness of reminding ourselves that at any time we are capable of more than we believe that we are.