I actually started this blog to keep a record of how my Cantonese and saxophone studies were going, on the advice of another blogger. Although I’ve already widened my blog’s original scope, I’m still going to post updates on how those two projects are going every so often. My motivation for keeping track is summed up nicely by this (not original) quote:
“Don’t compare yourself to other people – compare yourself to previous versions of yourself.”
Often this is difficult, because we as individuals mature and progress in incremental steps. It’s easy to see changes in other people, because we aren’t with them all the time. The tiny changes they experience sum over time to produce a change of appreciable size to other people. When you consider yourself though, in terms of each incremental progression, the steps can seem so small as to be negligible. In other words, it’s hard to keep track of your own development, and so keeping a record of progress in the form of a web-log is a way of keep track of those changes as they build up.
Perhaps I should mention that at the moment I’m self-teaching myself both Cantonese and saxophone. I don’t think there’s any such thing as a Cantonese class near where I live, and I neither have the time nor the money to take saxophone lessons right now. I’m not too worried though – I took an intermediate Japanese course from which I learned virtually nothing (although I did make quite a few friends!), and I might take up sax lessons again once I graduate.
My Cantonese has been slowly improving the whole time I’ve been learning it – since last week, I’ve been making a concious effort to build up vocabulary, and I learned maybe another hundred words. I haven’t come across all the words I’ve learned in context yet, but that’s just because I haven’t been exposing myself to the language enough. Sometimes I can get entire snippets of conversation, and that’s a huge step for me. I’m now also pretty confident with Cantonese romanization, and indeed virtually all sounds in the language – this is another big achievement, and I’m starting to see patterns all over the place.
One thing I’ve been neglecting though is repetition – watching an episode of a show more than once, for example. Whilst I have been watching plenty of shows I think I’m missing out on a lot that I could learn by watching them more than once; a real problem I have is getting distracted by the (Chinese) subtitles. A lot of my practice goes into reading Chinese, to the point where my listening is considerably weaker. To get around this, I think I’ll try covering up the subs first time round and then use them for confirmation of what’s being said when re-watching a program. Hopefully this will improve my ability to follow longer conversations more.
As for the saxophone, I’ve had it out most days for anywhere between half an hour and two hours. My new embouchure has been slowly improving, and my lips have been getting stronger and stronger – I’ve been purposefully timing how long it takes for them to wear out, and although the length of time is improving incrementally, it is improving nonetheless. I’ve also been making efforts to hold pens between my lips too when doing other work (a great tip from my old tutor) – I think this is making a significant contribution to their strength, and decreasing the amount of time it’ll take for me to get back to uninterrupted practice sessions.
Stepping back a bit further, I think I’m just about back at where I was when I started uni (I took a two-year hiatus between then and last December). I’m now maybe a little better in terms of fingering dexterity and maybe a little worse in terms of lung capacity. I can play some of the pieces I’m doing up to speed now (more than 200bpm!), which I’ve never been able to do before, and that’s thanks to playing along with a metronome and increasing the speed a notch at a time. My playing gets a little inaccurate though at these high tempos, so that’s something I need to work on.
The thing that’s keeping me going though is the thought that any journey of any length is made up of single steps, and all in all, I think it’s going pretty well. I just hope university (and impending coursework deadlines) don’t get too much in the way!