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Climbing and Music

Ugh. Went in feeling strong, feeling confident. Something got into my head on my second warmup climb, and I just couldn't shake it. Constantly double-checking my tie-in knot, overgripping, the works.

So, basically, it was a really bad night for me to try to help Tim with his lead test. I passed mine weeks ago, but haven't lead since, and getting back on the sharp end felt strange enough without the goblins in my head whispering about blown feet and juggled clips.

Tim strived mightily, but ultimately failed his test-- I think we were on the hardest "5.9" in history, a strange, off-balance thing involving a "natural" arete that, ultimately, neither of us could get up on lead. I was moving well up until the third bolt, then the goblins returned with a vengance, and every move was scaring the crap out of me. When I realized that my hands had very little strength in them, and I wasn't going to be able to pull over the lip above me to the next bolt, I just lowered off. Ugh.

So, Timbo spent the rest of the night analyzing all the reasons he failed, and I just kind of threw myself up every 9 and 10 I could find, beating myself back into shape. I've been moving well lately, but my contact strength and endurance aren't too great, and my confidence is thus, well, impaired. Ick. It's fine to get out on lead confident that you can make the next moves, but it sucks being out there totally convinced that there's nothing but a whipper waiting for you.

Yes, leading is a head game.

Anyway.

The similarities between climbing and music continue to abound. As a musician, it's very easy to get into a groove of doing the same warmups, the same exercises, the same solo pieces for long periods of time. Focusing on learning a particular piece is a healthy, necessary thing. But if you stay in that groove too long, it becomes a rut. First you plateau, then you start losing ground.

I think a similar affliction has struck me and Timbo: we climb the same 10-15 routs all the time (seasoned with other things once in a while), and so we're very strong there, but put us on something new, and we flail. Tim thinks this theory is crap, but I'm going with it.

If you're a musician, you slay this nasty beast by sight reading every day. Warm up, then play something you've never seen before straight through. No stopping, even for the most horrendous mistakes. Sometimes it's a train wreck. But over time, you rebuild your core skills as a musician: the ability to read notes on a page and turn them into music. If you've got the time, the absolute best thing you can do is "perfect" a one-page piece in a single sitting, like this:

  1. Sight read straight through, no stopping.
  2. Go back and take a few minutes (no more than 15) to work up those sections that gave you trouble. If you managed to get through a section, don't work on it. Return only to those sections that you could not sight read.
  3. Play the whole thing through again, no stopping.
  4. If (and only if) you feel like you can really nail the whole thing, go over the trouble spots one more time, then play it again. But only do this if you're confident in moving beyond the notes.

So for the next few weeks at the gym, I'll take one or two shots at a route, then move on. And no backing off or calling for tension. No calls to my partner that "it isn't going to happen." Hangdog, sure- after a fall. Surrender, never. Pull or peel.

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