Does Learning Have to Be Fun?

I remember when I was in university, locking myself in my practice room for over an hour, and working on a three note drum lick until I finally got it. Was I having fun? Not really, but when I finally mastered the drum lick, I had a lot of fun with it.

Working on that three note fragment took a lot of patience, focus, and muscular/mental effort. Over and over again I would get it wrong but I kept going. Why did I keep going if this was not an enjoyable experience? I kept going because I really wanted to get it. I saw someone do that three note lick and I wanted to be able to do that too because I liked the sound of it and I liked how cool it looked. I wanted it! It's that wanting that made the painful part of practicing, tolerable.

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Learning a new skill is mostly fun for five year olds. They need that sort of stimulation to maintain their attention and interest. After that, a student must learn to cope with uncomfortable feelings when they practice or perform. I see this constantly in my teaching. On the one hand, there's the student who pushes through the frustrating part of practice, and is rewarded with success. On the other hand, there's the student who stops immediately when they get frustrated. It's that student who makes excuses to stop practicing, or engages in various forms of procrastination to prolong the inevitable. As a teacher I show them different ways they can manage these difficult feelings, but at some point they have to buckle down and get to work. Diligent practice, which means checking for errors and putting in the many hours of repetition, is not a fun thing to do but it's necessary.

My private lessons aren't always a serious experience. We try to have fun but there's also work to be done. Any teacher that tells you it's always going to be fun, is selling you short.

Enjoyment, I think, is different from fun. Popping bubble wrap is fun, jamming with skilled musicians is enjoyment. I think enjoyment is a deeper experience than fun. There is a feeling that you've paid your dues and that you've earned this fun. Maybe that's a good definition: enjoyment is fun that is deserved.