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December 19, 2010

Recently I had a friend of mine question if trying to better myself musically would get in the way of other things in my life. My response was that my life seemed to get in the way of my practice.

They carry a tad of pretension, but I stand by those words, as I think most musicians do. Frankly, practising is what makes people real musicians. It’s the medium through which you connect to your chosen tool of expression, in my case a drum kit and a piano, and draw the inspiration through which you apply yourself to the music. It’s entirely necessary for anybody who has ever considered being good, and it’s actually rather fun.

My drum teacher Dave once told me that practice should sound nothing like real music. It’s true. Yet how can that be fun? Because applying yourself to your instrument strengthens the bond between your physical and mental processes, and the intense concentration often required clears your mind, allowing you to pinpoint your focus.

Yet musicians don’t always practise. Indeed, I don’t some days even when I have plenty of opportunity to if I organise my time correctly. It’s unfortunate but true. As human beings, we can be lethargic, apathetic and unwilling to sacrifice the short term gratification for the long term satisfaction of increased musical ability. Furthermore, as practice is fun, it’s rewarding from the moment one picks up their instrument. Despite professing uttermost dedication, I myself am a perfect example of this double standard, painting a picture in which practice is only achievable with an exceedingly open schedule, instead of applying rigid adherence to a daily activity which is of the utmost necessity to any person who plays an instrument well. Not coincedentally, those whom I know who practise rigidly are very musical and play and think at a much higher level than others.

If we don’t practise, then what do we have? What makes us musicians? Of course we can play the same set of tunes over and over again, after all to constantly play new tunes is to be a master of none. Practice isn’t limited to pure technical exercises, it involves both background and careful listening, analysis, composing and especially simply musical thinking. Most of all experience is the best teacher, but those who simply play in a group scenario aren’t accustomed to the rigorous training involved in order to improve one’s sound and abilities, which can require days, months and even years of conscious effort to improve technique. Practice is not holing yourself up in a room for hours on end in order to play that scale just once more. Practice is the act of becoming immersed within the musical world, broadening your understanding, adapting to new experiences and strengthening the relationship between yourself and your particular instrument.

To not practise means to disengage yourself from musical thoughts and acts entirely. Few people do this, but many neglect the actual act of consistently applying their mind to their instrument. Which is why it’s important to every day, sit down and work at something new, to try to improve yourself in some manner.

The idea that we’re always seeking to improve is not a negative one. It isn’t that we’re unhappy with our lot, indeed anyone of talent should be and generally is appreciative and aware of their ability. Part of it is human competition, part of it is pure devotion, whether it to be to the pure art of music, or a sense of spirituality – Coltrane’s ode to god in the liner notes of A Love Supreme is a pertinent case.

Practice is hard work. It will always be hard. But if it were easy, would it really be practice? Would it really be rewarding? Would we even bother to play?


From → Music

  1. Ryan permalink

    I think if anything, it’s probably your blogging that gets in the way of other things in your life.

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