MIKE'S MUSINGS #26Why Practice?
The word practice can be frightening and tedious. Please feel free to substitute words like study, examine, training, learning, investigate, improve, examine, rework or whatever word is palatable to you. Pick different words and it may change how you look at the music you study.
To determine why and how long you should practice, the first thing you need to decide is what is your relationship with music ? What do you expect back from music? And are you, or can you, fall in love with music? Perhaps this is the most important inspiration for practice.
Is music a social outlet for you? Do you want to play professionally? How about playing in a Community band, or chamber music with friends? Whatever it is, if you can understand what you want to do and commit to it, you can define your practice habits more easily.
I have written about this before, however a little reminder might be in order.
We are in a Music, Art, and Technology Renaissance like mankind has never experienced before. Schools like Julliard, Curtis Institute, Colburn and at least 20 other conservatories are creating symphonic clones..players with incredible musical technique, fully schooled in Standard Literature and ready for any position in a major orchestra.
Berklee, North Texas State, Cal State Schools and a variety of other schools (plus of course Jamie Abersold and online sources) are creating jazz virtuosos at an amazing pace. More music students in the public school systems have superior instruction and are even learning music theory in Junior High School. That is something that would have not even been considered when I went to school. There is also an abundance of media music sources for one to develop a concept at every turn in the road.
Yet the music business is declining as an option to make a living. When a lawyer, doctor, or computer programmer don’t know something they get paid while they find out the answer. An amateur musician has to know what is expected before they go to a rehearsal or a concert. A professional must be pretty much spot on at every task or most likely won’t work much again.
Where are all these well trained musicians going to work/perform, or are they destined to teach more virtuoso youngsters? I can tell you for sure that those student musicians who practiced most will get the jobs over those that were not fully committed. That fact holds true in most every profession by the way. It is still possible for any student to sit at the top of the heap by just practicing on a regular basis. I don’t have a crystal ball and don’t know what the future holds for our art, but I do know that we are turning out more expert musicians than ever in the history of mankind, that’s for sure.
So next, it would do you well to consider why you practice music. Do you want to become a professional performer, a well-versed amateur musician with many opportunities to play and perform music? Do you just enjoy practicing for the sake of practicing? Is there a religious or spiritual aspect to being in the practice room? Or does practicing give you some insight to life?
If you want to become a musician of any type, it requires some amount of practicing.
Music becomes more enjoyable when we practice, as it allows us to play music at a higher level and to interact with others who have done the same. That is the prize of practicing. We up our game, if you will. It is really thrilling to play something perfectly that we have been practicing, and especially at the perfect moment when we are interacting with other people.
So, let me say that if you have a private music teacher, it will give you more inspiration to practice than perhaps a school teacher, who is dealing with many students in a room with a myriad of personalities and abilities at the same time.
So, if you are going to play in the Elementary school band, you owe it to your mates to have learned the material being studied.
If you are playing in the Junior High school band/orchestra or the High School band/orchestra, you have more responsibility as you are not just practicing unison or similar materials as in Elementary school.
If you are performing at the College level, you may just want to be in the Marching Band for the comradery but you still have the responsibility to learn your individual part. Or, you may be studying music in a more serious manner to be a teacher, performer or in some other music related field.
These pre-professional activities really do require a serious commitment of every student to uphold the quality of the ensembles they participate in.
Are you going to play in an ensemble as an adult for enjoyment? Here again the ensemble will only be as good as the weakest link.
So what is your commitment to practice?
As beginners, we are just trying to hold the instrument and get a sound. But as we progress, each new musical experience is a building block to the next thing we do. It is important to make sure that the building blocks are strong. And of course the answer to that is some level of practice on our musical tool(s) of choice.
Is music a sacrifice for you, or something to look forward to? If it is a sacrifice, most likely you will give up on music and some point and, as an adult, be able to say “oh, I played clarinet for a year and could play Mary Had A Little Lamb.”
So to change sacrifice into purposeful participation, some decision must be made by each person about how much of their time they are willing to commit to practice.Practicing is about priorities, and you may have to adjust your schedule to make time to practice.
It is really all about mental attitude...
There are parents who commit their children to music, thinking it will keep them off the streets when combined with swimming lessons, karate, golf, football or whatever other time-consuming activity they can provide for their children.
Chances are, the children of these parents won’t take music seriously (unless they become charmed) as sub-consciously the kids understand what is happening. With karate, swimming and the like, one can just go to class and not really have to practice the discipline as just going to the class, or “practice” will get the student to a certain level where they can enjoy the endeavor.
Music moves slower than the other “time consumers” and that is why it requires the practice commitment. Music takes work to even get started and regular solitary practice to improve.
Solitary is one of the key words in practicing. It is something we do alone or with a little supervision when available. So we need to be comfortable enough with ourselves to be alone, or in some cases uncomfortable enough with ourselves not to want to be with other people. I have seen great musicians come from both of these places. Needless to say it is better that we like ourselves. But that is not always possible.
Another interesting aspect of practicing is that as we confront each new tidbit of information we may find the aspect of becoming proficient daunting. For that idea, I use one of my favorite phrases, “Be happy where you are at while you are trying to get to where you want to be,” well at least as much as possible. Music is for the long run.
So what is your motivation to practice? I think the best motivation is to keep up with your colleagues so you can have the best musical experience possible. This in itself will continue to motivate you.
My experience was taking private lessons and only practicing enough to get through the lesson. That was until in 9th grade, when I heard a band and decided that music was what I was going to do for a living. It was early in my life for me to make a commitment, and to understand what I wanted to do in life, but it ensured my success in starting serious practice time early. In my era that worked. In this new world I think it may take more commitment.
I think with commitment comes motivation. I like to say it doesn’t make any difference how much you practice every day but it's the fact you do it on a regular basis that makes it successful.
Parents, you need to talk to your children about commitment once the decision has been made to pursue an interest in music. The commitment might not last forever and sometimes it ebbs and flows, however it is important the student understand the concept of commitment.
For those of us who have committed to practice, it is a life time duty. As soon as one know their level of commitment the easier it is to institute a practice schedule. And it is all about schedule to get it done.
We all have different life styles, as youngsters we may have a large family or a family committed to many things. This can make it more difficult to find the solitude to practice.
When we are off in higher education we have lots to learn in every subject but we still must be committed to practicing and playing with others as much as possible. As college students, we have no excuse for not adjusting our schedules to find time to practice.
As adults we may now have our own family and getting time for solitude and practice every day may be difficult.
There are personal time clocks. Some people feel better in the mornings and some people feel good at night and there are many variations of relative mental and physical strength.
The best time to practice if your body allows it, is early in the day. It improves your whole day knowing you did your mental music exercise. The rest of the day is left for other commitments and hopefully playing music with some friends or colleagues. That’s the simple way.
Otherwise you will have to set up a practice schedule. Until practice becomes a daily habit, it is best to write down on a piece of paper your practice schedule and working it in with you schedule of other events and commitments. Put that piece of paper where you can see it. AND DO IT EVERY DAY. Take one day off a week and don’t take your instrument on vacations. That is time for reflection which can be as important as practicing.
There is always a reason not to practice. It is incumbent upon us to
find the reasons we must practice and to find the time to do it.
Remember again, it is the commitment of practicing more than the amount of time you practice so really aim for every day. If you are committed to being in one of the higher echelons of music, you will have to gradually increase your practice time and at one point in your life commit to a couple years of long hours of practice. Yet once again, it is the habit of practicing that makes this all happen. So in the beginning just make sure you engage music almost every day.
As in practicing in the morning, practicing at the same time every day is very helpful in a successful practice schedule. The important thing is getting time in every day.
Remember that committed listening is part of practicing. If you know what it’s supposed to sound like it is much easier to latch on to the concept. Sit down to intentionally listen. Listening both with a score and without one is an important aspect of music study. In addition have ambient music around you that is what you are studying. It all sinks in a little as you get used to the sound.
Practice to be a better listener. Listen to be a better listener. Listen to yourself as you practice. Listen to your peers. Listen to experts in your field. Remember performing music is outgoing, listening is incoming, and sometimes we need to do both at the same time.
Listening is practicing and can be done anytime just by paying attention. Professional musicians often talk about an artist or colleague that has “big ears.”
Here is a simple but doable practice routine.
- Play the piece all the way through the best you can.
- Start at the beginning and learn the first phrase. Start slow (as my friend Gerry Schroeder says, “Tempo de Learno”) and after you can play it slow gradually increase the tempo.
- Learn the second phrase in the same manner.
- Play the first and second phrases together.
- Go on like this though the whole piece playing a couple of phrases at a time.
- Play the piece all the way through by concentrating on seeing the notes.
You will find as long as you can see the notes, you will be able to play the piece you have chosen. If you go blind for a second or so go back and practice the difficult part again slowly.
So to recap, and to add a couple of thoughts. You need to practice. Anything you can’t play should be learned slowly first and the gradually sped up. Dedicated listening is part of practice. Record yourself occasionally so you hear yourself from another perspective. Ask your teacher to play for you so you can hear how your particular part should be played. Practice listening to yourself while you play
Oh, I am only 71 years old. I had better go practice.
Some Quotes From My Diary
|Don’t practice until you get it right.
Practice until you can’t get it wrong
One of the best lessons we can learn in life,
Is to master how to remain calm
Every time you get upset at something,
Ask yourself if you were to die tomorrow,
Was it worth your time getting angry.
Learn the rules like a Pro,
So you can break them like an Artist.
When you lose,
Don’t lose the lesson.
... Dalhi Lama
Success in the Arts,
Is tenuous at best.
The battle of being mortal,
Is the battle to maintain
the integrity of one's life.
One should keep their words soft and tender,
Because tomorrow they may have to eat them.
To ignore the facts,
Doesn’t change the facts.
Just our usual friendly reminder...
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Be happy with where you are at while you are trying to get to where you want to be.
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