Wednesday, July 1, 2009

100 Days of Practice: Day 1

Welcome to the experiment... I've committed myself to 100 days of consecutive practice, and I'm inviting you to join me.

As a musician who is balancing an artistic pursuit with the demands of family, and the demands of little things like, oh, the mortgage and the phone bill, my greatest struggle is to fit daily practice into the routine. In fact, it becomes a bit of an obsession, this "not practicing" thing. I spend a lot of time thinking about how I'm not practicing daily, and if I'm with the right friend, talking about it too.

But as a musician, you really do have to practice every day. It is both a mental and a physical necessity for playing the instrument. The things that make the sounds on your instrument--your hands, mouth, diaphragm, arms, etc--those things all are operated by muscles that work best with regular exercise. Like a marathon runner, an aikido master, a yogi--the musician needs to practice every day to keep things tuned. And I'm convinced likewise that our mind needs the regular conditioning of practice in order to be in the right place to make the best music. I had a teacher in college, the great sax and flute player Yusef Lateef, who called it "the unbroked ribbon of concentration." That's what daily practice does.

Folks, I hit 40 on April 30th. Decided it was time to actually get down to it. So, for the last couple of months, I've been on a discipline binge. Not actually being disciplined, so much as reading about discipline, finding a sherpa and talking to her about discipline, etc. Getting her help in structuring my life so that there's time for this discipline thing. Lots of talking. Some doing. But not so much as the talking and thinking.

Eventually the rubber has to hit the road. The butt has to hit the practice chair.

The path of musicianship to me is a lifestyle, but also a spiritual discipline. I've been reading Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chogyam Trungpa ... Readings about the daily practice of meditation, of a Buddhist approach to practice, have always seemed to apply quite neatly to the musician's path. Something you do every day not so much to get results as to simply do it every day. In my finer moments, that sounds lovely. Music feeds the spirit. Music gives you a voice with which to praise the elements. Music connects you with the eternal wind of the universe. Music helps you to be more human.

Turns out, beer does that too.

Admission: Most of my life is made of coarser moments, not finer. That's when I say, the hell with this spiritual crap, it's time to kick butt. Stop talking and start doing. Take names. Make some serious sounds.

All of this may sound strange from someone who is actually making their living in music. Maybe it seems a given that a musician just naturally practices every day. Don't get me wrong, I do practice. But, in the spirit of being human, there's always another level to aspire to, and that I think is what drives so many musicians to keep working, despite a certain level of mastery. I shared an insight with a professional musician friend of mine once, "You know, with this music thing, I realized this: I don't want to go higher. I want to go deeper." And I expected her to say, "Wow, how profound!" But you know what she said? "Nice thought. But I want to go higher, too." I loved that. I guess I agree with her.

So here's the deal. 100 days of practice. Begins today. Going to try it. Write about it. Want to come?

The Buddhist voice (Mr. Trungpa) told me that whatever you decide to do, there will be the possibility of two results: success or failure. And, he says, either way, there will be a message... Trust is about knowing that there will be a message and that the message is more important than the success or failure.

Place your bets now: At the end of 100 days: Buddhette, Beer Drinker, or Buttkicker? All three? None of them?

Stay tuned. If you come along for the ride, please check in! Post comments. We'll do it together. Hell, maybe we'll start a great band at the end. :)

4 comments:

Peig said...

Ok. 1st day of 100. played this am 7am to 7:30. quickly realized it is not enough to just put in time. Plan to play tonite after work for another half with serious goals. So Hubby take warning NO MORE DINNERS FOR YOU NEXT 99 DAYS!!!! I plan to sit each night with recoredings of tunes I am working on. Today was a good start! Sue, Thanks for the challange

Peig said...

sat in office tonight with headset on. played through two tunes of a three tune set i am working on. before i knew it i had been up there for 45 min. played through three times in tempo with no errors. felt great. can't wait for tomorrow.

Mark Mahoney said...

Day 1 - Yesterday introduced me to the failure option. My heart is in the right place, but a new monitor arrived and needed to get hooked into the damaged Mac Book. Maybe Day 2 will be better, at least for a few minutes.

Susan Gedutis Lindsay said...

Hooray for Peig. Peig that is really so great! I agree that a little structure is important. My sessions are: five or ten mins of long tones, about ten minutes focused on technique, then time spent on reviving old tunes (keeping them fresh), then learning new ones.

And Mark, man -- need I say, there is no such thing as failure? Start on Day 2, and do an extra day. Or do 98 days. Or do five.

I'm on Day 2 now and haven't done a darn thing... yet. Stay tuned.