Friday, October 30, 2009

100 Days of Practice, Round 2: D16&17, Part II: What Is Practice?

BrassDoc wants to know: What IS practice, anyway?

I've explored that idea a few times in this blog, and I'm still working on it. 116 days ago, I had a Buddhist approach: Practice means simply living the art. Being the practice, simply by being. I like those Buddhists.

But, I'm a lapsed Protestant, child of a Catholic-turned-Protestant mother. We Proddies like our earnest, hard work. But we Catholics like our suffering.

Apologies to the Buddhists, but I must to the Western spiritual world for metaphors this evening:

On stage, you get to be Protestant. If you make a mistake, you have to let it go, forgive yourself immediately, and keep playing.

In the practice room, you must be Catholic. You make a mistake, and you must make yourself bleed until it is fixed.

Sometimes I've lied to myself that a rehearsal or a gig sufficed as practice, but you really didn't. Musical practice is this: Focused, intentional playing in a context in which you can correct your mistakes. It doesn't matter if you're working on technique, rhythm, timing, a new tune, long tones, whatever. What matters most is that you are in an environment in which you can completely focus on your own sound (not your sound as it fits within an ensemble--that's rehearsal, not practice) AND fix whatever is not working. If you're too lazy or not focused enough to fix your errors in the practice room, then you're not really practicing. You're just playing.

Now, just to give the Buddhists a look-in here:

You can legitimize "practice" when you're walking down the street, washing the dishes, etc., if all the while, you are reciting your arpeggios to yourself (silently, PLEASE) or visualizing whirled B's. That's practice, because you're in your mind and that's like being in a private, albeit slightly treacherous, practice room. If you miss a note in your visualizations, then you can fix that note, and work it again. Believe me, this works. If you can visualize the correct way to play something, you will be able to play it when you have your instrument in hand.

As I've recently experienced, you can even use the ol' arpeggio recitation as an instant sedative to help you get to sleep, and maybe that stuff will work its way into your subconscious mind while you're sleeping, and come out in your playing. Or, you may find that you begin to have recurring nightmares of being attacked by giant, coffee-ring-covered double basses in leiderhösen.

Not my fault. You come here at your own bidding.

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