With Consciousness and Heart Please
“Practices a practice practicing!” Frank Zappa Quote
Yes this is what we do, practice, we hone our skills, we let our music and abilities speak for us. We don’t make excuses for time, for motivation. If we have a bad performance or an off day in the studio, we are as stoic as an Olympic Performer. No excuses, we just have to go home and practice some more. It’s all about practicing. But what happens if while we are practicing day in and day out our mindset is forming in a way that fights our progress. While we are honing technique, sightreading, dynamics, our mindset is closing in on us. As our practicing makes us bigger, our mind is making us smaller. We may be fighting ourselves everyday, maybe every minute of everyday that we are practicing. I’m addressing two tendencies. First, our mindset when we practice can make something arduous if not impossible. We strain we drill we blindly repeat things over and over relentlessly, sometimes in an angry and frustrated state. The tension we create makes the whole process incredibly difficult. Now, there is an upside to that, yes of course there is. The emotion we generate goes into out playing and makes it multi-dimensional, dramatic, just like our practices. However, if you had a choice to attain flawless perfection of a passage in 15 minutes instead of an hour, or an hour as opposed to four, would you choose the shorter interval of time? As for the drama in our playing, can we draw it from our lives, our experiences and memories rather than from our practice time? So practicing with an open mindset, focused yet open is a powerful approach. Let it flow.
Now a bigger picture is the mindset we develop around who we are and what we want to be as musicians, as artists. We want our practicing to speak for us and we of course, choose to side step that egotistical path of worrying about money, or playing for the money. This is all well and good, but at some point we do want to play for money, we want to grasp those opportunities and step into them a as fully and completely as we can. That’s what we decide when we’re aware of what we’re thinking. But the practicing mindset often turns into an almost misanthropic cycle. We just want to play and we don’t care about all the rest. The problem is, we really do, we really do care. We need to have a measure of material success in order to sustain our habit, our habit of practicing. If we can sustain it by playing a/o some teaching, we have hours more left in the day for practicing, composing, arranging. If we block it all out, we find that we eventually come to grips with the unfortunate truth that we require basics, the basics. We need a roof over our head, gas in the car, food in the fridge, and a car to put gas in.
A wonderful thing about practicing an instrument, or the voice, is that it is a time of intense focus. In fact, we are likely in an altered state. It can be a very magical time of day to expand our minds in many ways. How about when we’re practicing, we imagine people listening to us and enjoying every note, even with a thousand repetitions. How about when we practice we feel ourselves relax and open up to a vision of playing in a recording studio for a session and seeing the people around us joyous and satisfied with our music, our performance, our part.
Try this experiment – at least one time in the practice room. Choose a song, a piece, a passage to work on and have a goal. It could be either a goal for perfecting that piece, OR a goal for enjoying the process – or both! Now have a goal for your emotions. Maybe set a goal for ecstasy, a feeling of ecstasy during the course of that particular practice session. Be open and free about how the ecstasy comes. Don’t set yourself up by saying “I’ll only feel ecstasy if I achieve blah blah blah” No, just keep it open. You will feel ecstasy sometime, at some point during this practice – for the first time it should be at least an hour practice (or more). No fair using drugs, alchol or pot. No this has to work with your system, your natural chemistry un-enhanced.
Once you’ve achieved this state of ecstasy, keep it as a part of your practice routine. As you experience other emotions and states, value them and feel them to the fullest, always knowing that ecstasy is part of your emotional repertoire.