Once when I was a teenager and just learning to take the violin seriously, I went to a concert and watched a soloist play a major concerto with a symphony. After the concert he was standing in the lobby. I approached him and after congratulating him I asked, “How do you practice?” “How do I practice?” he repeated. It seemed like a good question to me, but he didn’t want to talk about it and looked up into the air. So the next concert I went to was a piano quintet concert. I watched and listened with enthusiasm and looked forward to talking with the musicians afterwards. I shook hands with the first violinist and asked her, “How do you practice?” “How do I practice?” she repeated, and laughed. Hmmmm I though, apparently practicing isn’t something we talk about in public. Well perhaps some people do and I can tell you that today that’s what I’m going to do. Fortunately I was given very good instruction while I was growing up and that combined with a curious desire to continue exploring has allowed me to come up with some very potent strategies that, when used in harmony with our own needs, make practicing, well…..fun!
A key element to making practice or learning any new thing enjoyable and productive is appreciation. Realize that you are awesome for pursuing something positive and special. It may not always be easy, but that’s ok. Give yourself the appreciation you deserve.
Here’s another one: be patient with yourself. As you would talk to a child, treat yourself with the same kindness and respect. Remember that learning is venturing into unknown territory. Be your own best friend.
Be clear with what you want. You can learn what it is you want by observing other artists and the world around you and incorporating what you like into your own music. Through this process you will also discover the unique voice that is inside you, a voice that you can learn to express.
Set boundaries by giving yourself specific areas in the music and techniques to focus on. Once progress is made, acknowledge it and congratulate yourself. It could take a few days or a few years to master something, but that’s ok. Work on it a little each day and then put it down and go do something else.
Something that is so important for making music is the respect we show our bodies. It is through our bodies that we interact with the world. When we foster a partnership, a wholeness with mind, body and soul, the most glorious art is made, so it is important to show the body respect through attentive practice, not over or under working the body, but being conscious of what it needs. It is important to breath at all times and to aim for freedom of movement. No note, no matter how exposed, glorious, or moving, is more important than this. The instrument and the music were made for you. You are the artist.
Yes, we all practice. I’m sure even Yo-Yo Ma, one of my most favorite artists, practices. It’s a privilege to explore, to be challenged, and to overcome. That’s what we do every day when we, yes practice…….practice…….practice. 🙂