Philoso-chops [thoughts on practise, discipline, music]

My goal with this blog entry is to write without editing my ideas so it is not concerned with grammar. Just like improvising live. I tend to overthink some elements of art and life, and this is the antidote to that and may contain anecdotes…

So the idea for this blog came to me as I was practising Hanon exercise number 4 in the key of B major this morning. It crossed my mind that there is a slippery slope and a paradox to all technical practise on a musical instrument. The goal of practising may vary drastically from person to person. I found myself wondering “why am I practising this, wow, I’m getting better, this is easier than yesterday, hmmm, it still feels awkward though, this is a tricky key, maybe trickier than F#, why is it called chops? oh yeah early jazz trumpet – fast and loud high notes, athleticism, “wow” factor, “cutting contest” etc. etc.

The paradox of all of these thoughts as I practised was that they often distracted me from the experience of the practice itself and more than once resulted in mistakes in the excercise. Hence the “slippery slope” is sometimes thought itself. Don’t I enjoy practising to get out of my head? Isn’t this also why I enjoy live music performance? It’s a meditation and the best performances you feel “in the moment”. Then it is best to still the mind. Breath deeply. Relax. Experience the sound and feel of the instrument in the present moment. Bring your thoughts back to the feeling of playing.

SO… CHOPS. Facility? Makes it easier to play. Ahh another paradox. The easier it is to play what I’m practising, the less I have to think about what I’m doing. This allows me to [potentially] move into a state of muscle memory and engage the “autopilot” my fingers have developed. BUT once the autopilot is engaged one isn’t PRESENT with the instrument. The feel is gone. The purpose and intention of each note may become clouded by a wandering mind and before long boredom may set in.

What did I learn today? Be present. Be patient. Practise with purpose and feeling. Take breaks. Change up what you are practising if you find a lack of engagement with the task at hand. Observe your thoughts as in a meditation and bring your mind back to the sound and feel of the instrument and your breath and relaxation.

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