On doing our real best (part 2)

5:55 pm Music

In the previous post we saw how many of us play a piece of music mindlessly, without intentionality or grand design that holds the piece together. We also may only be focusing on specific small details while missing the most important relationships within the piece. In Arabic music (compared to western classical, for example) the problem is compounded because the composition style leaves more details to the performers to decide. When the performer is not consciously aware of all the decisions she has to make, a lot of those decisions go unmade. The result much of the time is dead music, or worse still non-music.

The question is how can this situation be fixed? Naturally, the answer is different for everyone but let’s try and talk about how to go about answering the question

It seems to me that if we agree that there is one or more behavioral patterns that dictate how we play music, it makes sense to start dealing with the problem by identifying those patterns, their roots and triggers, and then think about how to deal with them.

Which category do your patterns fall under? Play mindlessly while your thoughts are drifting around? Focus on small details like a single fast ornament or run? Hearing voices of other people whose opinion you value or fear (I don’t mean that in the horror film sense of hearing voices, though that too can be bad for music making..)? These are the small, relatively easy to deal with patterns.

The more difficult ones that usually become problematic after dealing with the first ones: Thinking about interpreting the piece as you play it. Also, being in the habit of launching into a piece without having a general understanding of what it’s about, how it’s structured, its overarching logic, meaning, style, or aesthetic. And also learning only the superficial details of a piece (notes, form), and trying to play those.

Finally, there are the physical patterns which have musical ramifications. For example, excessive movements in one hand that make it impossible to do certain things. For example, applying too much force in up-picks or up-bows, causing the down-picks or down-bows that follow to be clumsy, late, rushed, or stiff. Posture problems can also affect the way we think about the music. Technical issues and musical issues should not be regarded as separate things because they are so deeply interconnected that it is more difficult to analyze them separately than jointly.

Chances are, each of us is dealing not with one but with a combination of those issues. So I think that the first step is to identify which of those patterns, and/or any other patterns apply to you. This can be done simply by observing your mindset during practice or performance. Also, video recording can help reveal physical patterns.

By the way, I must have missed many other patterns. This is only natural as I will probably only know patterns I had to deal with in my own or in my students playing. If you have experienced any others, don’t forget to mention them in a comment.

More to come..



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