“Wealth is now defined, at least in part, by the ability to be offline whenever you want” Fernando Gros.
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Blog // Sounds // Thoughts
January 28, 2014

Shoulder To The Wheel

I had a conversation with a parent recently, that went something like this, Concerned Parent: Little Johnny wants to become a musician when he grows up. Do you have any advice? Me: Practice. CP: How much? Me: Lots. Everyday. In my teens I would usually practice 3-4 hours a day. Some weekends, if I didn’t […]

I had a conversation with a parent recently, that went something like this,

Concerned Parent: Little Johnny wants to become a musician when he grows up. Do you have any advice?
Me: Practice.
CP: How much?
Me: Lots. Everyday. In my teens I would usually practice 3-4 hours a day. Some weekends, if I didn’t have sport, I would play all weekend.
CP: That sounds like a lot of effort. Could Johnny do less practice?
Me: Sure.
CP: Will that work?
Me: No. Probably not.

OK, I’ve edited down a little and changed the names involved but you can still see the contour of the conversation. Over the years I’ve had many such discussions and they usually follow a similar trajectory.

I’m a parent, so I get the fear of overloading your kids with burdens and expectations, especially at a young age. But, the reality is, in music (or any artistic field for that matter), the world is full of people who are not just willing, but keen to put in the long hours and make the sacrifices involved in becoming better. They are, for want of a better word, the “competition.”

In the most intense seasons of my playing career, I was often on a guitar upwards of six hours a day. To be honest, I’m not sure it was all that profitable to grind away like that. If I knew then what I know now, about learning processes, creative fear and music cognition, I would have practiced differently and been a little easier on myself.

But, truth be told, I would also have a different mindset. I spent a lot of my time trying to be a better guitarist, in a technical sense. But, technique is not music. If I had my time again I would spend a little less time trying to nail esoteric scales in three octave patterns and a little more time leading sing alongs at parties and figuring out what it is that makes non-musicians connect with music at an emotional (and joy-inducing) level.

Responses
Jane (@jatosha) 6 years ago

I can remember having similar conversations… 🙂 Despite the fact that I never amounted to anything musically (in a performance or composition capacity), I used to teach piano to a reasonable number of kids, ranging from the extremely motivated & interested to totally disengaged & only attending because Mummy brought them. I always found that the ones who had small hopes of ‘one day’ doing something professionally with music were the ones who weren’t focussed on the future at all. They were just consumed in the wonderful moment of creating the music, day after day, week after week. One student in particular enjoyed his craft so much that he would learn new pieces by himself in between lessons, and a lot of the time, practiced in his lunch breaks at school. Now that’s someone who loves his music. I always thought that if the parent or student has to question practice time, then creating music for the love of it was never really there in the first place.

    Fernando Gros 6 years ago

    Jane – great comment. I totally agree. Music is like many other pursuits; unless the love of doing it for the sake of it, or the ability to get lost in the joy of just creating is not there, it will be hard to sustain the interest and commitment when things (inevitably) get tougher.

Toni 6 years ago

Quite.

I have a friend who took up violin at school, his parents bought him a relatively decent one and he worked his way through the grades, becoming (I understand) an excellent player. On leaving school he vowed never to touch it again, having been pushed to practice continually until it was a chore.

I very much wonder if the best advice might be to ‘help them fall in love’ with making music on that instrument, after which the practice becomes (at least partly) pleasure and adventure (the word you used 2 posts up). But it’s much easier to approach music as technology and method than heart and creativity.

Like you Fern, I did practice a couple of hours every day for the first couple of years, but it was much less technical in a approach than your practice I suspect.

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