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Blog // Sounds
January 7, 2014

The Emotional Side Of Music Practice

Yesterday was my first working day for 2014. But, I did sneak “back into the office” so to speak, on Saturday to spend a few hours practicing guitar. I locked the door of my studio, turned down the lights and plugged away at some scales, exercises and a few BeBop transcriptions. While I have been […]

Yesterday was my first working day for 2014. But, I did sneak “back into the office” so to speak, on Saturday to spend a few hours practicing guitar. I locked the door of my studio, turned down the lights and plugged away at some scales, exercises and a few BeBop transcriptions.

While I have been playing guitar regularly over the holiday period, because of travel, illness and the usual end of year commitments, it had been nearly six weeks since I had completed a serious practice session.

And, as always happens after a long break like this, it was a emotional experience.

It’s not about being rusty, or making mistakes. Yes, after a few weeks off one doesn’t feel as sharp as normal and the notes come out a creaky at times. But, after so many years, any player knows this feeling will pass with time and accepting the current state of one’s playing becomes easier, almost natural.

Normally, when I practice, my head is pretty clear. I’m listening to the notes, feeling the movement in my hands, the guitar against my body and the sound enveloping the room around me. At the risk of being a little flowery, the best music practice sessions are almost a zen-like spiritual experience, one of the best examples I know of being “in the moment.”

But, Saturday’s session was nothing like this. My head was a churning torrent of noise and at times, bizarre as it might seem to admit this, full of voices.

“The menacing voices from childhood become the voices in one’s own head: “You are no good, stupid!” The messages can be more subtle than that, but lingering fear of being a fool translates into fear of not being worthy, of not having value. I see that in so many students. The drive to assuage those fears derails the quest for master.”
Kenny Werner, Effortless Mastery, pg 52

None of the voices, which really were snippets of conversations half-forgotten, asides and snide remarks for the most part, none of these dark memories came from good musicians, or people who really understood music at a deep level.

It’s an odd and potentially dangerous thing that random comments from people who don’t understand your craft, who have no “skin in the game” so to speak can become lodged in your head. The put down while you struggle to tune a crap guitar handed to you at a party, the heckle as you play through the memory of lost loved one, or a recent breakup, the snarky jest as you explain why, despite not being “famous,” you still choose to make music.

And, in the interest of full disclosure, a lot of the most hauntingly venomous comments that flooded my mind on Saturday came from my days of playing Gospel music and especially, playing in churches.

Yesterday’s practice session was much less emotional, the noise was mostly drowned out by the music and few of the voices were really up for the fight. I’m sure later today, the session will be even easier again, dominated only by the swirling sound of music.

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