Don’t Give Up…Believing Takes Practice
I was wandering around the World Wide Web this past Sunday night after packing for my trip to the west coast, let’s be honest here—I was watching cat videos on Facebook, when I came across a friend’s posted picture of practicing tips for their student. These are “weekly practice tips” that the student gets to take home to help guide his or her work until the next lesson (similar to the little notebook that pianist Jeremy Denk refers to in his fantastic article “Every Good Boy Does Fine” featured in the New Yorker this past spring). These tips were of particular interest as I’ve been happily logging in some hours for the past couple months getting ready for some performances, and found that these three suggestions are brilliant in that they are succinct, yet can be applied to any creative endeavor. I say this because in my own experience I have found that gaining any type of “fluency” requires that you:
1. Slow Down so you can figure out what on earth it is that you are trying to accomplish. For me, on the guitar, it usually involves striking a balance between listening critically to what I’m playing, comparing that with the musical ideas initially imagined within a piece, and asking that my hands cooperate with this fun process. That means that I need continually remind myself to Practice Slowly so I can internalize the ideas and physical gestures. Tom Petty said it best: “The Waiting is the Hardest Part,” but perhaps it’s the slowing down that is most challenging—it was, in fact, the first item on the practice list.
2. So, slowing down is important, but then there’s item #2 on the list—you need to regularly spend time working on this material that you’ve “slowed down” or simply—Practice Daily. One of my colleagues heard me practicing this past summer and mentioned, “It was like hearing a gardener work on a Bonsai Tree.” I’ve yet to have the pleasure of actually hearing this sound, but I’ve spent a fair amount of time imagining what it would sound like, this musical pruning, and have to think that it must sound repetitive, at times slow, & filled with moments of silence. Daily musical bonsai phrase pruning.
3. Well they saved the best for last on the weekly practice sheet: Don’t Give Up. One of my favorite quotes on this idea comes from the author Madeline L’Engle “Believing takes practice.” Having some idle time on the planes this week has allowed me to think about the relationship between the third practice tip and Ms. L’Engle’s quote. I was able to combine the three practice tips with the aforementioned quote: Take time to slow down each day in your work. Practice believing in what you are doing, and it will be much easier to not give up.
As I head home this evening, packed into the coach section once again, I’m thinking about how I will begin tomorrow morning by slowing down, practicing daily, and not giving up. See you tomorrow Second Movement, pages 2 & 3—looking forward to our time together.