|Weekly Reflections on Life and Music|
I forget where I recently saw this, so I can’t give attribution, although a Google search turns up lots of others who use it. But this was quite a wake-up when I saw it:
I don’t know about you, but I don’t wake up in the morning with aspirations for mediocrity.Maybe some mornings I wake up and don’t want to do what is needed to avoid mediocrity, and other days I'm just fine with being average as days go. Yet when it comes to a lot of different aspects of life, mediocrity is not what most of us want to settle for. So why do we?
Some of it goes back to what I said about grit a few weeks ago.
- We lose interest,
- don’t have the energy, or
- believe we can’t be anything but mediocre.
- Since I can’t be as great as Miles or Maynard why bother at all?
I return to something Bill Bergren emailed me a few months ago that I didn’t use at the time:
Tiger Woods tells us we should never have to use more than 80% of our capacity when striking the golf ball. The same goes for playing the trumpet. This means your ability must be at a very high level to allow for that 20% buffer.When I read that I realized why I had been stuck for so many years at what I am today calling “mediocre.” My capacity, let’s call it overall ability wasn’t that great. I never practiced regularly. That began to change when I started playing in three different groups and was playing more often. I was still mediocre, but less so. I was on the right track. I had no buffer like Tiger talks about because all I ever did was play when I needed to. My ability and endurance both ran out before the end of the rehearsal or gig.
Which fits what Bill said in the paragraph following the one above.
Tiger also tells us that the number of hours at the practice range or playing practice rounds far exceeds the time actually playing golf. This is true of any sport...........and music.Makes sense, of course. If I can’t play more than 25 or 30 minutes, I’m not going to make it through a sixty- or ninety-minute gig. Fitting in just enough time to sort of work on the tougher passages won’t help a great deal. I remember the years in the summertime municipal band. At the start of the season I was lucky to get through the rehearsal. With a few days a week of working on those tough passages I could soon move up to at least getting through rehearsal. (The breaks when the director worked with the woodwinds helped.) By the end of the summer I could play through the whole concert, but I didn’t have a lot left over. There was improvement (in endurance) but I didn’t know that it was still just mediocre. In order to get that 20% buffer I needed to practice far more than playing the gig.
How much time is needed? Perhaps 20% more? But I have no answer to that. I did notice something in the book on Zen and the Art of Archery that I mentioned last week. Eugen Herrigal reports simply being told by the archery Master,
“Don’t ask- practice.”
There are aspects of practice that are important like singing the piece, playing it slow enough to know what the notes feel and sound like, recording yourself, listening to other recordings. All of these are not a prescription to zen and music, they are simply part of the practice. A classic zen idea is to realize that you will know it’s happening when it is time. Until then wait with patience- and keep practicing.
Again, last fall I adapted some of what Bill Bergren wrote to me with the deliberate practice ideas from from the book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool.
- Deliberate practice is focused. Students must give it their full attention.
- Deliberate practice involves feedback. Immediate, specific feedback on where students are falling short is vital.
- Deliberate practice requires a teacher
- Deliberate practice requires leaving one’s comfort zone. If students aren’t pushing themselves beyond what is comfortable and familiar, they will not advance.
- Deliberate practice requires specific goals aimed at target performances
- Deliberate practice builds on mental representations.
Deliberate practice requires specific goals aimed at target performances.
Last year in the first year of the Tuning Slide I took a shot at this idea. I have never been good at that type of planning in my practice regimen. Since reading the ideas in Peak and its explanation of deliberate practice I have spent some time thinking more about the idea of goals and plans. I’m still growing in that area, but I have learned some things. Well, one thing is for sure:
Figure out what you want to do (the target performance) and then plan ways to do it (specific goals).What I have discovered over the past two years of this head-long leap into becoming a trumpet player that isn’t mediocre is to have a routine. Do it regularly. Daily is the goal. That’s where we have to start. When I made that a goal, it actually happened. Doh!
But then we have to be deliberate about it. We don’t just pick up the horn and start playing anything we feel like playing. A routine of long-tones, scales, Clarke studies, etc. Those remain the basics. Doing them daily is a key goal. I didn't even know I needed to do them or that if I did I would improve as much as I have.
Ask questions of your teachers and/or mentors about what you need to be doing. Then do what they suggest. Get a mentor or teacher and pay attention. That is the goal. That's where the goal begins to get specific, about you and what you need.
Read, research, and listen. In so doing you can find out what you want to improve. That's the goal. Then put it into practice. That's the goal. For example, I have always (!) wanted to be better at jazz improvising. I bought several of the Aebersold books, messed around with them for a very short period and then set them aside. "I guess that won't happen," was my response. What I didn't realize was that before I in particular would be able to do that I needed the basics. After the first goals above became reality I started reading more, researching more, listening more. I achieved a decent basic mastery of the 12 major keys. Now I had learned more of the language I needed. Goal!
Recently I came across a simple exercise on basic licks that can help get the feel of jazz under my fingers. Simple goal Practice one of these a day for six-days, in all 12 major keys. (Right there I would have set it aside if I hadn't had the other goals earlier.) Then on the seventh day- don’t rest- but play through all of them. Doing that is a goal. Today is the seventh day and I am looking forward to seeing how well this fits together. (See Learn Jazz Standards.) And- I am doing all this without written music, which was another goal in this past six-months- to work on my listening- and translating what I hear into music.
I am amazed some days at how long it has taken me (55 years?) to learn this about my trumpet playing. Fortunately I knew some of this from my vocation outside of music. I would have starved to death a long time ago if I hadn't. Applying it to my music has been the extra added value!
Again, this isn’t rocket science:
Set goals- figure out what you want to do and then plan ways to do it.
then do it!