Think about it-students spend the majority of time with their instrument alone in a practice room. Most students see their teachers for just an hour each week, and many of them expect the magic of perfecting their technique and musicianship to happen then and there. But is that expectation realistic? Not likely. I think budding musicians need to learn the art of teaching themselves.
Of course, it is essential to have a great teacher. Lessons can be magical! They should open our minds and ears to understanding and wet our appetites for growth and improvement. But the greatest accomplishments happen in a practice room. So how do you teach yourself?
I recently asked each of my students in their lessons what their thoughts and opinions were on intonation: first, as a concept, and secondly, about their own. I was not surprised to find that every response was in the ballpark of not being sure. They were not fully aware of their own intonation. I also asked for thoughts and opinions on sound production and cleanliness. They concluded that they were not listening critically to their own playing. Now that they are listening with a conscience every aspect of their playing has improved dramatically.
Most students are afraid of the truth, afraid of being aware of the problems that they have because it makes them feel inferior and insufficient. While these feelings are not to be ignored, they shouldn’t trump the fact that knowing the truth is empowering. When students listen to themselves with healthy self esteem and acknowledge where they fall short in their playing they are in the best position to improve.
It is also important to listen in lessons. Don’t check out when your teacher is repeating something for the umpteenth time. Pay more attention-it’s important!
If students listen critically, using the information they receive in each lesson, they gain a platform for improvement.
2. FIND CREATIVE SOLUTIONS
No one is born a perfect technician or musician. Everyone has problems to solve in their playing. Once a student knows what the problems are they need to find solutions. This is the majority of what should go on in the practice room. Practicing passages intelligently on a quest to gain control and ease involves trying exactly what teachers spend many hours going over in lessons. Teachers give tools for students to pick up and use, try out, mull over, get frustrated with, and finally own in their own right. But if we are honest with ourselves, most 21st century practicing is mindless repetition, hoping against all hope that problems will fix themselves. This kind of practicing should to stop. Why waste time with your instrument when you could be reading, outside in nature, talking to friends, sleeping, doing homework, listening to great music, etc.?
Looking at the flip side of the coin, mindful practicing will result in rapid improvement. Instead of spending many hours struggling to accomplish something you will take less time to accomplish a lot. As a great cello teacher and performer used to say, our minds should be tired before our bodies.
Finding creative solutions to problems will dispel the secrets of playing an instrument and will guide someone from being unable to being in control.
3. FORM OPINIONS
Students need to have an opinion about music, their instrument, intonation, sound production, tone quality, technique, phrasing, composers, and many more subjects. Musicians need to have opinions to make decisions about how they want to play and sound. Listening to various artists play the same piece or listening to many pieces by one composer is a great help in forming personal thoughts. Discussing questions and ideas with friends, colleagues, and teachers is another great way to formulate and voice opinions.
Opinions direct our focus toward accomplishing something specific. They create a passion to sound a certain way. They make one want to work harder because there is a drive.
4. FIND YOUR OWN VOICE
Listening, finding solutions to problems, and forming strong opinions lead to developing a unique, personal voice. The arts are vitally important because they enable individuals to express themselves in tremendously beautiful ways, with freedom and creativity. It is in our nature to express ourselves. But the number of unique young musicians has dwindled, in my opinion, mostly due to the desire to use quick band-aid solutions in their playing instead of working slowly and methodically in the practice room. Ours is a society of quick fixes, technology thinking for us, and blindly believing what we hear and read without doing research. Teaching ourselves requires patience, awareness, knowledge, confidence, tenacity, imagination, and all of these put together help create an artist. Each artist’s voice is unique and priceless. YOUR voice is unique and priceless. Invest in it.
Teaching yourself in the practice room will ultimately result in many positive outcomes including gained control, sustained focus, developed artistry, and enjoyment in playing and performing. It will help calm nerves when you walk on stage and make playing your instrument easy instead of a struggle. Are you ready to become your own teacher?Tweet
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