Monday, July 12, 2010

Conquer Your Fear of Music: Be Playful

New music making is a fraught process. The fear of making a mistake can be paralyzing. The fight or flight response may kick in almost as soon as you pick up a mysterious new instrument: foreign, out of tune, or ill timed sounds are scary. What is scarier sounding than fretting flat? Sounding Sharp.

What's the solution? Going very slowly, very gently, and listening. Taking music lessons, perhaps. Having someone to guide you through the process may assist not only with getting better, faster results, but also with helping you get through that flight or flight problem. The latter is very important to the former.

However, it's tricky:

Taking music lessons is a humbling process. This creates not a little bit of fear in the lesson studio. Imagine that, in a way, a music lesson is like going to the doctor or psychiatrist. You are submitting yourself for examination, evaluation, diagnosis, and a prescription. Or, let's call it, in today's jargon: a wellness plan.

What creates the fear for some here? The better analogy is probably the therapist. Listening to and playing of music is a highly personal, deeply emotive human behavior. Our own personal musical experience is deeply emotional: in some way, it exists in a murky place, deep inside of each of us. And can be very scary to have someone, anyone, a stranger, particularly an 'expert' look deeply inside you.

This is why, on my lessons site, I call my lessons 'seriously fun':

I try to make sure that both the student and I remember the operative verb for making music: to play. To remain true to the spirit of the verb, I endeavor to find more creative and playful ways for students to interact with their instruments and to be musical, all the while cultivating fundamental skills. The more I work on this, the better my students get.

'Don't Practice...' perhaps I will start to encourage my adult students, instead to "play." Kids seem to have no problem finding a playful place to work on their musicality, but the upwardly mobile set that I see in D.C. do. One of the most important things I do is

Cultivate a playful practice on your own by thinking of your practice as exploration. When you make your next mistake, and the hairs go up on the back of your neck, do this:

Laugh at yourself. You made a boo-boo. To err is human. Thank goodness you are not a robot.

You breathe!

So, breathe through the impatience and frustration, and then listen to the sound of your mistake in you mind. What happened? The only way not to repeat this mistake is to be sure you understand the nature of it: those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.

Perhaps, if you can, repeat it so that you can understand the nature of your mistake.
Who knows?
It's possible that you will actually like the sound.

In jazz, there are 'no wrong notes, only poor choices'. What kind of choice did you make? How was it different than the choice that you intended? Is the problem musical or technical? Left hand or right hand?

Then, after you evaluate that mistake, figure out what you need to correct in your performance: slowly, gently perform the musical passage you are working on one time. Breathe between repetitions, and during the playing of music. Repeat as necessary.

If it's not working, put the guitar down... go for a walk... listen to some music....

Then, gently and very slowly, come back and try it again.
Advancing Guitar Lessons:
Washington, D.C.
Professional Musical Fun
for Beginners and Beyond

Follow me on Twitter: @diddleybow


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