How to Win the Practice Fights
|Yusef Lateef and the unbroken ribbon of concentration.|
Then, more notes. Some long loud ones. Some fast ones. Fast again, because I heard something in there that sounded cool, and I wanted to try it again. And again. And again. A half hour later, an hour later, maybe two hours later, the playing would continue. I probably came back downstairs and announced that that was horrible. And that I DID. NOT. ENJOY. THAT. AT. ALL. (Also can I have a snack?)
Fast forward; in college, sitting next to my saxophone professor, the great virtuoso Lynn Klock. I was working so hard, then stopped for a minute and winced. Am I serious enough about this music thing, I wanted to know. "I mean, sometimes I just don't want to practice at all." He took a breath and put down his saxophone. I will never forget his response. "None of us do. Do you think I wake up every morning and can't wait to just jump out of my bed and into my pants to play?" Clear memory. Polyester doubleknit pants so crisp they may have stood up on their own at night. (Now you, too, cannot unsee those grey doubleknits. You're welcome.) I got his point. He is a gifted teacher and player, with Carnegie Hall listed in his credits—and even he doesn't want to practice sometimes.
Fast forward again. Sharing stories at Kiskadee Coffee with the fabulous Pat Drain, who runs the Middle Street School of Music with Paul Kinnear. She know it's hard to practice every day, too. She tells her families that some days, it's just enough to take the instrument out of the case and look at it.
What we are looking for is continuity and slow steady progress. Another college professor of mine, the great jazz pioneer Yusef Lateef, called this the "unbroken ribbon of concentration." That is, a daily awareness of musicmaking, both inside of us and outside of us. Just keep doing it. Some days a lot, some days a little. It's how you get good at it and reach the joy that musicmaking brings.
It's like exercise. Do we want to exercise every day? Do professional athletes necessarily want to work out every single day? Does your kid want to go to football, hockey, gymnastics, softball practice every time? Probably not. But music, like athletics, is a physical activity and so it requires daily practice, and usually once we get started, we feel better. Sometimes a LOT better.
No one I know wants to practice every single time. But sometimes you just have to start.