Practice

Doing Music Differently     Performance     Heresy     Work-In-Progress     Help-Us-Pay-the-Rent
It’s unavoidable that conscientious  performers must practice diligently if they are to give their audiences relatively error free music.
However, there’s also a downside to practice.
Most obviously, in the process of going over a piece many times, it’s difficult  for a musician to avoid losing spontaneous enjoyment of the music,  leading to performances that sound stale and over rehearsed.
But maybe even worse,  by their very diligence musicians can develop tastes and habits which then stand in the way of their musical creativity.
Practice is not Musically Neutral
This is easier to understand once one realizes that practice is not musically neutral.
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To not realize this is to make an error similar to that made by the leaders of the third world when they think that imported technology is culturally neutral.
We’re talking of course about the leaders who think that they can import cell phones, boom boxes, and automobiles without also importing western sexual morality, suburbs, and homogeneity…….. but of course this is not what happens.

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Performance****Notation****Slow, Low, And Varied
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There’s no way of avoiding it, conscientious performers must practice diligently to give audiences error free music.

However, there’s a downside to such practice.

Most obviously, in the process of going over a piece many times it’s difficult to avoid losing spontaneous enjoyment of the music, leading to stale over-rehearsed performances.

As bad, by their very diligence musicians develop tastes and habits which then stand in the way of musical creativity.

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Practice is not Musically Neutral
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This is easier to understand once one realizes practice is not musically neutral.
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To not realize this is to make an error similar to that made by third world leaders who convince themselves imported technology is culturally neutral.  We’re talking about leaders who believe they can import cell phones, boom boxes, and automobiles without also importing western sexual morality, suburbs, and homogeneity…. and who are then always disappointed.
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Because young musicians who practice hours in search of crisper, louder, and faster sound, naturally come to believe sound is “better” when it’s crisp, loud and fast….. and then lose their ability to see beauty in any other type of sound.

They fail to understand their worshipful pursuit of speed and volume is merely an expression of modern materialism with its culturally conditioned belief that more is always better…. and that their focus on surface perfection is just a sad reflection of the crazy current view that presentation is more important than content.  ( Performance )

Not surprisingly this leads to performers better at producing avalanches of “accurate” notes ( Notation ) than exploring the subtle tonal nuances which give music the power to stop annoying running thoughts, to take listeners to another cleaner more noble world.  ( Music and Magic )
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Of course we’re not the first folks to make this observation.  Several years ago after attending yet another technically proficient soulless performance, one music writer for the New York Times headlined his review, “If practice makes perfect, practice less.”
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All of this helps explain why when “skilled, well-practiced” musicians try to play something slow and lyrical, more often than not they sound ridiculous.

To be sure hip music teachers have always stressed good tone as the single most important goal, but usually this is little more than a “high sounding” part of their pedagogical rap.  When they actually get to the hard and “serious” work of drilling their students, in the name of accuracy tonal subtlety somehow gets forgotten….

Fortunately since so much of our music is beyond slow, we don’t need to train our fingers to move with uncanny accuracy and lightening speed, freeing our little brains to focus on weaving an enchanting spell.  ( Music and Magic and Slow, Low, And Varied )

Indeed that we don’t practice like conventional musicians, is one reason we’ve created such new and different music.  If we did, we would have been merely two more people cranking out conventional sounds.  ( Doing Music Differently )

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Our Practice
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However this doesn’t mean we don’t play a lot of music.

It’s just we seldom do anything conventional musicians would recognize as practice.
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Many musicians seem to believe one must “earn” the right to play music by doing too much of this painful thing called practice.  It’s a little like Jane Fonda urging her sweating aerobics students to “go for the burn”.  Or like doctors maintaining since they were brutalized during their medical training ( 24-hour days in the emergency room etc. ), being brutalized is the only proper way to become a doctor.
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By contrast our hours of playing music have been relaxed and full of fun.
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As usual, there’s wisdom in the language.  One doesn’t “work” music, one “plays” it.
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For one thing since our music is our own and improvised, we’re not struggling to reproduce something we’ve learned.  Instead we’re emptying our minds, forgetting our ongoing troubles, letting our ever changing themes evolve and swell….

As important, each of us playing all of our instruments has kept us from going stale and saved our “practice” from turning into grim routine.  ( Unspecialized )

It’s also protected us from the repetitive motion syndrome injuries plaguing musicians who play just a single instrument.
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Non-musicians don’t realize how many musical adventures are ended by destroyed voices and damaged joints.  They don’t understand persisting long enough to become a successful specialized performer, requires being genetically gifted with an unusually strong body, with vocal chords, elbows, wrists, and fingers of steel.

…. of course the mental rigidity and fixed musical habits resulting from excessive overspecialized practice, together in effect constitute a repetitive motion syndrome of the brain.  ( Performance )
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But though it’s been an awesome instructive experience, playing many different types of instruments would not by itself have sufficiently widened the range of our activities.

Because the instruments we’re ultimately learning to play are ourselves, or to say this differently, to make big music we must become big humans.

So we’ve generalized our notion of “practice” to include recording our music, building our instruments, making our own furniture, taking regular walks, stretching, reading “good” ( which to us usually means “old” ) books, cooking healthy delicious food, gardening, etc.  ( Unspecialized )

Our generalized “practice” even includes things like not listening to television and radio, sitting on the floor, and minimizing the time we spend in cars.

At this point it’s easy to imagine some conventionally trained musician jumping up and exclaiming, “Wait a minute, that’s just nutty!! ”

However he would be wrong, because the oddest thing about our peculiar style of practice is it works.

So while the music on our first CD has an innocent power, there’s no doubt what we got down for our second was more graceful and accomplished.  While the music we recorded for Work In Progress is light years ahead of our earlier stuff.  (*Work In Progress Frozen mp3 Blog )

But doesn’t this mean our practice works?

By the way we should probably mention there’s one thing we do which does look quite a bit like conventional “practice”, but we keep it short and sweet.

It’s a simple vocal exercise involving softly singing long slow notes while accompanying ourselves on our lovely little harmonium ( an Indian instrument a bit like a floor mounted accordion. )  We start in an easy central part of our range and then gradually move down to lower and lower notes…… and that’s it.  Pretty easy heh?  And very serious relaxing fun….
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It’s a loose version of an exercise ( mandra sadhana ) Indian classical vocal instructors tell beginning students to do every day of their lives, but again this is mostly just high sounding rap since usually students stop doing it as soon as they start learning “real” pieces ( The Indian Music Scene ).  However we’ve been doing it for more than 20 years and we still love it.  It opens up our breathing and reminds us relaxation is the royal road to beautiful vocal tone.

Of course we do it only intermittently.  Always something happens.  We get busy, we get lazy, we forget and we stop….

But fortunately though we regularly lose it, as inevitably we always get it back.  So it’s repeated as well as intermittent.

And when it’s part of our life, it works.  Our voices get deeper, warmer, less effortful, and in general it gets easier to breathe.
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Still Music Should Be Clean……
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Having written about the ways excessive practice steals the joy from playing music and makes creation of magic music almost impossible, and about how we’ve found our way to a “practice” which minimizes these problems, it’s time to step back and look again at the legitimate purpose of practice…..

…. And that, as we point out at the top of this page, is to help provide the listener with reasonably clean and error-free music, a goal with which we could not agree more.

However since thanks to the wonders of modern technology we’re putting out recorded not performed music, for us practice isn’t the only route to an impeccable final product.  ( Performance )

Instead we’ve been able to seek perfection by editing in ways which are both radical and simple-minded.  Because our pieces unfold as series of sound islands separated by silences, and because they’re not constrained by the demands of rigid unchanging meters ( Slow, Low, And Varied ), we found we could eliminate playing and other noises by labor intensive careful editing ( Cleaning Up Our Files ), and even more interesting, could thoughtfully and creatively delete all the objectionable musically clumsy sections ( Carving Down Our Files ).

…. leading to a final product as clean as any performance polished by practice, but one which though recorded is in reality more spontaneous and more truly “live”.

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Performance****Notation****Slow, Low, And Varied
Doing Music Differently****Unspecialized****Our Instruments****Our Recording
The Indian Music Scene****Music and Magic****The Street Singer
Home****Work In Progress Frozen mp3 Blog****Buy Our Music

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© 2014 Untravelled Path