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Instruments: Moving in the direction of Skill

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Moving in the direction of Skill

by David James

I am fond of saying, to others and to myself, one of my guiding principles of life and music: "the most important thing in life is knowing what you want, and the second most important thing is knowing whether you are getting it". You may dispute with me about whether or not this is of primary importance in life, but, take my word for it, it IS of primary importance in playing.

The musician student is faced with many challenges, and plagued by many doubts. One of these challenges is "how to make progress, real progress, in my abilities as a musician ", and one of the doubts is "am I making any progress in my abilities as a composer" (we understand this to mean "am I creating vertical growth, or only horizontal growth"). We cannot answer this question about whether we are getting what we want, growth in our abilities as musicians, unless we understand what it is we really want.

How can we judge our progress, how can we asses our ability to create growth in our abilities, which also means assessing the quality of our practice? What is it we should be looking for? I once saw a master violin teacher helping a student with a difficult passage. She took the students fingers as they were on the fingerboard and said "let's see if we can make this easier". There is much to learn from this approach. Master players know that it is very difficult to play badly, and it is very easy to play well! Of course, we are being a bit glib here. It means that when you see a bad player, you see someone putting out a lot of effort for very little result, and when you see a good player, you see someone getting a lot of results for little effort. However, it can take a lot of effort to get to the point of playing with little effort!

Real progress will always carry this sign, it will always have this characteristic; what felt difficult will feel easier, if not right away, then over time. The essential point to grasp is this: we know we are making progress if we can honestly see and feel that the things that once seemed difficult are becoming easy, and of course, sounding better. This is what we always want to see, at any point in our development. I call it "moving in the direction of skill".

Does everyone NEED to be moving in the direction of skill? Of course not, unless you are a beginner. If you have NO skill, you need some before you can even play. Every baby must learn to walk, but does not need to grow up to be an Olympic athlete. As a musician, you can stop at any point in your development, and sit with your instrument for the rest of your life and play your little heart out! But, many of us do seemed to be obsessed with playing like "the masters", and if that is YOUR story, if that is YOUR path, well, then, now you know the right direction in which to point yourself. Keep The Principles in mind, and the wind will be always at your back.

The views and opinions in this blog post are those of its author.

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User comments:

Thank you Chris for another wonderful blog. I agree with you: that's pure truth! Enjoy the music, and that's it. Thank you. Fabrizio

   Posted by fabrizio on October 5th, 2006 @ 8:06 pm GMT

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