If we are lucky enough, life may have given us an opportunity to use some newfound time to develop our musicality, and I believe the way to deepen this is to develop our power of concentration. That part of us that seeks purposefulness and satisfaction through creating, is often frustrated and malnourished. This isn’t always because of lack of time in which to attune ourselves to a creative headspace- it is often because we remain underdeveloped in our staying power when there IS an opportunity.
It’s quite possible we are too hard on ourselves when improvement is not quickly apparent, and we may only rarely sink deep enough into the music to have a proper “delve” or experience any authentic union with the instrument. We are ALL busy people!
If you are in a situation where that extra time with an instrument might become possible, and you want to ENJOY it, try my “Third Hour Of The Third Day” rule:
Don’t expect any particular improvement until the third consecutive day of practise, and not until the third hour.
So you have committed to three hours a day for three days. That’s the stuff of full time college students and not older folks with mortgages and kids, right? Well, try and fashion a challenge as close to this as you can, the important part being that you are playing for a good deal of time WITHOUT any expectation of improvement. You are just playing, “playing” like a child plays.
Eventually get your phone out and record yourself maybe, a little bit of self created tension. You may cringe a bit at hearing yourself if you’re not used to it, but you’ll no doubt appreciate SOME improvement, so make sure to heartily enjoy and acknowledge the feelings and don’t dwell on the criticism. Involve the whole body, in my case as a blower of a fairly large instrument I need to keep up a good energy, but not so it is strained. I don’t expect very much when I first start out and am just grateful for the time alone with the instrument, actually it is almost a “self-compassion” where non-judgment presides. My time now, I tell myself, is to connect with the highest part of myself and all worldly problems for this time, have to be put aside. You could even say that for this time, you are not “of the world” anyway, perhaps you are “of the earth”. As such you do not need Facebook or chocolate or whatever, you just need concentration in the task at hand.
A couple of days ago I realised I needed to record a solo on a new album. The challenge I set myself was to be content with a recorded solo that had absolutely no editing in it, as if it were a live gig. The piece “Ambleside Nights” is pretty tricky actually. At the beginning of the third day I filmed a couple of the solos and I’ve made one available online, just for your interest.
I like the fact that I was able to surprise myself a couple of times in the solo, as well as follow a fragment of melody which helped glue it together. I also liked the fact that although I wasn’t able to interact with the live band the way I really like to (in the same room at the same time!) nothing jars. Plenty of things I’d played up til then seemed so sporadic and un-flowing, I REALLY had to employ some compassionate non-judgement.
Improvisation is the endless art of perfecting imperfection. If you can’t practise without both concentration and a playful, patient mind, you might not enjoy it, and right now an extra few hours might be the gift something in you is longing for. Let’s ensure that music remains a source of joy for us, and that the rewards of truly applying yourself are not all at the end of a rainbow but can be in the journey itself, an enriching of life when the troubled mind can take a back seat and music can do the driving.