I practice meditation by sitting down and shutting up for 10-20 minutes a day. I practice guitar an hour a day. I practice running for about 1-2 hours, at least 3-4 times per week. I visit similar headspace with each activity, and each sympathizes with my music practice.
In my music practice, I always start out with some itenirary in mind. Warmups for 1/2 hour, scale drills for 1/2 hour, harmony for 1/2 hour, then work on a specific piece. Very often, though, I feel a pull to ‘zoom in’ on one particular area, one very specific little aspect of what I’m working on. Usually it’s a rough section of a piece I’m working on, and I turn it into an exercise. It feels like identifying a little rough spot on my musical surface that needs sanding – repeating the thing slowly and methodically makes me comfortable after a while, with speed and facility not for behind. It feels like some combination of play and meditation.
I first heard about someone else adopting a similar thought-process in John Stropes article on Michael Hedges’ Ragamuffin.
When practicing these opening two bars, you encounter a series of challenges. Here are the two bars, followed by a correlating bit from Stropes’ essay:
Maybe it seems obvious, but if you’ve ever practiced this tune, you know that this piece contains a series of brain teasers, ‘koans’ for your muscle memory – if that makes sense. Whether you’re a fingerstyle diehard or not, I suggest checking Stropes’ book out.
One goal of this blog is to share my thoughts around music, and this reductive practice is key for me. It’s key for me personally, in developing my ability like I just said, but also key in my composing. For some reason, with me, I am repetitive in practice but avoiding outright repetition in my music. More on that another time!