Saturday, October 3, 2009

What's the practice about?

Phil Ford's post that's linked in the post below is full of stuff to think about, but what really jumped out at me was the following:

>>At a certain point when I was getting really serious about piano playing I realized that I was getting stuck, not because I couldn't physically move my fingers in certain ways, but because I didn't know how to focus my mind the right way to train my hands to make those movements. I learned one of my great enduring truths of piano playing: learning to play means learning to practice. You have to figure out what you're paying attention to, how you pay attention to it, how your consciousness is organized when you're concentrating (are you self-conscious? what does that feel like? what does it feel like to let go of self-consciousness?), how long you can concentrate, what it feels like to lose focus, and so on. And this is something that is actually very good for one's general happiness and health. When you get good at this meta kind of self-monitoring in your chosen practice, you get better at it all around. You notice things. The world becomes a more beautiful and mysterious place. <<

The overall point of how spending time working with music making can benefit your life in general is the cornerstone of what music therapy should be all about. Whether or not, and to what degree, that can happen depends upon how you practice music.

The word "practice" goes back to the Greek word meaning "concerned with action". It's not just the action of running through scales and pieces, but being concerned with those actions. Phil's point that it's as much or more a matter of consciousness as physical movement goes to the very heart of music making. 

You could argue that there's a Buddhist subtext to Phil's post, (and I think in previous posts he may have mentioned familiarity with Zen Buddhism). For one thing, Tibetan lamas usually prefer to call what they're up to "mind training". If you're going to get full benefit from your music making, being aware of the parallels between having a "spiritual practice" and "practicing music" will probably help.

Another resonance with Buddhism is that "karma" simply means "action". It's your motivation that makes the karma positive, neutral or negative.

Another point to make ties in to the Jonathan West post on musicality I keep going back to. He concludes it by talking about how he encountered a particular piece as a student and only thirty years later did he begin to understand how to play it. If you approach music making with open ended awareness, it will change you. It's not just a question of increased skill, but a deeper and deeper appreciation of how meaningful music making can be. 

Towards the end of the last of the Four Quartets, T. S. Eliot writes:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

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