Practice and the art of zen maintainance
My brother and I shared a guitar growing up. It was an ES-355 knockoff by a local company called Givson1 that we had convinced our parents to buy us as a combo birthday gift for 1800 ₹.
I’ve been playing plucked instruments since.
The first few years was all about singing along with songs, then learning some rhythm guitar and being that dude with long hair wanting to be Dimebag Darrell. My brother was naturally better at music. While he could hear a song, find out some chords and make it work, my scenes were a lot more dogged and filled with wanting to be better and not knowing how and often feeling stodgy and stifiled. I think I spent over 5 years not even know what to practice, let alone how to practice.
Learning the what and the how has been a painful and slow process. And what I have synthesized is quite simple in principle, but requires attention and diligence in execution.— ♩ ♩ ♩ ♩ ♩ ♩ ♩ —
An outline of The How
This is the easy bit - at least in principle - so i will start here.
- Put your instrument down often. Look outside often. Stretch often.
- Reflect on your previous session and commit to what you want to learn.
- Practice as loudly as possible as a default.
- Do things in small chunks to assimilate. Reflect after every chunking.
- Understand it theoretically.
- Apply the assimilated chunks immediately in a creative way.
- Reflect after your session.
As you can see - this requires a fair amount of reflection and keeping track of things. Over the years I’ve found this to be the main screwy thing in learning anything. Most of my life the instrument of keeping track has been a notebook. It works really well for the most part. I always start with a fresh page.
The first thing i do is to commit to a warmup and put down is the BPM of the metronome. The warmup mostly serves to zone in my mind. The hands and fingers and other musculature getting some heat and movement is just secondary. If I am practicing my guitar or lute, the warmup is playing all over the neck, some right hand and left hand work, always obnoxiously loud.2
Then I stop and stand and walk a circle and reflect on my warmup, read my previous practice log, and think about what to practice today. Set my metronome and begin.
What these logs look like:
- Warmup @86 Ring finger on RH seems to be a bit laggy. - Villa Lobos Etude 1 @110 Speed run was clean. - Little Prelude @110 Rework [1-4]
After every item i log, i put my guitar down and get up. Maybe make a tea, maybe just stare at the tree outside, maybe have a quick chat about something very banal. The idea is to bring the mind into a super calm and relaxed zone. Almost to the point of a bored curiousity.3
I will often pick up items to practice from the previous day. Things I should rework or look at again. Sometimes I will just level up on speed. Sometimes, I will mega slow things down.
This actually gets us into the what.— ♩ ♩ ♩ ♩ ♩ ♩ ♩ —
What to practice
In general - break your practice into a warmup; technique and repertoire; theory and analysis; and creativity.
Play loudly. Play easy things. Play all over your instruments. Be a bit obnoxious. Get into it. Sound is good when it surrounds you completely.
Take your time with the warmup. The aim is to get your mind zoned in.
Technique and repertoire
Play your rep. Work on it actively. Create exercises and alternate patterns. Play with dynamics and rhythm.
Always keep a metronome. Keep track of what is good, what you need to work on.
In general - I am learning a piece or two - and maintaining my older rep.
Theory and analysis
Simple stuff here. Do some ear training or sight singing. Maybe take a piece you know well and transpose it or simplify it. Take a piece you know well and isolate its parts - bassline and melody.
Always practice theory and analysis in the context of application. It’s super useless otherwise.
This is the fun part. Devise a quick game, perhaps use the konnakol train to generate a rhythmic structure and compose or improvise against it. Improvise against a chord structure. Or compose a quick song. Perhaps work on some baroque counterpoint.
The important thing here is to have a whole set of games you can play. Something that has restrictions and rules so you can start blowing them up and find new ideas. I will do a whole post about a lot of these games sometime soon - maybe even write a generator to make some.— ♩ ♩ ♩ ♩ ♩ ♩ ♩ —
If I am practicing or learning a language - it is to recite a bunch of text from a book loudly and slowly. If I am learning some math or training in chess - I do some easy sums or puzzles and think aloud. More on other applications in a separate post, I’ll keep this one mostly about music. ↩
This zone of bored curiousity is ideal - it is a sense of time going very slowly and calmly. There is time to react and time to deal with anything that might come your way. ↩
More like this
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music guitar j s bach • Saturday, 3 December 2022
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