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Making Magic

February 22, 2020 (transferred from WordPress)

This video of Midori Gato was a favorite of mine in undergrad. Although the piece is certainly a show etude full of technical feats, I fell in love with the simple theme (1:28) and found some of the variations positively magical (check out the arpeggio and pizzicato variation at 5:35.) Although nothing compares to the puffy sleeves…

As magical as the music may sound: it isn’t magic.

My former teacher, James Dunham was constantly reminding me of this. Regardless how seemingly impossible something appears, it isn’t magic…rather the product of well-developed skills.

So how do we get those skills?

Unfortunately, I have no answers …but I have a few ideas!!  Before I dive head on into the world of DIY technique posts, I think it’s important to identify some common unhealthy beliefs that prevent skill building.

  • Entitlement. This is one of the most common problems I run into with students (and myself!) Often, when we are able to do an action once, we feel entitled to the associated skill even though we may not fully understand it.

    • For example; if a beginning student is able to shift once they feel entitled to the skill of shifting (even without studying and developing the skill.) When they are unable to replicate the shift under pressure, they get angry, discouraged and are reluctant to break down the process.

      • We need to give our ignorance the credit it deserves! The only way to start learning and analyzing the problems is to acknowledge what we don’t understand. 

  • Perfection or failure. There is a culture of perfectionism that looms over classically trained musicians. The focus is often on ‘not messing up,’ rather than on experimenting and celebrating the process of building skills

  • Product over process. This is an extremely dangerous and temporal mentality for musicians! While there will always be a heavy demand for perfect products, we must prioritize our process above the product (for our sanity, health and long-term ability!!)

    • The product over process priority is often taught into us. For example- it is often taught that a shift is successful if it’s in tune, and unsuccessful if it’s out of tune, rather than basing the success on the process and skill of shifting (the fluidity of the motion, the stability of the thumb, the hand frame moving as a unit etc.) If the student is focused on the process, they will learn to manipulate it for more controlled consistency later on.

    • This mentality is also found in the phrase ‘practice til it’s perfect.’ The underlaying belief that anything is possible with practice turns treacherous in a culture of perfectionism. When the priority is on one-time performances over skill building, young instrumentalists can spend hours in a practice room trying to perfect things that they don’t understand. I cringe to think of all the hours I’ve spent in the practice room impatiently trying to polish music with mindless repetition and often physical pain.

Don’t let these unhealthy ‘norms’ of the classical music world prevent you from learning and practicing for the long term. Intentionally do whatever you need to do to free yourself from these thoughts! Really, have some bad performances in the name of experimenting, ask ‘dumb’ questions, analyze basic things and above just be humble and try new things.

And hopefully we will soon be making magic!

Happy skill building!

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