The Discovery Approach to Music Practice (part 1)

I’m glad to share a simple approach to practicing music with you that arose while working with some of my Carnatic saxophone students. It is nothing new, but rather a subtle shift in the perspective of the approach that allows for a fresh, relaxed and clear way of practicing whatever it might be that you are working on in your  musical journey. It also may incidentally lead to spiritual insights and/or deeper peace.

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The Discovery Approach to practice essentially comes from the realization that what IS is inherently complete and perfect. That perfection can grow and change, but it is inherently full as it is. The practice is then to discover that. This can be successfully utilized in music…or anything.

The most common approach most people take is the “try, try again” approach. There is nothing wrong with it, and can be quite useful. You will basically have a line or phrase you want to play and you continuously do it over and over. Each time there are various mistakes that need to be ironed out. With a grunt or worse, you try again and again. Sometimes there will be more mistakes with each repeat. With much hard work, eventually the line is played as desired. However, there is the danger that without rigorous review and weeding out of the undesired aspects, these mistake can show up as a surprise later during another practice or a performance. Sometimes, the mistakes will go unnoticed and actually multiply, leaving you baffled.

With much practice, eventually everything is ironed out and you are happy. It is something like putting rough stones in a tumbler where they are turned around, crashing into each other until they finally come out as precious gems. Or punching repeatedly through a wall until you break through. It works eventually, but it may be frustrating and tiring.

The main missing ingredient in the previous method is usually awareness. In the Discovery method, we focus on cultivating the necessary awareness to listen and really FEEL what is happening. When awareness is turned on at full power, practice is really a completely different ball game. It feels more like you are simply discovering the fully perfect line or phrase with the practice rather then forcefully executing it.

The next ingredient, though it may seem obvious, is to go through the music very very SLOWLY. Many are familiar with the slow aspect. But usually slow playing is used on its own with the side effect that eventually the person playing becomes more aware. Here, we start with vivid awareness and attention and then begin the practice at slower tempos.

How do we get “into” this vivid awareness? Well, your natural state that you are in already  has it. It has the characteristics of both wakefulness and deep rest. But most of us are heavily distracted constantly and find it difficult to see it. What arose to assist here is a set of simple visualizations or extremely brief (just about 10 seconds to a minute or two) meditations with some simple instructions. You can walk yourself through them to awaken the clarity and set the right atmosphere for the practice.

Many of my students have found this approach illuminating and felt their practice was much easier, more relaxing. They felt more absorbed in the music and where able to taste the enjoyment of music itself. This is fundamentally important to playing or practicing music in a time when there are a million different ways to spend your time just on your phone.

In sharing this approach, I am not saying that one approach is better than another. All are useful and good. I see the Discovery Approach and the “try, try again” approach as two ends of a spectrum. But I did feel that this approach I am describing has not been explored enough and could greatly help balance things out. If awareness is cultivated enough through practicing Discovery method, then the “keep trying” method will automatically become the discovery method. They no longer will appear separate.

I will share the pointers and simple visualizations for the Discovery Approach in the coming posts in this series. Feel free to try them with your own practice or with your own students.

For an approach to spiritual liberation (enlightenment, Self Realization etc.) through music, please see the series: Naada Yoga For Total Liberation.

 

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