Do You Practice Your Why?

musicianship practicing Mar 10, 2014

“Why?” is the biggest question in the world. It’s annoying when a toddler asks it incessantly. “Why?” is your frustration when your computer chooses the worst possible moment to crash. And it’s the question that almost never has an answer.

“Why” is also a popular question. Simon Sinek’s book “Start With Why” presents the bold assertion that, “It doesn’t matter what you do, it matters Why you do it.”

I am a person who needs to know why. I love to learn and I want to know. Wikipedia was made for me. Ask me something I don’t know, and I’ll find out.

I remember questioning my choice of music as a career when I was in my first year of college. That was an important Why, and I found out that, like most of you reading this, I played music because I loved it, and I played the harp because that was my voice. There was no better reason, and it was enough. Just knowing the Why made everything easier.

We can use the power of Why every day. The way we structure our practice should reinforce our Why, give us goals and help us stay energized on our musical journey. We simply have to remember Why we practice.

I believe that the Why of practice is the music itself. We want to play music, to learn it, to incorporate the music into ourselves, to have it as a part of us. Music is the Why. Not the notes, not the performance, not the instrument. And keeping that as our focus will dramatically affect the way we practice.

Music is not just a collection of notes to be drilled and performed. Music conveys feeling; it has a particular quality and meaning. Our daily practice needs to include practicing the meaning of the notes, not just the playing of the notes. That means practicing dynamics, tone, pacing and all the other tools we have for musical expression, not just when we know the notes well enough, but from the very first. Even though you may not be able to incorporate every nuance in the early stages of note learning, paying attention to the musical details right at the beginning has several practical advantages:

  • It brings creativity into the learning process – no boring practice!
  • It allows you to keep the big picture in mind, so you don’t get stuck in the small stuff.
  • You can find the fingerings and techniques that will allow you to play the piece well when you have learned it.
  • Your expression will be integrated into the piece, not slapped on like a coat of paint at the end of the process.
  • It gives you a chance to grow your expressive tools that same way you grow your technical skills, gradually and over time.

Most importantly, practicing the Why of music simply feels right. It’s like wearing your favorite outfit, the one you know looks great on you. Don’t save it for that special occasion; wear it every day. Why? Because, that’s why.

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