Focus is the difference between whiffing and missing the ball or hitting it out of the park.
I am finally starting to believe that spring is on its way. We still have snow in our yard, but the sun feels stronger and the scent in the air has changed. And baseball opening day is this week.
When baseball season starts, summer can’t be too far behind. Soon major league stadiums, community parks and backyards across the country will be fields of dreams for players and fans young and old. Parents everywhere will be encouraging their young players, saying, “Keep your eye on the ball!”
A batter must stay focused on that ball to hit it. There is only a split second when the ball crosses the plate. If the batter has been watching the ball, the bat will be coming across the plate at the right moment and in the right place to connect with the ball. If the batter hasn’t been focused on the ball, the swing will fan the air and he’ll be out at the plate.
You can’t hit the ball out of the park if you can’t connect with it. It’s all about keeping your eye on the ball.
The same idea is true for any endeavor, of course. Goals are accomplished through focused effort. Musical goals are no different.
How can we musicians keep our eye on the ball and achieve our objectives? I have some baseball themed suggestions.
Picture a malfunctioning automatic baseball pitching machine. Instead of pitching the balls with reasonable intervals of time between each, the baseballs are coming at the player faster than he can manage. Even the best hitter can’t hit every ball when they are coming that fast. The best he can do is duck and run for cover.
Similarly, we musicians can’t do everything at once. There are lots of issues we want to address in our practice, but when we try to address them all simultaneously, we don’t accomplish very much.
Players often let balls go by; not every pitch is the right pitch to hit. You can and probably should let some of the practice “balls” go by. If you’re trying to speed up a passage, that is not the time to make sure your technique is correct. You can practice each skill separately and merge the two skills later. Success happens one step at a time.
“Strike three!” the umpire calls as the ball whizzes by the batter whose bat never moved. An opportunity missed.
Your practice is your opportunity to hit the ball. If you don’t intentionally focus your attention – to actually swing at the ball - you have wasted some of your precious practice time. Mere repetition is no substitute for purposeful, directed effort. You must remember to swing the bat.
A home run brings the crowd to its feet. Not every hit will be a home run, but that fact doesn’t stop us from expecting the star slugger to swing for the fences. After all, a team needs runs to win the game.
You need to win to win your practice game too. What is your ultimate goal? How will your focus today bring you the success you want in the future? What will bring the runner home to score for the team?
Don’t let yourself settle for little shreds of progress. Make certain that your practice is designed to bring you the big results you want. Don’t let fear keep you from swinging for the fences.
Let these words of the legendary Babe Ruth inspire you: “I swing big, with everything I've got. I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can.”