Thursday, February 2, 2017

Hitting Bottom

I’d only been playing for a few years and was about a year into my studies with a world-renown teacher, but at this particular lesson I was bombing. I didn’t know why I was bombing. My teacher, who didn’t often say much, was pacing the room slowing shaking his head. “Let’s try it again,” he said. That meant another month of the same material. So I knuckled down and did it all again. I was good at knuckling down. I had the discipline and determination to master the material I was assigned. And I HAD mastered it. Or so I thought.

My next lesson went about the same way as I played the required grooves. I thought I was playing them 'even better‘ than last time -- more accurately, more precise. Same reaction: “Let’s try it again”.

My next lesson was approaching. I’d now spent nearly three months on the same material, and I’d totally run out of ideas of how to fix it. It was a bit of a “Zen and the Art of Archery” situation. The master wanted me to realize something, but my habit of analyzing and intellectualizing things always got in the way. That is, my roadblocks were self-induced.

I started working on the material once more (my lesson was just a few days away),  and I was feeling pretty dejected. So, in a complete funk, I played the first line. My need for precision had gone out the window, and I wasn’t focusing on my technique the way I usually did. I was depressed about the whole situation, but after a couple of minutes of practice, I felt a change. I swear I could feel the rhythm sinking into my body all by itself, and I began to groove with it. Not that I hadn’t grooved the lines before, but this time it somehow really hit home. I played through the rest of the lines with the same result, and then took a very gratifying break. I walked around the neighbourhood, enjoying the fine weather and reveling in my 'accomplishment'.

At my next lesson I began to play the lines, and I saw a big smile break out on my teacher’s face. Life was good. It seems he didn't care if my technique was correct. He wanted me to get in touch with my emotions and apply them to music. And I couldn't do that as long as I was intellectualizing and working on ‘technique’.

I now look for the groove in everything I do. Some exercises won't groove no matter what you do, but it's amazing how often the groove is there, if you just let it happen. I still attend to the technical side but, as they say, 'it don't mean a thing' otherwise.

I’ve developed a habit of seeking out these ‘a-ha’ moments, when things fall into place oh so well. As a teacher, there is nothing more gratifying for me than to see this in a student. It’s not really possible to tell a student how to think or how to feel. Sometimes you just need to suggest a direction and then just wait it out. And then a light goes on!

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