Four Key Elements

I must be honest and admit that while I don’t always adhere to what I”m about to tell you, I definitely feel better when I do!

For the musician I think that it’s important to have a daily regimen of core activities some with and some away from our chosen musical instrument. For me, there are four essential activities-exercise, meditation, core work at the instrument and improvisation. You will undoubtedly make your own list, but I would say that this would be a very good place to start.

While core instrumental work, such as technic, scales, rudiments and such and improvisation can both be thought of and experienced as meditative, I do find/feel that pure meditation is a separate practice and should be explored as such. . For me, a Zen style of meditation, quiet sitting with an empty mind (or facsimile thereof!) is very rejuvenating. Cycling or running, especially running, is the best for me. If I find time for these two practice away from the instrument, I’m in a much better place when I do get to it. I think it’s a good balance to have one of the away from the instrument activities be active and the other be passive. Practices like Tai Chi, Yoga do both, so you might have active and passive in one discipline. As I said, find your own way. To be fair and complete, reading music in a deep way is equally meditative, so we all design our own program. Find what works best for you!

At the instrument, as I think we all realize, the more efficient our technical system is, the better we’ll be in terms of musical output- we’ll play more, it will sound better, and we won’t hurt. Further, it will actually feel good, as in the best thing we could possibly be doing for our health and well-being. This is why I believe core work at the instrument is so essential for the complete musician. People who get this down when they are very young are blessed to be able to not have to think about it so much, but there’s still a maintenance factor and damage can and will occur is the system is not functioning efficiently. This is why I highly recommend a significant amount of core practice in your work at the instrument. Most students I see are still very much getting it together when they arrive in college, so that is, in particular, why I’m mentioning this to my college students.

Improvisation is the balancing element, in my view, and should be port of the core work, before we get to playing a specific tune, form or chord progression. On the one hand it’s important to be able to play a particular rudiment, such as a finger combination, scale or the like, in an exact, prescribed manner. On the other, applying such rudiments in play both reinforces the assimilation of the device and helps build the creative juices along with the overall comfort of the physical aspects of the player, and the sound. I’m talking here about improvisation which if free of any particular preconceptions, such as playing a certain tune or form. Basically, if I spend ten minutes on a chromatic finger study, working to perfect its execution literally, I want to spend ten or more minutes improvising, but improvising using primarily the same kinds of chromatic figures. So that’s the fourth element, the act of play.

So there you have it, four elements in your core work – exercise, meditation, core technical work and improvisation. See if you can begin each day with all of them before moving on to a specific tune or piece. I hope you find this thinking helpful in your own work, let me know if you have a comment or question.