Installment #5 - Attitude Adjustment
Get two or more musicians together to talk about how to practice and play music almost always center on technical aspects. If they're drummers, it's stick control or four way independence. If it's sax players it's embouchure, intonation, control of breath, alternate fingerings, and so on. Guitarists talk of picks, strings, amps, how to position the hands, what scale fingerings to use, the merits and disadvantages of alternate vs. economy picking, ad infinitum. Musicians of differing instruments will talk about what scales to practice, or perhaps alternate chords to use on a standard tune. While these things are obviously of some import, I've found that the very best musicians all have a quality which distinguishes them from lesser players, and it's something that doesn't get mentioned very often in musical discussions - attitude.
So, what can we learn about attitude from the best players? It's easy, or at least it sounds easy. Your goal is to produce the best music possible at each moment you are involved in its creation, using whatever tools you have on hand. Please take a moment to re-read and think about the previous sentence. When you're pursuing this goal it is your only focus, and everything else must be set aside. You desire to hear the music in its purest form, its essence. It means that all other factors, such as the noisy crowd at the gig, the dragging drummer, your sub-par equipment, the phone ringing while you practice, are nothing more than distractions that you ignore. This also includes the internal "noise," which means, among other things, your negative thoughts and emotions.
Have you ever been on a gig and said to yourself, "gawd, I sound terrible; I should just quit right now." Or, "gee, I really should practice, but I think I'd better take care of (fill in the blank) first." I know I've said things like this, and I've found from past experience it's extremely easy to fall into these kinds of mental habits. Why? Because, in spite of our culture's obsession with competition and winning (or perhaps because of it), we are constantly exposed to an enormous amount of "loser talk," and it affects us unless we learn to tune it out and replace it with a *desire to hear the music played in its purest and most beautiful form*.
The means to producing the best music possible at each moment you are involved in its creation, using whatever tools you have on hand, begins with attitude. If you truly desire to make beautiful music, you eliminate anything from your awareness that doesn't contribute to that goal. Fretting over how you sound? Instead, concentrate on what you *want* to hear, and feel good about that awareness. Mistakes are normal, not a reason to psychically beat yourself up. They are feedback toward your goal of making the best music possible. Instead of getting mad or depressed, thank yourself for showing you another way to improve your music.
The above may sound simple-minded or even trite, but I assure it's not. If you don't love what you play, not in the egotistical sense of "look how great I am!," but in the true sense of loving your creation, how can expect anyone else to? So, beginning today, make up your mind to come to every practice session and every gig with the idea that you are going to enjoy it and make the most of it. You'll begin to play better almost immediately. I guarantee it.