Showing posts from October, 2015

Plays Well With Others

I often play music in "jam" or "session" situations where we play tunes that some people know, others may be trying to pick up by ear. I've noticed that musicians react to the group setting in different ways.

Less experienced players often seem to be performing for the other musicians, showing off what they know, playing difficult stuff and playing it fast. They don't notice if anyone else is joining in. More experienced players, while definitely trying to play their best, also work to fit in - for example, they try to make sure they're playing in rhythm with everyone in the room. They'll play quietly at times and leave space so others (especially singers) can be heard. They may play very simply to help others follow, or choose simple tunes so that more people can participate.

My first jazz music teacher used to say that music was like a conversation. I see more and more ways that he was right.

Sooner, Not Faster

I'm a pianist and I practice the martial art of Kokikai Aikido. Lately I've been working on speeding up.

Part I - Music Usually I'll practice a tune till it sounds great when I play it slowly. Then I turn up the metronome. As soon as I do that I can feel my shoulders getting tense, I can't hit any of the notes, I forget what I'm doing and everything sounds like h*ll.

I've come to realize that what's holding me up is not lack of technical ability, but my own mind. My brain is stuck in "slow mode." I'm used to hearing the music slower in my head. So when I play fast, it feels like I'm always trying to catch up. My brain is a half step behind what my fingers are doing.

I realized that instead of just going "faster," I have to think "sooner." I have to think ahead, and then I'll be ready to move my fingers at the right time.

I can tell you that takes a lot of attention to do that. My brain constantly wants to slip back…


Lately I've been trying to balance my desire to improve with appreciating what I have. It's human nature to want more. But I easily get out of whack and forget to pause and appreciate how good things are right now.

It reminds me of the way I relate to eating and hunger. My Aikido Sensei likes to say, “Hunger is the best sauce." His little adage has taught me to pay attention when I am eating. When I'm hungry and I start eating, the food tastes wonderful. There's nothing like that first bite! So I eat and eat, based on the memory of that bite, often not realizing that the food has stopped tasting so good. Nothing changed about the food. My body's just suggesting that I don't need any more. If I would only listen!*

*I've noticed that both sugar and chocolate really keep my body screaming for "more" even when I'm quite full - but even then, all the other associated tastes are less satisfying as I eat more.

You Have To Practice Taking a Rest

Today my piano teacher (who is awesome) was trying to help me improve my mediocre improvisation skills. We were talking about the fact that the improv sounds much better when you leave intentional gaps, spaces, or pauses in the music. They add a rhythmic component, they focus the listener's attention on what they heard, prepare them for what they're about to hear. They help me gather my thoughts before I come up with more ideas, and they just make the whole thing sound better. But even though I know this, I don't do it.

"You have to practice it," Dave said. "You have to practice taking a rest."

I wrote that down.... BIG LETTERS.