If you go and see a performance of a symphony you are witnessing a highly polished product. Behind every show, there are hours of rehearsal for that ensemble. And behind that rehearsal there are hours upon hours of practice time for each individual musician. The practice is needed, but there is a strange paradox to practicing. Musicians both love it and hate it simultaneously.
Firstly, let me vent about why we hate it (I just had a terrible fucking practice session and need this as therapy right now…)
- You are constantly worried about time. My schedule (as most music majors) is defined by the number of practice hours I need to achieve in a day. Being in music school, the recommended amount of study (as prescribed by my applied teacher) is 3 to 4 hours. This is on top of 3 to 5 hours of rehearsal, 3 hours of classes, and a part time job (not to mention homework and studying needed for classes). That is 12 hours of mandatory work on a good day. On a bad day I can run from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. with one 30 minute lunch break (which is usually when I’m writing blog posts) I guess I can sleep when I’m dead…
- It wears on you mentally. You are stuck in a box for the better part of a day. (I’m not kidding here’s a picture)… You are isolated for most of that time while being harshly critical on yourself. You run the same warm-up, the same repertoire , the same passage over and over to get a small aspect right. This is a your life for at least 4 years in your undergraduate (and usually more if you were a serious high school musician or you go on to your graduate degree).
- It wears on you physically. Hours of repetition and lack of proper health education lead to many musicians developing physical injury. Although old fashion, many teachers still hold the opinion that more practice time is better. Due to this, many student musicians run themselves into an early retirement trying to rack up as many hours a day they can. (I’ve been on that train – 6 to 7 hours. Resulted in tendentious and jaw problems).
- You’re not making music. Sounds strange, and I’m sure there are some musicians who disagree with me, but practicing is not making music. Practicing is working on all the underlying technique that makes music possible. The hours spent in the practice room is meant for the musician to work on fingerings, buzzing, tonguing, bowing, tone, etc… Sometimes you work on ‘musical phrasing’, but this is a very artificial approach to music. It is a planning out of musical gestures, and rarely speaks to the heart of the music you want to produce.
Well that’s all very depressing. Let us end on a happier note… This is why musicians love practicing.
- It is time well spent. Of course, it is a constant struggle trying to live a balanced life that does not revolve around the practice room, but it is possible. I have recently stepped back from my crazy, hectic schedule, and have reshuffled and cut down on somethings. That includes practice time. Instead of working longer, I try and work smarter. This not only cuts down on the practice time, but also makes my time with my instrument more productive. In addition, I know it is time well spent. I can hear the musical improvements on my instrument.
- It can build you up mentally. When you are being productive and using your time effectively, you being to build the much needed confidence that you need on your instrument. When you are not being stupidly critical of yourself, you learn to celebrate you victories in your craft. The feeling of elation that comes with your victories are almost orgasmic.
- It makes you more aware physically. With proper care of your body, playing an instrument can make you keenly aware of what you are doing physically. Musicians are small muscle Olympians, depending on the instrument you are training your wrists, your lips, your fingers, etc. In addition, overall posture and breathing is (or should be) constantly checked and corrected. This training makes you surprisingly aware of overall physical health (it also makes you a little more graceful in your day to day life).
- It leads to better music. What you learn in the practice room acts as a foundation in a performance situation. Knowing your fundamentals are there, can help you be more courageous musically. It helps you be confident in revealing some of the deepest parts of your personality. And that in the end is what makes the hours in the practice room worth it.
As you can see, there are two sides to the practice room. And I’ll be honest, I have been back and forth on both the bad and the good. I’ve had days (and truthfully months) where I have questioned my goals and why I am even pursuing music because of the frustration that resulted from the practice room. On the flip-side, I have had days where I was almost euphoric – enjoying every second practicing. Although I would love to be on that high all the time, most days I fall in-between. Having a continual love-hate relationship with the practice room and my instrument.
Behind the glamour of the stage is not always pretty, but I can’t think of anything in life that is always perfect. I love music that’s why I continue to put up with this side of the industry. The rewards are worth it, adding to culture is worth it, and my own personal satisfaction is worth it; and I am so grateful I have found that thing in my life that makes me feel this way almost everyday.
Weirdly enough, committing yourself to any art is like a marriage. There is the good and the bad, but at the end of the day each partner (can music be a partner being kind-of an abstract concept?) contributes something good to one another. It’s not always pretty, it’s not always perfect, but it sure as hell is worth the struggle.