Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Incremental Practice

Over the course of my life, I've learned the value of slow, incremental practice. Take a phrase, one measure at a time. Learn to play it at 50 beats per minute, with as much perfection (articulation, dynamics, tuning) as possible. When it's mastered at that speed, increase the speed to 60 or so. Do it again. Put it away until tomorrow. The next day, do it at 50; then 60; then 65. 65 then 70. 70 then 75. After three weeks, when you've worked your way slowly to the final tempo of 100 beats per minute, you literally know of no other way to play the music than with perfection. Walter, the conductor with whom I played in December, said to me, "It sounds just like the score says!"

(...putting aside for the moment that, as a saxophonist, it's a surprise when I perform what's on the score...)

This is how music is learned, and how high levels of proficiency are achieved. It's not about being able to play a piece of music at a thousand beats per minute right away; it's having the patience to practice perfection, over and over and over and over again, for years at a time. I honestly gave up regular practice on my instrument in 2010 for that reason: I wasn't willing to devote the time to practicing to perfection. The concert this December was such a joy because I was able to devote the time to learning those pieces of music to a level that I haven't reached in some time. It's why I walked away from my chorus in July: I wasn't willing or able, any more, to demand the time and effort that I needed to refine my skills highly enough to stand in front of my chorus. They deserve someone who can put THEM first. I need to take that time, right now, to helping little boys practice their things, and do their homework, and play their sports.

Which leads me to a realization that I hit, about a month or so ago: baseball is exactly like music in that regards. Sports, as a whole, is like music in that way.

That's a HUGE realization. Sports, if played at a competitive and satisfying level, are exactly like music: both have a huge variety of skills that need to be developed and rigorously practiced over a period of years and years and years. Both have a level of artistry at their top: it is easy to look at a Mike Trout home run swing or Andleton Simmons field a backhand ground ball and make the throw to first and see the dance and the art inherent in the game.

Of course, I made this realization at the same time that I got sick and was flat on my back for five weeks. So, my attempts to make baseball a part of our daily practice sessions fell quickly to the wayside. When Daddy can't really stand up for long enough to set up the hitting net, then it's not going to get used. I've been in a much better place, health-wise, for about two weeks now, but I"m still pretty tender and prone to fatigue. I'm determined to take better care of myself and to avoid this as much as possible next December, but I digress.

This has lead me to wonder where the line between talent and training is, in sports. I think it's something that is more clearly defined than in music: after all, the head-to-head battles in sports are public, frequent, and scored carefully and relatively objectively. Still, I'm interested in our little experiment: if Little Bear and/or The Baby play baseball regularly, and if we practice the baseball equivalent of scales and vibrato exercises and etudes, then how far can they get as players? High school? College? How far do they WANT to get?

1 comment:

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People learn from their past experiences. I am glad that you have learned alot regarding music through your past experience and its so nice of you that you are sharing your experience with your readers.