By modefor, Jul 28 2020 09:03AM
Hi everyone, welcome to my first post at Mode for… I have to admit it is somewhat daunting that people might be reading my stuff further afield from my own little website but at the same time I'm quite excited.
Lockdown: The trials of practising at home
Lockdown. Where do I start? I imagine a lot of you can relate to what I'm about to go into, whether you're a brass player or not. As a brass player particularly, I have been struggling with a certain situation that people like to refer to as practise. My stunning silver Geneva cornet, named Roxy by a dear friend (it stuck), is looking at me from her case in disappointment. Yes, it is open, in my attempt to persuade myself to pick her up and actually play. Yet, there's always something else to do. "She can wait I have to make a snack, I'm hungry". "Well I can't play her now; I've just eaten." Any excuse to leave her there. This brings up the question, why? I've played my whole life, I love playing. Why don't I want to lift her out of that case and make some beautiful music?
Well, I don't know about you but I've always struggled with practising at home. My main musical outlet was always in groups. Now I can only play at home, like actual home practise? Oh, the horror!
Yes, the thought makes me shudder. I think, for me, it's largely down to the fact practising meant focusing on the things I didn't like doing so much, like scales. I attach this negative association with scales to practise. I'll put my hatred for scales into perspective for you. My poor teacher was probably near to a nervous breakdown getting me to learn the scales I needed for my Grade 8 because I was absolutely shocking at them (still am). There was a point where we'd put my grade 8 off so long due to this failing of mine that the pieces changed and I literally learned three new pieces in something like 3-4 months; may have been less. Of course, my sight-reading was pretty good from all the playing I was doing daily in different groups but scales were something I just didn't do. I also built a complex as many of us do. In the end I went for the exam anyway, hoping for the best. It's actually quite funny, if you look at the feedback; I was practically full marks in everything, then you get to scales. I failed those.
When I say I failed them, it isn't an exaggeration. I actually did. I mean, they really did not go well. Just ask Paul, my amazing accompanist and Band Conductor at the time who was sitting in the waiting room. He heard the disaster that followed. The examiner was lovely, I swear he was trying to make it all as easy as possible so I could get full marks. "Can you play me A minor harmonic?" he asks. Sure, I think cockily. Then it happened... A, B, C, D E flat (oh no! that's not right.) E natural F sharp (what are you doing? Hang on, what scale was it? Did he want melodic or harmonic?). The look on the examiner's face said it all. "Ok." he says awkwardly. "Why don't we try G chromatic?" Ok, good, I can do this one. I start and off I go right up to top G and then find I am now on a B. Too far stupid. And I awkwardly make my way down.
What else can I say?
Perhaps we can see why scales have a slightly frightening ring in my ears. To be honest this was an exam, a long time ago. I put it into perspective now and actually take away the best part of the experience; the almost full marks in everything else. I'm happy being the way I am and the story amuses me.
That did seem like a random little segway, but I think it identifies how important home practise is to musicians and why some of us struggle, when it comes to picking up our instrument at home. It is hard to bring ourselves to do something we don't like doing, especially when it's connected to something we apparently enjoy. We all have our demons to face, particularly when it's something we also want to do well at. We're often our own worst enemies. It doesn't mean we should give up; we just need to find a different perspective and a new way around the problem that suits us (perhaps something I should do with scales. - We need to pick our battles).
The first step, I decided, was to sort out my attitude towards practise. I decided to be proactive (one of Tabby's Three Ps. If you haven't read it yet put it on your reading list). Realising that I prefer to play in groups was key. This meant that online band recordings for general enjoyment and the Whit Friday March competition was a godsend for me. It gave me a new motivation to play and something to work towards. When they started to calm down, I was at a loose end again. Then it occurred to me; why not do my own? I've learned so many new skills from sitting at my computer, with Garageband open and a microphone next to me. Anyone who did music tech with me as a teen would laugh at the idea of me doing my own music videos. I was considered to have a poltergeist that followed me around the room and shut down all the computers I touched. But I have done three and intend to do more. I really enjoy it. Who knew technology could provide so much opportunity?
What I'm getting at is, lockdown has been a real struggle for many of us in a number of ways. However, look at what has come out of it. I certainly feel that I have grown because I decided to do something about these feelings, exacerbated by the confinement of
With musicians, our social outlets for musical creativity has been seriously restricted. However, I want to be positive here. I like to think that out of adversity comes creativity. We have to find a way to do what makes us happy. In the process of the journey we gain something beautiful; new knowledge. Who knows where that will lead us?
I find more and more, as we continue through lockdown, that my view on the situation of Roxy and practise has changed for the better. Now I look at her and think, 'what's our next project?' Then she finds she is no longer in her case.