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No Less Than Five

Strong observational skills, curiosity, creativity, and objectivity...does this describe you?

These are supposed to be the skills of a good scientist, and when we apply them to music, you might call them the skillset of a "sound scientist", aka practicer.  I'm pretty good at three out of four. The one that really kills me is objectivity. 

I thought that the first one, strong observational skills, was natural for me - after all I teach for a living.  But after a recent challenge I made for myself, I realized that instead of observing what is happening in my playing, I am often perceiving what is happening in my playing.

What's the difference? It's a pretty big one:

Perceiving: to become aware of or to know something, but through a subjective lens. Perceiving is feeling based (emotionally driven),  prone to our own narrative, comes with baggage, and is influenced by our assumptions. 

Observing: to notice or register something as significant. In comparison to perceiving, observing is much more objective, neutral, and detailed. Observing is also more based in the here and now. In music,  it is more analogous to "fresh ears",  as if hearing something for the first time.


Based on this observation about observing, I made this challenge for myself:

1) Listen keenly and objectively in the practice room.

2) For each problem I encounter, try out no less than five solutions.

Here is how it unfolded:

1. Keen listening was more work than I imagined and although it was slow, it wasn't a negative thing.   When I heard something I didn't like, I had  to  play it again - but not with the intent of playing it better. Instead, I made the intent of listening even more specifically for what I did not like.  I tried not to control the playing, but rather to observe what my tendency was if left uncontrolled. I wanted to make my observations very specific, but without assigning a  "why" yet.   When I took away the "why" (perceiving), I got a lot more "what" (observing) out of the  listening.

2.   For each problem, I tried out a minimum of five solutions.  The first couple tended to be my same old, same old solutions. These  were  based on what my teachers used to tell me and some tricks that had worked in the past.  But  once I hit proposed solution numbers four and five,  I was in  true exploratory territory.  I usually discovered new solutions and new observations all together - like a second  layer of observations.  It became fun trying out some off the wall solutions, like standing on one foot while working on sound issues. Eventually, I could generate more than five, and things I had never tried before. Time went quickly and I learned new things.

3. I was so smitten with the the no less than five concept, that I started applying it to the listening portion - to try and get myself to observe 5 things in my playing within any bucking bronco passage. It turns out I can do more observing and less perceiving when I try for more observations.  I started embracing objectivity instead of trying to "master" my playing.Try the "no less than five" approach and see if it leads to something for you. 

And remember, feeling good about ourselves and our practice is not an afterthought, a byproduct, or a bonus -  it's important and we have to intentionally cultivate that feeling.


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