One of the potential pitfalls of approaching an art form (such as music) in a deeply dedicated way, is losing perspective between the desire for improvement and a sense of satisfaction. Often, in the pursuit of perfection, it’s easy to not even notice the beauty that we create each moment as we play.
That’s a shame, because to play music is one of the most divinely human, essentially human, blissfully human, experiences of all. There is no culture in the world where music doesn’t play a significant role in the daily lives of its people.
Musicians in “less developed” societies are known for how effortlessly, unselfconsciously and joyfully they play. To them, music is nourishment. It’s essential. To play it is a blessing. It’s as natural as eating, sleeping or expressing affection.
But to many of us who play “seriously”, music can sometime be a yardstick, measuring and exposing our shortcomings. We can sometimes look at music from the point of view of “what I can’t do”, instead of “what I can do.” From “what I’m lacking”, instead of “what I’m blessed with.”
We proceed day to day in relentless pursuit of our weaknesses. And that’s fine (as long as we’re not harming ourselves in the process). That becomes the fuel for growth, which leads to greater possibilities, deeper expression, deeper humanity, even.
But there needs to be a balance between this drive for improvement and a true and always available sense of satisfaction with what we’re doing as musicians. This balance can be found more easily than you might think. It begins with cultivating a clear, sincere and constant sense of gratitude.
For me personally, it’s important to know what satisfies me as I play, even if things aren’t going as well as I know they can, even if I know I need improvement, even if I know there is so much more for me to learn and express.
As a saxophonist, I always find a particular pleasure in feeling the resonance of the instrument in my hands as I play (yes, even with a bad reed!) There is a tactile thrill in feeling the energy going from my thoughts to my breath, to my sound and into my body.
As an improviser, I find particular pleasure in letting my muse loose. I still surprise myself everyday as I create music spontaneously. It’s as if I’m discovering some hidden gem that has been given to me, and has always been there inside of me.
I also find great pleasure in the entire ritual of practice. Of putting myself into a calm and receptive state of being, of mindfully assembling my instrument, of discovering anew the thrill of creating and hearing sound, of seeing what needs work today and how I’m going to plan and implement this work, of stopping and assessing what I’m doing, of redirecting my energy.
There is the exhilaration of not knowing, but of discovering.
And that is plenty for me. That’s ultimately what fuels my desire to practice. Sure, I wish to improve (work diligently at it!) Sure, I want more. But each day, I finish practice with a strong sense of satisfaction, as if I’ve just had a great meal, or a good night’s sleep, or had an evening out with close friends.
So I encourage you to find your daily satisfaction in your music practice. Find the intrinsic value of playing your instrument.
Make a list, if you like. Maybe it’s simply hearing your sound. Maybe it’s that deeper state of consciousness you get into as your breathing changes. Maybe it’s simply the satisfaction of staring your precoception of perfection squarely in the face as you maintain joy in your heart and persistence in your attitude. Maybe it’s the feeling of being part of something bigger than you.
Whatever your reasons, if you find satisfaction each day, you will easily find meaning in your endeavor. And that, my friends, will guarantee your continued growth.