Why Do We Practice?

Why do we practice?

While I am actually practicing, I don’t always enjoy it that much. Like running, I prefer HAVING practiced to practicing.

Many days, in my practice, nothing much happens. I do my warmups, I tackle a movement or two of a piece I’m working on, and at the end of my time I am not different. I’m not perfect, I’m not ready to go out and perform – or no more so than usual. (Need a performance RIGHT NOW? I’m in!)

I am not transformed, all I am is finished practicing for the day.

I’m sure you can relate to this. Practicing, like meditation, like exercise – is a long game. We don’t expect to get to the end of the semester and take a final exam and never need to think about it again.

But during that practice session, I have put in the time. I have addressed myself to the instrument. My breath, my fingers, my body all know what it takes to make music.

In every session I seek and find ways to make it feel EASIER. I consciously relax my shoulders, my neck, my triceps. I engage with my fingers, searching for ways for them to be more efficient, more artistic. I find my way to effortlessness in what I am playing, and once I’ve found my way there I can stop.

Why? Why do I bother with this ritual every day? Why should you?

It’s because when I AM playing, I can’t be practicing. If I am sitting in an orchestra rehearsal, I need to have my head free to think about what is going on all around me. To engage with my role in the group, to notice how things are fitting. I can’t worry about the physicality of playing the oboe – that needs to already be in place.

Once we get into the performance, anything could happen. Someone could miss an entrance. I could miss an entrance! I might have to react fast. My reed might act up, my oboe might fail mechanically. Or, on the other hand, something wonderful could happen, and my ability to react and be in flow could be a part of that something. Someone on that stage is going to make a mistake, but SOMEONE is going to have some magic happen. And I want that someone to be me.

If I put in my time in private, if I KNOW inside my body how to manage my air, how to manage my reed, how to find relaxation and effortlessness in my body, then when it matters I can call upon those skills. When my heart rate is up, I can come back to the feeling of ease, and bring it down again. When I make a mistake, I can reset my nerves and return to doing the things I practiced over and over. I have a BANK of good habits and good technique to fall back on, so when the opportunity arises I can draw upon that bank.

This is why we practice. Not to achieve perfection, but to allow for the possibility of magic.

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