Are you a free spirit?
Does the thought of practice schedules, journals and regimens make you dig in your heels?
You understand that discipline promotes growth. You want to grow musically and to play well. You are not a slacker. You just want to do it on your own terms, in your own way.
Impossible to reconcile the two? Of course not.
You, the free spirit, take pleasure in experiential and experimental learning. You enjoy trying new things. Life is like a big buffet, where you can sample everything, take more of what you like and pass by what doesn’t look tasty.
This is a legitimate path to learning, and it has the benefit of feeling natural, unrestricted and personal. It keeps you in your sweet spot.
Until you suddenly feel that you’ve been dabbling in the shallow end of the pool for too long and although swimming in the deep water looks like fun, you’re not sure how to try it.
Because you’re a free spirit (and aren’t we all occasionally), I’m not going to give you a plan. What would be the point? But I will give you some points to consider, things that may help you avoid that “treading water” feeling.
Nourish Your Free Spirit
First and foremost, nourish your free spirit. Take care to feed that spirit regularly with new musical experiences. Attending performances, participating in ensembles, traveling to workshops and conferences are all ways to discover new ideas and develop your understanding. You are by nature an experiential learner; give yourself as wide and varied a diet as you can.
Guide Your Spirit
Although taking regular lessons may not be your style, a few lessons scattered throughout the year might be very helpful. Your teacher or coach doesn’t have to give you a strict curriculum. Instead, a teacher can assist you in doing the playing you want to do.
Some teachers prefer their students to work through a particular plan of study, but many teachers will be flexible and accommodate your “free spirit” learning style. When you have found the teacher whose style suits yours, you will have an invaluable partner who can guide you and support you.
Don’t Forget Your Fingers
I understand that practicing exercises and scales is not your cup of tea. But I imagine you understand that it would be a good thing to do. You just don’t feel like it. Drills aren’t pretty or fun and they don’t seem to make enough difference, or maybe that’s just because you don’t do them regularly enough.
But your playing is built on – and limited by – your technique. If your fingers aren’t up to the task, no amount of plain practicing or playing will help you play the piece of your dreams.
But before you sigh and resign yourself to the status quo, let me tell you…
My Favorite Trick
I know your secret. Deep down you have just the tiniest twinge of admiration for students who organize and regiment their practice. While you personally don’t want to have the same practice routine day in and day out, you see the benefit that it could have for you. But it just seems so – routine.
Here’s my little secret. I don’t like to have the same practice routine all the time myself. And as necessary as it is for me to have my practice organized, I don’t enjoy sitting down to the same exercises or etudes every day.
This is what I do instead.
I have at least ten pieces and exercises that I like that I use to keep my technique in shape. Of course, my favorite, Salzedo’s Conditioning Exercises, is on that list, but so are some Bach pieces, the Handel Concerto, the Waltz of the Flowers cadenza, and La Source. This is all music that I enjoy playing enough that I can use it to work on my technique too.
I rotate through this music in no particular order or schedule – sounds like a free spirit method, yes? – so that I can keep my fingers in shape, play music that I enjoy and not be rigid about my practice regimen.
It’s such an easy way to stay on top of the work I must do and play music I love at the same time.
So go forth, free spirit! Learn and grow. Spread your energy to those around you. And enjoy the journey.