The habit of feeling comfortable
During physical exercise, there comes a point where we just want to stop because we decide that we had enough and we are tired. Then we look at the time and we see that we have been exercising for half the time we know we can. At some point we started a habit of stopping our exercise and now we are desperately seeking for that comfortable state of stopping. After that we decide that the only way to get back on track is by accepting that we need a bit of motivation and that will come through a training buddy. And it is true. Having someone motivating you is far more exiting than trying to motivate ourselves and also trying on our own might not work so there is no reason in trying.
When I was studying at the university, my teacher spotted a habit I didn’t know I had. That was stopping half way though the piece I would be performing to “catch my breath” and continuing. I would play both halves of the piece perfectly and I would play the ending of the first part and the beginning of the next very well but for some reason I would stop at some point and then continue, and I would do that for every piece not matter its length. My teacher called that “a habit”, the brain, body and mind muscles needed training.
To get rid of the habit, I started by (probably) the obvious thing and practice playing just a little bit past my stopping point. and adding up and using different other practicing techniques that I shall talk more on later. What I had realised was that in my head the piece was divided into these two large chunks so whenever I would have the chance I would start singing it, in my head. Practice never stops.
What took a while for me to train was my mind accepting that it was ready to play the whole piece non stop and getting out of that comfort zone of stopping. I noticed that when we would play a duet with my teacher I needed more stopping points. It wasn’t lack of not knowing the piece, I just didn’t have a strong enough character to complete the piece. Playing the duets was actually a positive thing as it acted as a pressuring mechanism to carry on. Using that idea during my practice time was what made me get rid of the habit of stopping. It took a lot of personal strength, engaging my body, brain and mind fully while practicing and knowing when it is time to stop and when I should try a little bit more.
It’s a habit. It’s the muscles that for some reason they have learnt to do it, in this case, stop. When we play we don’t use only our body or only our brain or only our mind. It’s the combination of all three that makes us create and play music. All three of these factors are trained to work together, in combination and to work apart. Just sometimes, they need to work together a bit more, so we need to do some exercise in different levels.
The muscles of the brain need to be disciplined to accept the full length of a piece and its uniqueness, brain strength. The muscles of the body (not just the fingers but also the back and the core, the head, the neck, the lunges, diaphragm, legs…) need to be disciplined to learn a whole piece through any possible way, body strength. The mind needs to accept that we know the piece and sometimes that’s more difficult. Nevertheless, it is a sign of inner strength and it can be exercised.
Getting rid of a habit will happen best with a buddy, your friend, your teacher, your ensemble, your metronome. But the best person to help us get rid of our habit and take us out of that comfort zone is of course each one of us (and maybe the metronome used sensibly). So our musician friend, teacher, ensemble will play with us and just enjoy the act. It’s not just practicing the notes for this one, it’s practicing in ourselves, believing, visualising the piece, listening to the ending and reaching it. It’s a physical, mental, and emotional thing. It’s music!
© Rania Chrysostomou, 2017