As a musician, we design our actions to meet goals. We have certain expectations for outcomes, ranging from the most basic skills - such as looking at a page of music in order to understand and play the notes and rhythms, taking a full breath in order to produce a tone on a wind instrument, and practicing a passage in order to attain a deeper understanding and reliable execution of what the music requires. We plan a phrase to peak at the right moment, maintaining tension in the line until we reach a point of resolution or rest. We know that if we invest of ourselves, we make things happen, and because of that - music is a sure bet.
Why be a musician? Think about the thousands of skills we develop over the journey of reaching these goals...are they unique to music? Some likely are, yet some surely reach a broader framework. In other words, being a musician is preparation for life!
I'm a list-maker, good - old-fashioned lists. I type all the time, but I love making lists, especially handwritten lists. I've tried countless apps and programs to enhance my productivity (and my students know I'm a Google user - Drive, Calendar, etc.), but my favorite tool is a beaten up notebook - whichever one I'm using at the moment. Each school year I buy a bunch of them for the special sale price of something ridiculous like ten cents, getting as many different colors as I can, and I fill one at a time with brainstorming, repertoire lists, masterclass notes, ideas for students, and other items that are important to me. So with that in mind, it's time to start brainstorming and make a few lists. Some of these ideas are courtesy of the Baylor Flute Studio class we had today, by the way (Sic'em!):
1. Take a moment to make a list of all the different ACTIVITIES that you engage in while being a musician. This can be full of details like performing recitals, playing an audition behind a screen, investing in music, eating a balanced diet, expanding your breath capacity, and wearing chapstick when not playing. What about the really meaningful events, such truly inspiring someone through your playing or connecting with a student in a transformative "aha!" moment?
2. Now, make another list of all the SKILLS you have acquired as a musician. These can certainly be in-progress skills, too, since being a musician is being a life-long process. [I believe this is aspect of being a musician is one of the greatest gifts we have! We are never "done" - there's always more to learn, more things to try, another piece to hear. How cool is that?] Things that come to mind are collaboration, critical thinking and listening, creative problem-solving, spontaneity, leadership, teamwork, flexibility, curiosity, self-sustaining initiative, risk-taking, reflection, maintaining a balance (emotionally, physically, spiritually), kinesthetic connection and awareness, multitasking, and the list should go on and on...
3. Finally, star or highlight things on your lists that are useful life skills. In other words, recognize the music-making/teaching/learning/breathing/sleeping abilities which have enhanced your marketability in today's world. You might be surprised!
In today's economic climate, there are no sure bets in terms of preparing for a profession.
Yes, being a musician is challenging, yet the rewards are so great. Cultivating art will charge and sustain you throughout your life. For that, music is a sure bet.
In a lesson yesterday, it came to mind how important it is to be able to recognize what is "working" in our playing, work habits, and general approach to daily activities. While we acknowledge that change is sometimes important (and challenging), figuring out what is already coming together is a really important step. As musicians, we're in a perpetual state of growth (right? See yesterday's post on Mindset), working on our weaknesses. Do we really recognize our strengths?
Often when we practice we dismiss the good - perhaps not even acknowledging what our strengths are. After all - we're practicing, so that means we must be fixing things. Just the word PRACTICE implies imperfection, something that is flawed and must be fixed. Therefore, when we practice, we should probably fix everything....right? Nope! That old expression about not "throwing out the baby with the bathwater" comes to mind....there are definitely good things we are already doing, so it's important to keep those but perhaps tweak others.
How do we figure out what our strengths really are? A good place to start is consider the same ways we figure out our weaknesses: critical listening. Recording ourselves is essential in this process! What things seem to come naturally in our playing? What aspects of playing do we must particular enjoy? What makes the time fly so that we are totally engaged in your music-making? These are likely related to our strengths!
One of my close friends studied horn with the incomparable Phil Myers, Principal Horn of the New York Philharmonic. Known for his generosity of spirit and incredible sound, he gives some really wonderful advice on knowing your strengths in this inspiring and very candid interview, below. Pay attention to this topic in particular, beginning around minute 12:00.
Group assignment (mine, too): recognize your strengths, starting today! Make a list of what you consider your greatest assets as a flutist and musician. Do not be shy but try to be as objective as possible. These could range from a spinning tone at forte to a varied vibrato to great ensemble playing skills to a sweet and pure soft attack on a middle d! How do you build on these strengths? Looking ahead, how can you start to do this?
Last week we had a great visit with Tim Hagen, right now completing his DMA at UT. He gave a terrific mini-recital and class on what he calls "Scientific Practicing." Most musicians know and appreciate that performing well is no accident - this requires serious time, effort, dedication, and a whole lot of heart and investment of self! This includes having a method to really objectively plan out strategies for improvement.
I think it's so important to continually grow and seek inspiration, whether this be from great art, listening to an inspiring piece of music, attending a masterclass for a different instrument than your specialization (yes!), doodling with color pens, or (GASP!) read a thought-provoking book. One thing I love doing is collecting quotes - even from teabag tags or fortune cookies - and also good and inspiring passages from books. It's important to gather ideas from the outside to promote deeper and more meaningful interior growth. As an undergraduate I kept a notebook of such ideas which I could turn to when I needed a fresh perspective or a "practicing pick-me-up."
One of the books Tim mentioned was exactly that, and I'm so happy to rediscover Carol Dweck's amazing book, Mindset. If you haven't heard of this book, make sure you check out her terrific website! Her message is clear, concise, and really gets to the core of understanding how to best help ourselves learn faster and smarter. There's a ton of inspiring material here...start with taking this short test here to determine which mindset (fixed or growth) you actually have. Then read this page to use that information so you can reach your potential by discovering the four simple steps to change your mindset.
Speaking of change, here's another great book to check out, with a pretty hip website, too: Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath. I admit that two books on making changes may be a bit too intense for this point in the semester, but you might find a useful passage or two to at least take a screen shot to save for a rainy day review...and then dive into the book later after finals! Happy reading and especially - music making!