Polyphony. (Professional Resources)

By Magrath, Jane | American Music Teacher, June-July 2003 | Go to article overview

Polyphony. (Professional Resources)


Magrath, Jane, American Music Teacher


Musical Practice and its Transfer in Life

A Return to the Topic of "Practice"

I notice that in recent months I have returned several times to the topic of "practice." Perhaps it is because we spend so much of our teaching time helping students practice--seeking new and different ways to assist students in growing in their own practicing. Let's face it, teaching students to practice--to hear, understand and enjoy the music they are playing--is at the center of what we do as music teachers. It happens with all levels and ages of students. Recently, I have begun to think about how those same practice skills we teach can transfer to our lives at large.

There is no one reading this who has not mastered the art of practicing. We all have done it, loved doing it and loved playing the music no matter the occasion. Different people practice their instruments with varying skills and levels of insight, and we all find our own paths--that is, what works for us--so we can make music.

The summer is an opportune time to reassess and even to undertake changes in our lives--to try different things. This column for June and July comes at what is for most a fermata in the teaching year. It is a time of some rest and perhaps a respite from a busy year of teaching. Without realizing the full extent, we as teachers and performers have developed skills that now can transfer to our lives as a whole. Imagine you are practicing a piece for a forthcoming concert, for a church offertory, to accompany a trumpet player down the street, to play for a jury or for your own enjoyment. Or, imagine you are teaching a lesson to anyone--any of your students--and as part of the lesson you are teaching them to practice and listen. All these activities seem like regular parts of our lives, activities encountered every day. It is central to our work with the student.

So, it can be enlightening and encouraging to reflect on the ways that practicing an instrument or voice holds the potential to transfer to our lives, to develop significant changes in whatever direction we choose.

Musical practice involves regularity. We develop a method of practicing--by section, phrase, parallel musical keys, musical concepts and so on. As musicians and teachers, we know what to do to learn a piece.

Regularity in musical practice naturally is transferred to setting up a degree of routine in our lives. For our lives to function at a certain level, we need regularity. We ask, "What is important to include as part of a routine in our daily lives, and what, perhaps, can be less structured? What is essential and important, and what is not?"

Our music practice teaches us the importance of trying new ideas and new methods to master a passage. How many times do our students hit a roadblock in their pieces? At those times we help them find new ways to work through difficult passages. We offer the student the benefits of our perspective and creativity when developing different ways to practice to move past a perceived roadblock in a piece.

Thus, in our lives, we attempt new activities and develop new interests and insights in differing areas of life. We accomplish this the same way we did working with a difficult passage: by imagining something different in the music or our lives and then trying it. It requires no major effort to try a new idea--we simply do it. And we try many new activities; some may seem right, and others we may not keep. Continually, we are surprised at the results.

Our music practice teaches us how to overcome a seemingly insurmountable problem. Sometimes a piece of music is just too difficult--this is no surprise. We can continue to practice it with minimal results, perform it when it is not ready or put it aside and let ourselves grow until we are ready for it.

In life, too, we learn not to push, to let happen what will happen and to learn from all experiences, even those not so well suited for us. …

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