Sometimes You Should Stop Thinking

Sometimes You Should Stop Thinking

How Playing an Instrument is Like Sports Training

In my lessons, I'm often pointing out to students that some elements of playing an instrument are an artistic pursuit, but others are more like a sport. We need to be creative and in touch with emotion as music performers, but we also need to train our bodies to make incredibly precise motions with incredibly precise timing. There isn't much creativity in the learning process for those skills.

If you have ever been on a sports team, you've certainly done drills over and over that are designed to get the team to react immediately and without thinking when a certain scenario comes up in a game. For instance, in baseball, you may run a drill where there is a runner on 2nd and the batter hits a ground ball to one of the infielders. The coach expects the fielder to field the ball, briefly glance at the runner on 2nd (in order to keep him from running to 3rd) and then make the throw to 1st base for the out. The players have to repeat this procedure dozens or hundreds of times in practice so that when game time comes around (along with the excitement and nerves of a game) and a ball is grounded to them, they will glance at the runner and then make the throw without any thinking whatsoever. It is merely a reaction to a stimulus.

Some may feel that purposely trying to make your athletes not think must be a bad thing. After all, rational thought is what separates humans from mere animals. Its what creates all the incredible innovations around us in civilization. However, thinking is absolutely your worst enemy in some elements of both athletics and music. Assuming that sufficient creative thought has been put into how to play a piece before a performance, there is still a necessity that the specific motions be repeated over and over, hundreds of times, so that when that difficult section comes up in the piece, the performer can react unhesitatingly and merely react without thought.

In our practice time, we need to incorporate plenty of this kind of learning. Some students don’t like doing this work because it isn’t as fun as the expressive part of playing. While I certainly agree, every ambitious musician must become comfortable with repetitive practice to build all the fundamentals or their playing will always be sloppy and imprecise, leading to unsatisfying performances.

So, don’t be surprised if your teacher urges you to do more reacting and less thinking in the learning process. Like an athlete, music performers need to train very precise motions, and that happens best when you don’t think, but instead simply react based on hundreds or thousands of previous repetitions. How can you get motivated to do this kind of practicing? Easy, just find your favorite movie “sports training montage” and get pumped for some technique exercises!!

Todd Markey

Todd Markey

Todd Markey is an active orchestral performer in Georgia, frequently heard with the Johns Creek and Carroll symphonies, as well as the Tango Orchestra Club Atlanta. He received a Master in Music Performance in double bass from the University of North Texas in 1997 and taught at Valdosta State University from 2000 to 2004. Todd has a wide range of musical skills, including performance in classical, jazz, and rock styles, as well as composition and music theory. He teaches violin, viola, cello, double bass, guitar, and ukulele.


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