A Mental Leap

I was beginning to worry that I wasn’t lyrical enough when playing the violin. At first, I struggled to learn the notes. Then, even though the notes were right, the pieces didn’t sound right to my ears. I decided the issue must be with my technical ability to interpret the rhythm. But even when the rhythm was right, the music I played seemed dead and flat. Clearly, being musical is something different from just playing what is written on the score.

I’ve tried changing dynamics, and phrasing, but there just seems to be something tangibly missing from what can be played, and what I play. For a while, I thought maybe it was my imagination. After all, I am progressing in my lessons. Perhaps the frustration I feel and the nearly imperceptible disappointment I can’t help but notice on my instructor’s part isn’t real. But I can’t shake it.

He gave me a CD with the lesson pieces on it to play along with. Up until this point I haven’t because it is designed to play with a certain software package. My computer has an external drive, and I can never find it, so it hasn’t been convenient to use the CD. However, last night I took a chance and popped it in my car stereo and, behold, it played! Furthermore, even though the pieces on the CD were the same as what I am studying in my lessons, they sounded nothing like what I do. They are musical and fun, not repetitive and dull.

I was definitely right in doubting my musicality.

In high school and college I made a practice of copying the meter and rhyming scheme of an assortment of poets when composing my own poetry. Through this practice, I eventually developed a deeper intuition and skill in creating my own works. I will never be Robert Frost, but I can use his poetry as a guide to create word pictures nearly as fluid as his. In other words, I can’t recreate his poems, but learned how to use his tools to evoke similar feelings.

I didn’t want to have to do that with music. For some reason, I thought it would be cheating. That if I tried to copy what another artist had done, it wasn’t something I did, but merely imitation. But I was wrong. I can’t learn musicality without practicing it. And that means spending some time following in the footsteps of better musicians until I learn how to play as they do. Only then can I tap into that ability on my own.

Some people are born with innate abilities. I was not. However, having made this connection it feels as if I have made a leap to another level. Whether or not this mental leap remains true in practice remains to be seen. But at least I feel as if there is another tool in my bucket. If I hadn’t avoided it for so long, how much more improved would I be at this point?

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2 thoughts on “A Mental Leap

  1. I like this post so much & yeah! for mental leaps for musicality!!! I am not verbose and words were never my strong point (I tried to start a blog – but I do not write as fluently as you or Chris or Travis), but music is so much more than notes on the page – it is an unspoken language making art & poetry that speaks most loudly to one alone – its maker, you. Be guided by the masters, but find your own rhythm!

  2. What you have discussed is the next level of playing any instrument. I’ve been fortunate to have a good teacher who has helped me a lot with this area. At first he would work with developing musicality, and gradually I’m finding that I’m working out my own interpretation. It is interesting but pianist, if the music repeats, will play the music differently each time. This principle does help with other instruments.

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