Drive to achieve

Inspiring! That is what today turned out to be. Actually, the inspiration I am talking about was a two hour session, but the whole day revolved around those two hours. What I am talking about? Music lessons. Not just learning a new note this week, I am way past that point. No, I am learning to improvise. And that is so far out of my comfort zone that it makes me feel terribly inadequate but also incredible driven to make progress. I do not know why I do this exactly as the drive achieve is coming from within. I have no "reason" to learn this, as this form of music making is not part of what I do in the orchestra, nor am I preparing to switch careers into this direction. I just need to know more about this.

What I realised today is that I do not need to know why this is important per se, it just is and that is enough. I have spent a few great hours in a small music room with a great improviser who is also able to communicate and transfer his knowledge. Driving home afterwards, I took away a few things that work very well for me. And I would think, for learning anything in general:

  • Listen to your gut. Even if it is hard to explain why or rationalise it to yourself or others, just go do it. Test it out. Experience it. You will most likely enjoy doing it, whether you go through with it or not. But if you do, you have just found out that it is worth listening to your gut feeling.
  • Surround yourself with people who are (a lot) better at what you are doing, than you. Teaching is one way to do that, but there are plenty others. There is so much to learn from even just observing. In my case listening to a lot of music. Although today was a bit more special as my teacher took my saxophone and started improvising in front of me. My jaw dropped and a huge grin appeared across my face. Was that really possible with the saxophone, mouthpiece and reed that I had just been playing on? Yes it is! But I have a lot to learn :-)
  • Record or journal. At the very least keep some notes on what you learned or observed. I have recorded the entire 2+ hour session in mp3 format. And hearing it back, there is so much more to discover that you did not observe while you were there in the flesh. Case in point: one of the ways we go about in these improv sessions is that my teacher improvises a verse and a chorus, then it is my turn and we go back and forth. Usually I just have a huge grin on my face when I hear my teacher do some magical (to me) things with sound and notes. Being able to listen back instantly inspires me again and again.
  • Recording your practise has another benefit. You can deconstruct what you (or your teacher) was doing (wrong). In case of the "magical" improvisations I heard this after noon; I can now listen to it again and again and apply the theory behind it, try to replay it myself, etc etc. It is like extending the learning session for free and on demand. And you get to see (in my case hear) your mistakes again and again. A great way to find out where to improve.
  • And finally: FOCUS. Being immersed in what you are doing will make it so much more fun. At no point during the 2+ hours did we focus on anything but music. No e-mail, no phones, no instant messages, Facebook or twitter. That means that you are completely into what you are doing and means all your senses are working together to soak up whatever it is you are learning. The downside to that extreme focus is that time flies by. 

Now, if you will excuse me, I will go listen to the recording again. And again. And again.

Image credit: Phil Roeder