There is no shortage of skilled musicians in the world, so why is it important for you to work day after day in the practice room?
First you need an clear answer to “what am I trying to accomplish and why?” Once you have an answer, keep asking “why?” (like a persistent three-year-old) until you reach the ultimate benefit. Is the ultimate benefit worth your time and emotional labor? Does it matter?
Last month, a student asked me what he should practice. I asked him to describe goals he was passionate about achieving. One of his goals was to play with better rhythm.
I asked, “Why do you want to play with better rhythm?”
He looked puzzled and replied, “Because rhythm is the most important part of jazz!”
“Why do you want to be a good jazz player?”
“To move some hips!”
We soon uncovered the ultimate benefits:
Playing music he wanted to listen to
Finding spiritual fulfillment
Connecting with listeners
Once we discover the benefits we’re truly passionate about, the “what and how” of practicing become more clear. We nurture motivation rooted in mastery and purpose. But the goals need to be intrinsic in order to stick.
When I persistently ask myself “why?,” sometimes I discover ultimate benefits worth working toward:
Fascinated with the process
Resonating with an audience
Preparing for performances I’m excited about
Learning a new skill
Hanging out and playing music with my friends
However, sometimes I discover motivation rooted in fear or obligation. This kind of practice might be effective in the short term, but it doesn’t sustain a fulfilling lifetime of music-making.