Happy New Year y’all! I’m excited to report that the thousand day challenge is alive and well. I practiced every single day in 2018 and again in 2019. My New Year’s resolution is to play every day in 2020. At this point I am absolutely convinced of a few things. First, there are some physical mechanisms that for some people, require a complete re-boot. A complete re-training of the physical habits as they stand with a player in order to make it to the next level. This kind of stuff is tedious. Many who attempt it end up lost in the middle somewhere. They give up and feel convinced that it made them worse off as a player, thus contributing to confirmation bias toward one point of view. Second, there are some aspects of playing that get better with practice and don’t need to be practiced every single day. I don’t see these aspects getting worse because I am practicing every single day, but it probably would be fine with less than every single day. We can call these ‘Thing 1’ and ‘Thing 2’ (Dad joke for those of you who get it). Thing 1 being ‘practice every single day’ and Thing 2 is ‘practice, but take days off like most people’.
Now for some observations: Thing 1 doesn’t do harm to Thing 2, but Thing 2 would be potentially catastrophic to Thing 1. Additionally Thing 2 is a slippery slope. Once you take a day off, what’s wrong with two? Who’s to say it isn’t 5 days a month? Some players are fine with that, but I would bet money they aren’t dealing with Thing 1, and some people have personalities (I would posit that many that end up playing a musical instrument for a living) might struggle with slacking during Thing 2. So, if you have to deal with Thing 1, my recommendation is to play every single day. If you know yourself well enough and you know that you need motivation to practice and stay on it, you should also do Thing 1 to be safe.
I agree with everything that has been said regarding the “lips being dumb”. They do not think for themselves. They will do whatever you tell them to etc, etc, etc. Arnold Jacobs was a big proponent of a ‘system of controls’ and he often used a driving analogy in presentations. You turn the steering wheel but don’t know exactly what is happening to the car when you do, other than ‘the car turns’. But imagine you are in a Formula One race and your steering is a little sluggish. The car ‘works’ but it is enough of an issue to keep you from performing at the very top. It causes you to slip a few places. There is an army of people who will throw time and money at this situation. They will pull the car apart, they will examine the function of each piece, find the issue, and replace it. Here is where the analogy breaks down. For us musicians, there are no replacement parts (unless you are talking about surgery).’The parts’ are organisms. They respond to stimuli i.e. you can train them to respond differently. This is where EVERY mechanical analogy breaks down. But for the sake of analogies, here’s my version. YOU are the driver, and the mechanic. There are no replacement parts, you just have to train the parts to work in a different way. This will take time, thought, experimentation, etc. No matter how hard you imagine a smooth running machine in your mind, it seems to not deliver the goods in the race. So YOU have to sort it out. You have to determine how much time and effort to throw at it. Yes lips are stupid, they will do whatever is imposed on them. But the face needs to be in a certain shape for the meat to flap correctly. If your face works well, great. If it has limitations, get ready to either roll up your sleeves, or remain exactly where you are as a player. You can earn degrees, sub for ensembles, get gigs, teach students, etc. You can have a very satisfying musical life. But if you want to bring your playing to the next level, it is possible that you will have to treat your muscles differently than you treat your lips. Get ready to be the mechanic, the scientist, the decision maker. You will have to spend potentially years sorting it out. Then you can go back to just turning the steering wheel like a good little race car driver. I wish someone was this blunt with me 20 years ago, I’d be back to just racing by now. But I have to spend time every single day in the lab sorting out what no one can teach me. How my face is doing what it is doing, how that differs from what the top players seem to do, and how to re-train my face to do THAT. When I get to the race, I’m not doing the R &D. I am not the mechanic in the moment. But that doesn’t mean it never happens. I have seen young players that don’t have any issues with how their face works. Good for them! They should never have to be the mechanic. But for many of us, we do. Some professional drivers have never been the mechanic. Some have. If you are just a race car driver, I salute you. If you are a race car driver and mechanic, I salute you twice! Now go practice!