One of the great challenges in acknowledging the nature of continual development is realizing our past mistakes and their residual effects on our respective crafts. Despite the difficulty of being truthful to oneself we must eventually face the music, not with the shield of an ego, but in the vulnerability and nakedness of objectivity. In the heart of shedding our inhibitions I would like to confess my regret in not employing mental practice in my work earlier on. The next three entries will cover my earnest, but humble, opinions on mental practice.
It is important to acknowledge you are a filter of ideas. We observe this every day in all walks of life. No matter how much we try to exercise our objectivity our respective backgrounds shape our opinions and ideas on everything we encounter. In the realm of music not only are our minds filters, but also our hands! So, for the next three entries we'll retire our guitars to their cases to see what ideas rise to the surface when the shackles of the physical aspect of playing are removed. First on the menu - Score Study.
I’ve found score study to be a remarkable conduit for new inspiration and ideas. In the evening, when my hands are tired, I’ll analyze new and old scores looking for some secret. At times I’ll have an epiphany which clears the fog in a section or an entire piece of music. Knowing the harmonic, motivic, and structural backbone of your pieces while singing like someone with no self-awareness is the gift that keeps on giving. This understanding will give you an improved ear, cohesive embellishments, clarity of voices, beautiful dramatic curves across the form of your pieces, and the ability to speak clearly about your work to others. What a gratifying and fulfilling experience it is to have an intimate understanding of your work! That understanding becomes a relationship you work on every day and with our understanding we achieve effective communication through our music.
Communication is everything! Recently, when I’m not listening to music, I’ve taken up listening to speeches by both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. I’m awestruck and find great inspiration by the articulation and clear direction in their respectively unique oratory styles. There are endless sources we can pull from to learn about effective communication and we need to make use of them. How you articulate your ideas, whether it's a scale or an entire work, will determine if your ideas translate to the listener. The beauty of music is our potential to be just as effective in moving people, but in a much more abstract manner. This abstract nature, somewhat unique to music, allows room to touch each listener individually serving their unique emotional needs and imaginative powers.
Effective score study is achieved by doing harmonic analysis, trying endless phrasing ideas, and finding yourself asking hard questions of your analysis. What is the impression intended with the entire work? How should this movement from minor 6th to the 5th be articulated? What is the impression implied by this particular mode employed in this melody? Is this key home and the modulation like an experience somewhere else reminiscent or nostalgic for our desire to return home?
For me, score study is the most motivating and rewarding part of my practice day. It’s easy to gleam some inspiration while curled up with the score, pencil, multiple recordings, and most importantly your voice. This is fuel and direction crucial for helping an audience walk hand in hand with you through a piece of music.
If you forget anything else remember communication! What does life mean without connection?