Motivation and Discipline

People can have a lot of different reasons for doing or not doing a certain thing. You eat because you're hungry, or you don't because you're sick, etc. While those types of causes and actions are geared towards sustaining your life, basically, we tend to treat our work in similar ways. I.E. "I want to get work as a musician, so I can eat. So I gotta practice." I usually say that people can rationalize any action they choose to take, no matter how crazy it may seem to the beholder. The main issue is taking that step to rationalize yourself into the action you wish to take. 

Hopefully playing music is something you enjoy. If it's not, well, it's going to be hard to make yourself practice when you don't want to, but more on that later. If you like it, that's only a piece of the rationalizing puzzle. For me, liking or loving what I'm doing is an emotional motivator, which may or may not be strong enough to fight against being tired, or grumpy, or discouraged. So, I had to find a way of thinking that would counteract those variables when they appeared. Thinking about the process in a way that had nothing to do with how I felt, but where I wanted to go really helped me find healthy ways of responding to my discouragement or fatigue. If I was feeling like I wasn't progressing, I would look objectively at what I had accomplished during the day. Literally, any accomplishment, no matter how small, is a step forward in my mind now. So what I didn't learn the entire first page of a piece. Maybe I only learned the first 4 lines, that's progress. 

I've practiced when I was exhausted, and probably shouldn't have, but somehow I made myself get out of bed, grab the sticks, and hit something, even for a few minutes. Honestly, that's from watching movies or seeing someone I respect do the same when they are really down and out. If you know the story of Rocky Balboa, you know how crazy his workout routine was to prepare for a match. The slogan of one of the films was, "no pain." Clearly he was in pain, but the mindset that they cultivated was that pain didn't matter, you keep going anyway. Of course, with a grain of salt here, but the spirit of it is what I'm getting at specifically. Also, my parents are extremely hard working, and I figured if they can work for hours and still come home and take care of us, I can at least get up out of bed and play stick control. What's the least I can do, even running on empty? Ask yourself that when you are exhausted, or just fed up. 

Like anything, cultivating discipline is a habit you have to form, and I really believe that it starts with how you think. The previous scenarios are only two processes of thought, but for me they are the most important. Discouragement and fatigue were and continue to be my biggest foes in my career, especially now given my current health circumstances. In spite of that, I'm releasing a book, doing Facebook live streams, practicing for a concert, basically doing exactly what I've been doing and then some. How? It starts pretty small, like playing five minutes of stick control every day. Take five things like that a day, and you have a twenty-five minute practice session. Do it every day, and you have a practice routine. Consistency is the most important part in cultivating that muscle of discipline. If you let yourself lax on a day, or an exercise, you'll do that for two, or three, and eventually you'll lose a day, a week, etc. Start small, start where you are, and build to where you want to go.

With starting small it also can be encouraging to see yourself complete a task of that size. Again, combining multiple small tasks can result in one bigger task. Rather than trying to take on 4 hours of practice a day before you've even done stick control daily for five minutes, can result in failure and then discouragement, leading you to never attempt it again. Start with something you know you will be able to achieve, take pride in it, put all of your attention and drive into that task, enjoy the process, and do it every day. When you are ready, add another task until you reach your ultimate goal.

If you are like me, the feeling after completing a task is motivation enough to begin it. The fear of not being successful or completing the task deters me away from even beginning at all. You must go into it knowing, or convincing yourself, that you will complete the task. Even if it isn't where you want it to be in the end, there is always tomorrow to come back and try again. One day is not a reflection of the future or yourself as a musician. Really fight the urge to characterize it as such. It's only a small segment of the work that you've done and are going to be doing. Even the end result is only a small segment, because you still have so much to learn and improve on. Really embrace the fact that you will always be improving on something, and take it as not only a challenge but a relief, because you never have to be perfect at anything, you simply have to improve. 

What Is Spatial Studies? (preview)

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As a student, I became increasingly fascinated with the physicality of playing percussion. This led me to study different disciplines outside of music, such as martial arts, meditation and tai chi, and other methods of movement. However, with all of the extended study I did, I was always left wanting in some way. It wasn’t until I performed for a modern dance class that I heard the phrase that essentially unlocked what I was missing, or rather was unable to understand, from all of my previous research: “Take space.” The instructor, Lin Batsheva Khan, encouraged the class to expand their reach, increase the distance they ran in, exaggerate their movements, manipulate the time it took to complete a task or movement, to “take” more space.

After that, I began to see drumming as if I was a dancer. Not only did this emphasize and encourage graceful, efficient movements, but also an increased attention to the space that that movement moves through. Soon I had even more questions. How much time does it take to get from A to B? What about the space between beats? Is the movement heavy or soft? How does that affect the sound? How does my sound take up space? I eventually categorized these questions into different types of space.

•    Physical Space- all aspects of the body and movement

•    Aural Space- all aspects of hearing and listening

•    Space of Time- rhythmic integrity and metronomic stability

•    Mental Space- all aspects of thought and reactions to the thought

•    Play Space- allowing freedom of expression and musicality

Having these categories allowed me to apply everything I had researched and created exercises, meditations and different ways of thinking in order to develop a technical structure that met and exceeded my aspirations. This book series focuses on exploring and establishing an awareness of all types of space, building a technical structure that is completely natural, relaxed, flexible and adaptable. The initial process towards this technique will be explained in detail through both guided and freeform exercises throughout this introductory section.

Defining Relaxation

Instantly reaching a relaxed state takes a complete knowledge of one’s body: how it moves, how it reacts to different stimuli, and what the body feels like when it is or isn’t relaxed. When developing any technique, beginning at a place of relaxation is crucial to ensuring that you are learning and executing the technique correctly, creating good habits. I also believe that the physical aspects of a relaxed technique are only as good as the mental aspects behind them. Discovering those connections between how we think before, during, and after we execute a movement is both enlightening, and helpful when making any changes to the technical structure. My goal in writing this book is to give guidelines for exploring these concepts of relaxation through both standard and extended technical exercises that could appear in any repertoire.

While this book primarily focuses on technical development, it should not be the only driving force for whoever uses it. My original goal was to create exercises that would help me develop the ability to express myself, whether it was a new solo, improvisations, or just jamming with friends. The more I could physically do, the more freedom I felt while performing. While going through this book, remember that technique is only a means to an end.

This book will take you through a similar system that I used to fully explore the concept of relaxation, through the basic techniques, and through ways of thinking in order to facilitate a calm and alert mind. Solidifying this relaxed technical structure is key before attempting any other techniques that add necessary tension within the body and mind (be it hands, fingers, increased focus or thought activity, etc). To begin this process, we must first establish what complete relaxation means for us as individuals. From there, learning how to move in a relaxed and fluid way is crucial to maintaining this relaxed state. Find the path of least resistance and execute tasks in the simplest way possible. Often, that will be the best option.

Decisions, Decisions

Something I had to learn, especially in the fellowship programs, was the difference between being a student and a "master" or professional. While I had performed with several orchestras before, that did not necessarily make me a professional, nor did my experience or knowledge gained by those performances. At Detroit, it was impressed upon me to make my own musical decisions, and showcase them in both rehearsal and especially in the performance. This was weird, because for years I was just regurgitating whatever was done historically, or in recordings, or whatever was on the page. I did have good instincts to fall back on, but I was not used to making conscious decisions about what I wanted to do with the music. This was a skill I had to develop and nurture, and having mentors, and asking myself questions about what I wanted was a huge step in that direction.

It's definitely a balance between the appropriate, historical, or performance practice options, and your own musical identity and preferences. Until you become knowledgeable and comfortable with your personal choices, or if you are not adequately informed about the music, there will be no balance. Studying music has become easier over the years, mainly because of the sometimes immediate access to information through many media sources, like Spotify, YouTube and IMSLP. Studying your musical identity might not be so obvious, and even though these may seem trivial, here's some things I asked myself to get me thinking about it. 

  • What type of sounds do I like to hear?
  • What type of sound do I like to make? 
  • Put these sounds in order from favorite to least favorite: Warm, Dark, Bright, Light, Heavy
  • Put these dynamics in order from favorite to least favorite: Loud, Soft, Medium, Medium Soft, Medium Loud
  • What characteristics define the above items? (What makes a Dark or Loud sound? Be specific) 
  • What kind of music do I like?
  • What kind of music do I dislike?
  • What pieces move me emotionally?

Asking questions like these made me decide, or realize, and accept what my musical preferences were. Personally, I love warm sound qualities, like those of a clarinet, and extremely soft or loud dynamics. Knowing these tendencies informs me on what I'll be prone to do. Maybe I will play something too soft, or too loud for the hall I'm in. So, I will I have to be aware of that and adjust appropriately. It's very important to know yourself as well as you know the music that you play, so that you can make the necessary decisions and adjustments for said music. 

One thing I am quickly learning as principal in Calgary, is that my musical identity is magnified because I am running a section. I have the opportunity to decide how every part will sound, literally catering it to fit my personal preferences. However, I choose not to do that, very often. I currently find that allowing the section to make their own decisions has rendered very interesting and positive outcomes that, had I told them to do a certain thing, would not have happened otherwise. In a way, our individual identities are influencing each others, just like in chamber music, or even in the orchestra itself, and being receptive to each others ideas improves us all. This is something that I really appreciated in Detroit and in Pittsburgh. I had the freedom to make decisions, good or bad, and if there was something that could'e worked better, we all communicated together about it and came up with a new idea. We all appreciated, admired and learned from our colleagues' musicality, and this is one thing I am very happy to see in the section here as well. 

Making your own choices can be hard, especially if you've never done it to this degree, but even if the decision is not appropriate for that particular moment, own it. Mistakes happen, but the attempt is what really matters. It's what will nurture that sense of musical independence, and it's what will help you grow into a "master" of your craft. I am still getting used to being comfortable with my own musicality, because it is unique and sometimes very outrageous, but I continue to remind myself that, someone here in Calgary liked it, someone in Detroit and Pittsburgh liked it, and I really really like it. It's also important for me, and others, to stay open to new ideas in order to adapt and develop our musical identities, making us more mature and flexible musicians. I am constantly reminding myself to own and express my ideas, and I encourage you to do the same, no matter how outlandish they seem to be. Chances are, they aren't as crazy as you may think, but who will know unless you express them.