Play, Don’t Work

David Motto’s Practice Tip of the Week:
Play Your Instrument, Don’t Work It

Work vs. Play

We live in a world in which a lot of work is drudgery. Some jobs are unfulfilling, and people can be unhappy at work.

These feelings should never exist when you play music. After all, it’s built into our language: We “play” our instruments, we don’t “work” them.

When you are playing your instrument – whether it’s what you do for a living or just as a weekend hobby – there should always be an element of play involved.

Think of young children on a playground. They’re unconscious of time, responsibilities, outcomes, what comes next. They’re just playing.

We have an opportunity to be like those children when we practice, rehearse, and perform. Sure, musicians want to make forward progress. But, sometimes this progress is best achieved by letting go.

Let It Go

Many musicians have difficulty letting go of their serious side, and sometimes you have to be serious to figure out a particularly challenging musical issue. Too much serious effort, however, will get in the way of becoming the musician you’ve always dreamed of being.

You can’t spend every practice session thinking it’s work!

Sometimes, you’ve just got to let go of all your “shoulds” and your usual expectations. You’ve got to let go and enjoy yourself!

Four “Play” Strategies

Here are four simple suggestions to put the element of “Play” into your, uh, playing:

1. Act Crazy
At some point during every practice session, play through something with reckless abandon. Don’t worry about your sound. Just play!

2. Try the Impossible
Try to play something that seems absolutely impossible – and be sure to laugh at yourself as you do it. This can be a lot of fun since you know there’s no possibility of “succeeding.”

3. Purposefully Sound Bad
Pretend it’s the very first time you’re playing, and try to sound like an absolute beginner. Play out of tune. Use horrible tone. Play way too loud. Lose all physical control of your instrument.

4. Play Something You Hate
Play a style of music you absolutely hate. Bring out all the elements of this style that you can’t stand. Overdo it. You can even use the body language of musicians who play this style.

Remembering to Have Fun

Each of these four strategies can add some humor to your practice sessions and reconnect you to “playing” your instrument

Being a musician is fun. We’ve all got to remember this. Recognize that what you’re doing in the practice room, during rehearsals, and on stage is play. This recognition will make all the difference!

To Your Musical Success!
David Motto

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2 Responses to Play, Don’t Work

  1. David Motto says:

    Pauline – Thanks for your comment! Let me know how this strategy (which is really an “un-strategy” since it’s the opposite of what we usually demand of ourselves) works for you.

  2. Pauline says:

    Dear Mr. Motto,
    Thank you for permission to play. You’re so right.

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