Local jazz trumpeter and arranger, Doug Kelly is a legend. I shall never forget when our orchestra accompanied him with his own arrangement for trumpet and orchestra of Rimsky Korsakov’s ‘Flight of the Bumble Bee’. Amazing skill and dexterity to play so many notes on the trumpet at that speed!
Doug said something profound when we were chatting after a rehearsal recently. “Don’t practice. Just Play.” I might have missed it, but I always listen carefully to Doug. After all he is 95 and knows his stuff!
What he said made me think about how I address my pupils in the area of practice. There is such a difference between the feel of these two verbs. One gives the impression of hard, unenjoyable slog; the other sounds like fun at the park. I really want my pupils to learn their music as the latter, while recognizing the fact they do need to work at it too.
It is building on the sense of satisfaction one gains by repeating an activity to develop a higher skill level. The material being used is surely key here. If the music is interesting enough, practice will feel more like play and the regular playing is in itself practice.
I remember feeling that way when I first heard George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ in my teen years. I was so excited to have a go at playing it, even when it was beyond my ability. I learned the easy pages first and started picking my way through the harder ones, and finally managed the whole piece when I didn’t expect I would be able to.
Yes, I guess I wasn’t really practicing, I was playing the bits I wanted to and each success gave me confidence to want to learn another page.
Actually, all this came on a foundation of the skills I had learned in the early years: how to break difficult passages down into manageable chunks and get them accurate before moving on. And back in those early years it was called practice.
But I like Doug’s point, we need to simply play more.