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Finding balance and motivation

01 Feb 2009 02:12 #242 by Michael Thompson
Finding balance and motivation was created by Michael Thompson

Here is my dilemma, and any insight would be helpful. I finished my masters degree in performance, but didn’t get a full-time performing job (like most masters grads now). I have a desk job to keep the wolves at bay and I have plenty of time to practice, but I find it hard to stay motivated to hone my craft. What advice do you have to people in my situation? Practice etudes all the time? Schedule a recital? Take lessons? And what about financial commitments to these ventures? And what about balancing in being married, being social, and being healthy?

Thanks for your help.


Michael Thompson's answer:

Dear Beth,

An interesting and, as you say, not unusual dilemma. I think music is most enjoyable when played with other musicians. That's why I'm so glad I'm not a pianist; that and the fact that my piano playing is dreadful beyond description.

I have never been a great fan of Etudes. They always strike me as little more than bad music and I would rather practise good music when possible. I'm sure they have their uses but I worry that they can encourage a rather dull and mechanical style of playing.

In my experience, recitals are the horn playing equivalent of running a marathon. They require careful preparation and are not that much fun.

Formal lessons are part of our education. One of the most important results of a good education is that we learn to think for ourselves and continue learning from our wider life experience. I think you are probably at that stage.

My best advice is to try your hardest to find other musicians to play with. Orchestras are hard to come by, but a wind quintet or brass quintet is a good option. They have some very enjoyable repertoire, will give you some really good, stamina building playing and are small enough to be able to get performances. Your local church, school or even shopping mall are worth a try. Also, five is a good number for a table reservation at your favourite restaurant after the gig.

If you really can't find anyone else to play with, I would suggest playing along with recordings. I do this frequently. Using a mute will help you balance your dynamic without either deafening the neighbours or struggling to play quietly enough to hear the recording. It works well with either speakers or headphones once you get the hang of it. Play with the left headphone on and the right one off the ear, just like we do on film sessions. Obviously, it's not as good as playing with live musicians, but it's a pretty fair alternative.

Finally, as you say, there is a wider world out there. Horn playing and life are not mutually exclusive; quite the opposite. Enjoy it all.

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