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Pauline L Books Developing Your Musicianship (19) RE: Books Developing Your Musicianship 15 Mar 06

To a Young jazz Musician. Letters from the Road by Wynton Marsalis. The book takes the form of letters that Marsalis writes from the road "between the bus ride, the sound check, and the gig" to an aspiring jazz trumpeter named Anthony, who is the age of a college student. Marsalis tells him, "We have to talk about music and life, because, ultimately, they end up as one and the same." So true. There are so many life lessons for us as we study and teach music.

Someone once asked John Coltrane when he practiced, and Coltrane replied, “I only practice when I’m working on something.” Marsalis advocates practicing “something” whenever you practice. It could be "your sound, a deeper swing, or just hearing bass lines." When I practice or teach, I concentrate on several things at the same time. I like the idea of practicing “something” when it helps us focus and set goals. When I assign a student a new piece, I scan it for things that are new or may be difficult. Today I was teaching a second year student (fourth grader) the music she got from her teacher at school for the spring concert. She wanted to start with something that was not too hard because it had a lot of repetition. However, it had three flats, and she hasn’t played anything with flats yet. There’s a goal. I try to get my adult students to articulate their own goals. I ask, “What aspect of your playing do you most want to improve now?” It gives us both direction.

Besides practice, Marsalis talks about some other “p words.” One is patience. Obviously, you need to be patient with yourself as you try to learn new things and remember or improve things you’ve already learned. My students often tell me that I’m very patient, but I think that they’re the ones who are patient. I hear them try something over and over until they get it right.

Another of Marsalis’s “p words” is persistence, which is very closely related to patience in my mind. He talks about other aspects of persistence. No matter how much you learn, there is always more to learn. I remind my students from time to time that when I show them new aspects of a piece of music that they’ve learned, this does not mean that they’re not playing well. On the contrary, they’re playing so well that I’m teaching them more challenging things. Marsalis also says that we need to persist because playing music means "a life replete with self-doubt and difficulties that never go away " they just change." If that is true for Marsalis, a very successful musician, it is true a thousand times over for me. Just keep going.

I have some problems with contemporary music which Marsalis shares. He says that most music today is "neither melodic nor romantic." We need to hear some music with these qualities, even if we have to search for it. The Internet gives us opportunities to hear things we are not accustomed to hearing, but we may have to do a purposeful search for them. In other places and times, melodic and romantic music thrived, and they can thrive again. We just have to make it happen.

Another p word is Pauline. ;-)

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