How meaningful do you want your life to be?
How meaningful do you want your life to be?
This is an article about how “Practice” can enable your own artistic voice to shine by telling the story no one else in the universe is in a better position to tell.
How rich, fulfilling, exciting, deep, pleasant and wondrous would you like this life to be?
Do you want to express right from your soul just how it feels to be you?
Do you want to love ever more deeply and find more and more to love?
How honestly do you dare and allow yourself to search for meaning and love in music and life.
Do you want to be given gifts from the noblest, gentlest, most courageous and contagiously motivating minds and storytellers that ever lived?
Would you like to use these treasures of stored possibilities for excitement,love, wisdom and meaningfulness , not in a feeble attempt to recreate what was once, but through the prisms of your own emotions, feelings and experience giving birth to your own truest story?
This is what practice could be all about!!
Then; is there a way, right from picking up new great piece, to have a meaningful, enriching, pleasant journey where it is room for the whole of you, and where you feel unstressed, growing as a human being; to have a beautiful time both emotionally and physically from the first note to the last concert ;
....where you at the same time can share the most important aspects of life with others?
Yes, I firmly believe this is possible!!
That we at times cannot find this path does not mean it isn’t there.
How pleasant do you want it to feel practicing, creating and performing your art?
Are you like me, that you do not want any upper limit to this meaningfulness; no limit to how wonderful and fulfilling you want life to be?
And no upper limits to how deep you can love.
And if so, are you brave enough to take the consequences of such a wish?
Not just agreeing on some concepts, but to really change; To combine the best parts of your mind in new patterns and ways, to become the truest version of yourself in your art and hence in your life.
You are already good enough !
All ingredients are already present in you.
Yet; how can we crystalize and grow the truest sides of us without losing track of the direction, without getting lost in the wilderness of unfulfilled urges and undiscovered gems in yourself ?
How can you expand your soul’s capabilities for love, understanding and wisdom?
How can you teach yourself to search differently to find beauty and meaning when you lose sight or even hope ; getting out of he loops of unfulfilling,suboptimal or negative habits?
You have chosen an education in arts.
There is room for any voice in art !
In the universe there has never been a person just like you.
There never again will be.
How do you become clear to yourself , focused, so it is your own story and your own voice you are creating as you find ever more wonderful things ready to blossom?
How do you remove the obstacles preventing you to be fully present, enabling the sharing of your truest voice?
There are indeed many paths to this,
.......but even more ways to lose track.
I am not saying that you will not be lost at times and experience difficulties,
but that does not mean the path needs to be painful or that you have to get lost.
There is a way to grow naturally in a way that is just right for you, and the path has always been inside you.
You can allow it to happen both consciously and unconsciously.
It begins with being honest towards yourself, and by fully understanding that you indeed can choose much more than you are maybe made to believe.
If you are already on this path do not believe anyone who tries to close doors for you.
But if you feel that things are not meaningful enough, if you do not feel free and do not feel that you are creating art important for your soul, try to ask yourself what you want ; what you really want,and build on what is right for you.
The real school is you, your teacher was always you !!
All learning takes place inside you.
The more of the responsibility for not reaching your dreams you are willing to take upon yourself the easier it is to move forward;
There are ways to use what you are born with as a beacon of light to show you the way already in your heart.
Not all progress is of the helpful sort, you might indeed be “practising” away from yourself, and if you are you will somewhere inside be aware of that... if you ask and really listen.
Does it all sometimes feel meaningless and pointless? quite often that feeling is not well understood.
If you experience too little meaning it is usually because there is too little meaning.
You will find exactly what you are searching for.
What do you really practice while practicing?
If you in your practice search for things that make life richer and more meaningful, things which make your heart beat with joy, make your soul tremble, you will find those things.
My experience in life is that I always learn the fastest and deepest when I enjoy the process;
when I allow the whole of me to be present and express the full self in the process.
If you are not developing and enjoying the whole process it does not mean it has to be like this.
If you cannot express or find what is important for you it just means there are much better ways of practicing.
Just wasting a tiny little less of your valuable time will make your progress skyleap.
You do not need to be perfect, you just need to do something in a different way.
In Norway there is a saying that you should not throw the baby away with the dirty bath water.
How I interpret this great saying is something like this :
The baby is your deepest self, your “truest you” this is where your musicality resides, it is already inside you. The seeds were always there, not directly available through any force or control, yet there when you let it.
If you during the clean up process of intonation, rhythm, bow speed, vibrato, timbre, clever frasings, following the teachers or composers direction with your analytic capabilities etc. ; if you during these tasks let this baby out of sight you might end up with very clean water.
But where is the baby, or is it even your baby?
But there is a way to practice, hand in hand with your musicality, removing any obstacles (cleaning the water) and at the same time making your baby more and more healthy and thriving.
There always is, and that this sometimes can be so difficult does not mean it needs to be.
On the contrary there are ways to ask yourself quite simple questions, combining and building on what you already know, and not get lost.
Or even use all the times you are getting lost to deepen your expression.
All pain can be transformed to meaning.
And it all starts with being honest and present.
In my universe I have defined 3 devils, “the unholy trinity”, which I unconsciously did let suck joy and meaning out of my life.
At times it all felt pointless and the world turned grey and poor and the options seemed fewer or more hidden and all became tiring.
When most doors closed and all hope seemed but lost my focus drifted on the negative and I couldn’t use my pain at that moment for anything meaningful and beauty was at times lost in my life . I was overwhelmed and didn’t even truly realize it, far less why.
These 3 devils are for me “perfectionism”, “stress” and “(over)control”
I wasn’t perfecting my own voice, I was perfecting more the surface of things rather than the inner meaning.
This type of “perfectionism” had to a large degree strayed so far from the path that it wasn’t any more about the purposes of music, it became the wish to “be” perfect or to play “perfectly”
My sensations were far from as rich and whole as I wanted them to be.
I allowed myself to feel worthless when I played a note out of tune and I was an evil slave driver not feeding the right “wolves” in my heart.
Even in those troubled times, when I happened to get inspired it became again easy to play and all lined up seemingly by itself ; I then had my own story to tell. I was in those moments present in my own emotions but I could too easily lose track without any life line.
When I did let doubt and perfectionism, helped by stress and distrust (meaning over- control) reign, this I perceived to be how I “really was”
I had labeled myself negatively. I didn’t understand that my inspiration and the telling of my own story was even more my true self. The self I truly wanted to nurture.
I let misunderstood perfectionism define me, more or less unconsciously.
We are all always at least as good as the best and most meaningful performances we ever played, but probably way better than that when we trust or dare to be in positions which allow it.
I “gave up” mentally for long periods.
Presently I may indeed “give up” almost every day , but since , by reminding myself, I can identify this feeling,I do not need to stay victim to it for a long time any more.
I can focus and act differently and get out of it in a fraction of the time I used to, and I no longer think that the “giving up side” of me is the only possibility. I can get out of any loop I am able to identify.
I can recognize this doubt more often when it enters and spend far less time down, I remind myself that I do not have to be this person.
I can be what I imagine.
So again, how would you like to feel? How meaningful do you want this your only life (presumably) to be?
...how rich and pleasant?
If you, like me, want to have no upper limit to purpose, meaning, richness, joy, true sorrow and even appreciation of sorrow, pain and mortality, no upper limit to how meaningful storytelling right from the heart can be; If you like me then chose to develop an attitude that can guide you in your heart and souls direction on how to practice.
Never allow yourself to lose sight of “your baby” instead feed it the most nutritious wonderful dishes there are.
Most of life is learning.
Any learning is practice.
Searching and finding is creating.
Creating is searching
“Practice” can be to recreate yourself the way you in your innermost dreams are longing for or desire, even if you almost gave up hope at times.
Now let me try to be a little bit more practical about all of this :
For instance, how could indeed practice to not be too perfectionistic?
I propose by honesty, freedom, love and joy of movement in absolutely all practice, both with your instrument and without.
Personally I do my most important practice without my instrument.
Those heroes from the past which we admire, it would be better not to label them as geniuses of a kind we are not.
We are all geniuses, hidden or not.
The great composers and artists of the past and present simply do something differently.
If you want to unleash your genius fully you can choose a different attitude which then leads to different actions and change.
Practice is changing.
If you feel stuck in your practice or in life it is because you are stuck. Usually in a loop.
If you want a different outcome than yesterday you must do something else than yesterday ;
Change some variables and check with yourself if it feels more meaningful and pleasant.
Ask yourself after one hours practicing :
Do I love the piece of music more, do I feel better both physically and emotionally. Is it easier to play my instrument?
Am I more inspired and do I look more forward to the rest of my life?
If the answer is not a strong and resounding yes, that is simply an indication that better practice is possible.
Much better !!
All my leaps forward have come in short time spans.
Some weeks I have learned more than in years.
New combinations of thoughts, often inspired by some excellent books or the truly greatest concerts I but a handful of times have experienced and been fortunate enough to hear,have helped me more than most lessons or normal practice.
Teaching others has helped me much more than practicing alone, and when practicing alone the big jumps forward have been when I didn’t feel alone ;
When I connected to something bigger, of course already present in myself ,but massively helped by the greatest of composers or other inspiring arts and thoughts.
So I practice very differently now as I do not get as often lost and by this also save much time.
Practice isn’t about how many hours I have the violin glued under my chin alone.
You do not need 10.000 hours to become great.
So even if most who are truly great have spent 10.000 hours, there have always been a few who became truly outstanding in far less time disproving this false truth which is simply based on misunderstood statistics
Indeed most who spend 10.000 hours do not become that great, indeed many are very lost.
I suggest a different way to practice, mainly by finding more things to love, things that expand your horizon,things that inspire you.
Nourish your voice by looking in different ways, making the world a place good to be in.
I have developed for myself a big toolset possible to combine in ever new ways so I never have to play twice the same way ever again.
This makes it possible to be true to the moment and hence true to myself and not to any “plan”
Even a plan with natural frasings and deep understanding of harmony and form, is still a plan, if you follow this plan you are not truly present in the moment or in your life.
To have multiple different layers of meaning you treasure in a piece, and many various ways for expressing things you love, to have many tempi, frasings, and dance moves stored as possibilities is though not in conflict to creating a path true to the moment and yourself.
Now back to how you can practice not to be too much ruled by perfectionism.
When I through practice thus have found multiple aspects in the music and in the movements of my body that I truly love, there are indeed things in harmony, rhythm, melody, phrasing, movement, song, dance and philosophical thought I do already love in the score even before starting to play.
I have developed a love for the piece and for myself; I have a story or many possible stories I can tell through the music which I think of as my own piece disregarding anything but what I deem necessary in the moment.
Meaning that I am not a victim to notation or outer qualities of the music. I will, if that seems right, gladly do an accelerando where the composer wrote a ritardando if in the moment of playing that feels the truest option. I can play piano where it is printed forte for that matter, or even change notes on the spur, I claim my artistic freedom but only if that is what I honestly want.
I do get help from the greatest composers and often do what they hint or write as well of course, but not because they wrote it !
If, after the concert I feel something did not satisfy on all levels I do not want to blame the composer for anything.
The more blame for not being true to your own voice you can take upon yourself, and not blame on the situation, composer, conductor,teacher,instrument,fellow musicians,acoustics of the hall etc. the more rapid change and true development can happen.
So when I practice a piece and find enough aspects in the weave to love, I let my focus drift and choose the angle which seems right in the moment,emphasizing, maybe subconsciously while telling my own story , melody, rhythm, phrasing, shape as seems right, there and then.
But if after a few bars play wildly out of tune or make an unplanned ugly accent or hit the wrong note and do not like it, or if I condemn myself for not creating a meaningful enough interpretation,then what do I do?
Do I really love the piece in itself any less then?
Should I obey the devil of perfectionism who whispers in my ear to stop playing and start from the beginning again because I want everything to be just perfect?
Or allow myself to think that now it is worthless even if I play along.
No, I do not allow myself to stop, I quickly remind myself that I do not love the piece any less for playing badly and the sooner I am connected to what I actually love about the piece and tell my story again the better.
I am proud when I forget that I played badly and get engulfed by the wonderful story, and I get better at this every time I do not succumb to the devil of perfectionism.
So perfectionism needs a cousin to replace it, namely meaningfulness.
Life can always be meaningful.
That it at times does not feel meaningful does not disprove this at all.
If you want to be perfect you will most likely be unhappy !
If you want your life to be rich, deep, meaningful and enjoyable this is indeed possible !!
True technique I define as the ability to express how I feel.
If you are not connected to how you feel, true technique is not possible, the false technique which can take its place is at best mechanics and not as meaningful as it could be.
The deeper you through “practice” have reached in loving a piece (and hence yourself) the truer technique is possible.
The truest technique exists in trust and trying to control this only diminishes this technique.
True technique becomes invisible; your story and voice enters in focus when you connect to the deep love you have searched for and created.
So for me my toolbox is filled with tools to make the path of practicing as enjoyable and meaningful as possible.
Any step in a good practicing process is about discovering ever more things to love in the music itself.
And in this practice, through your acquired love, as pleasantly as possible to remove obstacles by interchanging the idea of “the obstacle” with a new pattern which allows your body and mind to feel good while finding or creating a new path based on what you want to tell in a way that is natural for you.
Teach your body and mind to manifest this love and let this process happen in an unstressed and pleasant way taking the time it needs but enjoying these steps and even detours guided by what you have found already or get inspired to in this new process.
If you can think, or sing or dance or imagine a phrase of music it is virtually always possible to find a way to manifest it, if you are willing to not defend the ways which have so far not helped you enough.
You can never play better than you can imagine, but you can easily imagine better than you currently play, and if you base this imagined performing on what you genuinely love and do not allow to lose sight of what you love you can always find a way and enjoy the search for it.
If you, on the other hand, in your practice try in any level or way “to not play bad”, maybe even evaluating your playing while playing, looking for faults rather than focusing on what you want to tell, you will get lost.
At least this is my experience, again and again for so long time that I finally decided that since I cannot stand myself or my life then, and continuing doing that very thing anyway always leads to misery again, I rather break this pattern and take the challenge and initial discomfort of changing, thus daring to go out of any loop of habit that is preventing my desired growth.
Practice can be your eternal prison or your liberator.
When it feels like a prison it is a prison,but you have the keys, the world outside is undefined maybe, but it can be whatever you imagine it to be if you take the responsibility for creating it the way you really enjoy it. An evil prison guard prevents you, and you might be waiting there for help, but when you discover that this guard is in fact also you, that part of you hopefully loses the power to stop you and you can cross the doorstep to almost anything you desire.
The provoking thing is that almost everyone who really tries to follow their innermost dreams succeed in the inner part of that dream. The outer part turns often out to be different than imagined and ever changing, but matters far less and succeeding in that is most often of less importance. The outer goals I have reached, frequently lose power once reached, but it is the process of following the dreams which I realize gives the true joy.
Back to the practicalities of practising:
Intonation I practice by listening to how beautiful the instrument sounds on the note or a double stop when in tune,I combine it with freedom of movement in bow and hands, when it pleases me I store this feeling and the body wants to feel this pleasure again by itself pretty soon.
The rhythms I often dance, to the melodies I sing in my heart and out loud.
The seemingly difficult passages I practice slowly and with various patterns of say rhythm, enjoying the sensations in my fingertips and arm and when I can enjoy these spontaneous
choreographed movements without stress in a slow tempo and I am present in the feeling, it usually goes quickly to get up in speed.
I remind myself that it indeed is much easier to play really well than not so well !
Look at the best musicians and athletes or dancers for that matter.
Does it look difficult?
No it doesn’t.
They do something different.
But what is the fastest and best way to not get lost and to progress for me?
It is indeed to improvise.
I reclaim my freedom every day through improvising or playing songs or tunes I know in my heart.
How pleasant it can easily feel just playing A Christmas Carol a few times, I know is also how it will feel to play a seemingly difficult concerto;
Meaning when I play it well it isn’t difficult but also easy.
So I have found many tools to not bang my head against the wall but looking for or creating the doorway onwards.
Does this always feel easy?
But when I finally master the bigger challenges is when I did find a natural way.
Music is a language.
While writing this I think about the different ways we use English or Norwegian or any language.
We talk, we write, we speak and think, we have conversations and discussions.
When we know a language and talk with a friend about an interesting topic, how much do we think about the grammar and the movements of the tongue in the mouth?
Would it help the talking if we did?
Of course not.
But isn’t this how so many practice and teach classical music today?
And on which principles are teaching and learning based on in normal schools and universities for that matter?
What did the Renaissance man or Chopin,Paganini or Mozart do as compared with what we do today?
How could they so rapidly become great in so many fields?
Shall we take the victims role and say that they were geniuses and unfortunately we are not?
Is that a good path for growing?
Are Janine Jansen and Vilde Frang really so much better than so many, or do they in fact do something different?
And couldn’t many, many more find their own voices as convincingly.
Do you feel as a victim for something?
Is it helping you?
The more of the blame you are willing to take for not reaching your truest goals the better chance of moving and progressing.
Or are your goals borrowed or unspecific?
What is your goal?
Is it to find your truest voice and expressing it , or are outer things clouding your vision?
Do you feel the need to climb any mountain you encounter or put out all small or big fires you see, or have you chosen which mountains, if any, you truly want to climb to grow as a human?
What do you love?
How do you want to tell your story?
You do not need to know answers to this but if you are willing to take a new look at some of your own “truths” you might find that other better truths can emerge.
To be a bit more concrete:
Let’s say you play a solo sonata or partita by Bach full of double stops.
How do you get “the baby” to thrive through this process?
If you play say the mostly 2 part Andante from the A Minor sonata and just play the upper melody, do you experience it more meaningful and free then?
Are you willing to not throw away that natural relatively easy-to-obtain meaning when playing it with both parts?
Or are you to some degree allowing yourself to lose sight of the baby playing less musically when getting lost in the intonations and string crossings of the full piece?
Are you deciding on your interpretation before you have investigated enough what to love about the piece?
Try to play this piece on a piano instead. Do you find more things to love then?
Or venturing to the G Minor fugue with its triple and quadruple harmonies; if you play one and one voice at a time or indeed play together with 4 friends it so it is much easier, if you then experience more beauty, then are you searching for that very beauty when practicing the full piece or are you in fact throwing out the baby staring blindly at the dirty water?
A pianist asked me why violinists so often play Bach fugues so unmusically? I ask the same question.
Actually it is almost too difficult and wasn’t really composed for use in concerts but more for being able to be an orchestra alone in your room as a gift from Bach.
But why are we in classical music composing so many pieces of such enormous challenge?
Why are we more than other music genres obsessed with the virtuosic element?
Mozart wrote that he thought music had become too virtuosic, what has happened since his time?
So if you want to let your own unique voice be heard, do you really need to climb all the Ernst,Lizst and Paganini mountains first?
If you truly want t climb those it can be a wonderful challenge, and maybe just right for you, and if indeed right for you, then you can find motivation and your own voice even within those.
But if you feel you have not found your own voice enough and the way to express it freely and organically, wouldn’t it be better to play those of the greatest pieces of music which have quite a smaller entrance fee and less chance to be lost ?
In other music than our classical , people are maybe more clear about mostly wanting to be moved to the soul.
The typical comment in The Voice and other televised talent shows are often straight on to what matters, if it moves you or not.
If you perform a great classic and do exactly like Elvis or Beatles or any of the creators you are asked to make the song your own, not to be a copycat.
This sadly cannot always be said in classical music today.
Often you are asked to respect the composer’s intentions, as if your professor or conductor has the answer to that or as if something as meaningful could really be locked in something like notation.
It is actually a common “ruling technique” to make students obey as if there is a truth or a right and wrong way.
Maybe with the best of intentions but often resulting in doors being closed rather than horizons being widened.
Remember that no one can really close these doors for you unless you let them.
Here reading the letters of the greatest composers could be a liberator since they often emphasized the freedom possible. Those letters would be far more helpful in the Urtext Edition prefaces than the typical discussions at the end if one note has a dot or a slur.
Not that you even have to obey these letters.
The obsession for virtuosity in our music can easily cloud our vision.
The Hollywood action movies with lots of car chases and stunts aren’t usually the ones to stay in the heart.
Meryl Streep and Antony Hopkins do not perform many pyrotechnical stunts.
The “technique” they have, I believe mostly comes through the wisdom of life.
Where is the room for this in your “practice”?
Do you like me, often prefer the second movement over the third in a concerto?
Time is our most valuable resource.
Entering a musical education of 4 to 6 years, wouldn’t it be sad if you are more confused after it than when entering?
Yet, through my conversations with the many musicians I meet, I have found this does not seldomly happen.
Use these years well, build on what you truly love, serch for and create your own voice, climb the mountains of your hearts choosing.
Schumann wrote that you should only play what you love on stage, but you should look for more to love.
Do not fall for “the Emperor’s new clothes” regardless of who tries to convince you.
Be honest to yourself, be creative while building on what is right for you, share what you love the most.
If enough of us do this there is hope for classical music in the future.
Henning Kraggeud August 2021 ( updated 2022 )
Further reading I recommend:
“Effect” available on Amazon Kindle app and written by Koss and Ihlen.
I have read this book 8 times. It can be used for anything, but is especially good for learning to focus and take responsibility for your own change and effect. It is also inspiring and motivating for actually wanting the change enough to challenge habits. This is the worst book in the world if you want to hide from yourself and blame someone else, and the best book if you actually want to take responsibility for your own future.
By w. Timothy Gallwey I highly recommend:
Inner Game of Tennis (The best book ever if you want to trust yourself and not prevent your abilities by over controlling)
Inner Game of Stress (extremely helpful book to combat what destroys life quality the most)
Inner Game of Work (about how to keep learning for your entire life is the greatest gift and that all you do including paid work can be part of this gift)
(“Inner game of Music” though containing many useful ideas, is far less good and is mostly not written by him, he only advised and prefaced it, I think it is much better to do your own translation to music from the 3 other books.)
If you want to delve deeper into the various ways you can use improvisation in your own practice without need for more than you already know, here is a link to an article I wrote for klassiskkarantene.no
This is part 2 (but it contains links to part 1)
It gives many ways to use inprovisation as a tool even if you have never tried but also discuss further on practice and performing possibilities.
This is an article in Norwegian about how Arts and Creativity can be the missing factor in the Equations when we all are facing the Environment and Poverty Crisis looming over our future, since I have little faith in the politicians’ probability to succeed with current methods.
It also raises questions and possible solutions for a more sustainable future where our way of living would not need “slaves” in other parts of the world and hence deals with poverty and the gross unfairness of today’s world.
I write about how we can get to a better life that people could willingly choose because they get better life quality by allowing true creativity to replace an unsustainable lifestyle with better values and better currencies, starting right from the start of all education.
And I think this is our quest as artists to promote these ideas, since where could it possibly be better candidates for really influencing the one and only Earth we share together.
We are all creative at the age of kindergarten, being most happy when drawing and creating. And yet the overemphasis on analytic learning in all the years that follows rob so many of us from the truest joy of creating and sharing.
Do you want more articles,scores of my compositions and cadenzas you can follow me on FaceBook,Instgram or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Films I recommend :
“Finding Neverland” about the author of Peter Pan with Johnny Depp and about steering out a new direction truer to your best creativity.
“As good as it gets” with Helen Hunt and Jack Nicholson, about how to value life even when not all issues can be solved.
“The Remains of the Day” with Emma Thompson and Antony Hopkins about consequences when not following your dreams and heart ,presented poetically and heart wrenchingly understated
“Shadowlands” with Debra Winger and Antony Hopkins about the author of Narnia book C.S. Lewis about how sorrow is part of happiness.