Tuesday, January 28, 2014

With a Steady Hand

       One of my favorite teachers once told me that making music was akin to being as furious as you’ve ever been and at the same time being more exuberant than ever before while carrying a mug of hot and piping tea across the room. Whew. 

Knowing myself, this is a recipe for disaster. As you can see from this picture, I can't even keep the blood of my enemies on the bone. Okay fine; its strawberry wings sauce from Jack's Pizza. But it's still messy!

Making music, however, is important to me, and as such, I always feel the need to confront myself and make the improvements and adjustments that I know I can will myself towards. I’m not really satisfied with quitting when the right notes are hard to find. I’ll never go down without a fight, essentially. This music thing is really more about self-discovery and progression than it is about songs. 

How do we keep a clear and focused mind when our emotions are anything but? To which side of the emotional scale do we tend towards throughout the day? To what do we give in and feed? And, how are we supposed to carry some hot tea across a room during all this?  

This answer is as easy as you can imagine in theory and as difficult as anything else in practice. We carry the mug with a steady hand. 

When making music, it is important to remain steady. We have to be of balanced mind and balanced breath in order to account and be prepared for all the nuances of performance. Certainly we can all recall how hyper-exaggerated all of our senses are during a performance; we truly seem to notice more, and we do. This “more” can be more of a distraction if you can’t keep a steady heart during the process, after, and before. 

A lot of musicians have some sort of ritual to help them prepare for the show. Anything works, as long as it helps you settle in to your environment without being dull. You can be sharp and steady; be ready. My whole musical life is made up of rituals. Some notable ones…

1. Basketball Jerseys 

2. Scarfs 

3. Clapping with a metronome before a show with my eyes closed. No pictures of that holy place. 
4. Dancing

5. Sneakers/Sneakerz

These are all ways that I help prepare and keep my mind and heart steady. You would have to experiment with something that works for you. Obviously my little tricks tend to be kind of silly; that's because I'm a silly person if you haven't figured that out.

        Of course it is very important to have your life steady in order to be steady in your music. The synthesis of life and music happens at the exact same point. There is no single correlation. It is all the same. 

The following three tips I’ve learned regarding steadiness have really helped me conquer what I would have referred to as some sort of psychotic imbalance between my brain and reality. This can be fun to experience sometimes, but isn’t the best mindset for creating music with others.

Physical Steadiness: Don’t Be Afraid to Move
A lot of people will tell you that your body reflects your mind. While this is true sometimes, it is dumb to make generalizations about our own bodies. Only our brain is capable of putting our bodies’ thoughts into the English language for us to understand in that way; as such, it becomes a very confusing game of telephone. 
        Life is extremely dynamic; it is also, as I keep mentioning somewhat morbidly, transient and over very quickly if we are lucky and even quicker if we aren’t. Life moves constantly; like water, it crashes over pebbles and plants. It comes out on the other side in different ways, but always returns to the steady flow of the water cycle. We can learn so much about playing the bass from water. 

        Let your body move and let it breath. Don’t be afraid to dance and don’t be afraid to clap your hands. Even bouncing my shoulders to the beat can sometimes steady my proverbial hand for the rest of a performance. We must never be too attached to any one position; we must only be attached to the dynamics and ever-changing position of life. 

Generate Your Finger Strength From Your Hand: It All Comes From Somewhere
As musicians, we tend to put so much emphasis on our fingers; their precision, their strength, their endurance. We tense up our fingers so much to hold on to the music that we want to love so much. Obviously your finger strength is valuable as a musician, but where does it come from? The muscle fibers in your finger receive some help generating power from your hand; your hand from your forearm; your forearm from your shoulder blade; your shoulder blade from your core, etc. 

We cannot emphasize one part of our body as the reason for music. Music would exist if we did or not; so it is important to understand this vitality of influence from sources you’d never expect. 

This way, we don’t depend wholly on our fingers to create music. We don’t depend on anything other than faith that the music will be there. 

Give Your Brain Breaks: We Aren’t Machines 
I’ve been trying for a few years, but the reality of life is that I will never become a machine. No matter how much time I spend clapping quarter notes on a metronome; no matter how many days I spend with routine after routine; it has no effect on the fact that some days I am in it and some days I am not. And, if I’m being honest with myself, I am in and out of it constantly all the time on every day. 

The reality of having a steady hand is that it won’t always be steady. So sometimes, instead of spilling the tea all over the carpet, we should just leave it on the counter for a while. 

It is very difficult for me to take breaks while practicing, but every 45 minutes seems to have become a popular idiom for myself. In addition to giving my body and mind time to unwind and recharge, these forced breaks have taught me a thing or two about restraint, which is an area of life that I know is one of the many secrets to being helpful and being happy. 

It is impossible to be perfect; but we can always be close by striving in the right direction. True musicianship comes from honoring your discipline, your influences, your spontaneity, your training, your creativity, your life experiences, your impulses, etc. It comes from a myriad of resources and, when we combine those resources with all those other factors of a day to day life, it came become confusing.

Breathe, dance, and throw on a basketball jersey. If we curate a healthy mind and body thru exercise (on both ends...running and reading. and lifting), we can have the steadiest hand in the room. 

And sometimes we are going to spill the tea. I spilled a lot on myself this morning, which is what prompting me to write this. But fortunately, unlike tea, you can always pick up the compounds of music and make something beautifully expressive. 

slow and steady plays the bass,
Benjamin Ryan Williams 

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