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The Dogmatic Musician

In order to become a decent musician, one has to go through a lot of practicing: scales, breathing work, vibrato training, trill and ornamentation excercises, body awareness and posture training, rhythmic drills and so on and so forth…

In the course of time, many instrumentalists become firm believers in certain ways of practicing: „If I don‘t practice Taffanel Etudes every day, my technique will never be flawless“, „The only way to strengthen your embouchure consists in doing octave leaps for 5 minutes on a daily basis“, „One cannot become a successful pianist without practicing the well-tempered piano in slow motion every other day.“

In general, instrumentalists do not hesitate to inform others about their royal road to musical progress. ;-)

While many of the above-named techniques can be valid for certain people at certain times, the underlying dogmatic belief in them is in my view problematic.

The lack of responsibility

It doesn‘t matter how firmly you believe in a certain technique – what counts is the actual result. Even if world-class instrumentalists recommend this or that special training, it is only a claim which has to be varified in real life. Noneheless, many people (like me) follow mindlessly well-trodden paths of practicing. They often times don‘t test new ways of practicing but instead simply adopt them and base their decision on authority. In this way, these instrumentalists give away their ownership of their muscial learning process.

While aping more experienced musicians sometimes works out well, it has its downsides.

First of all, every practitioner is different.

If you agree with this statement, it becomes clear that nobody can tell you exactly how to practice. You have the responsibility to get to know yourself as a practitioner and find corresponding ways of learning your instrument. In other words: Self-discovery cannot be outsourced to „experts“.

Secondly, many teachers are themselves full of musical dogma which they picked up from their teachers.

Maybe your teachers have critically reflected on their own ways of practicing, but maybe they only teach what they think works best. And this makes all the difference. It seems to me that some techniques just survive because they sound good on paper and therefore get passed on from teacher to student. In reality though, these techniques are just useless assignments which give the practitioner a false sense of being productive.

With regard to these reasons, I think it is more expedient to base one‘s practicing routine on the following principels:

1. Honestly evaluating results

2. Taking responsibility of them

3. Being open-minded towards new ways of practicing and learning

4. Actively researching and inventing new ways of practicing

5. Honouring the creativity within a composition with a creative practicing style

Adopting strategies and taking on advice from more experienced instrumentalists can be very useful. However, it is a slippery slope, too.

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