Monday, November 3, 2008

A New Twist on an Old Saying...
...from Occasional Carol

[My wife and partner, Carol Viera, is always coming up with interesting comments. Today, she told me something I thought would make a good blog post. So, this is her first "visit" to my blog - but I hope it's not the last.]

I read something today by Gair Maxwell (The Seamless Brand) that I thought was really funny but also a gem of wisdom, namely: "Anything worth doing ... is worth doing badly."

Now, that may seem, on the surface, to contradict what Norman and I try to promote, but not so fast. Because what he's actually encouraging is to just jump in and try something, anything, if you value what it is you're after, even if, at first, you make a mess of it; just get something moving, rather than be stopped and frozen by the fear of making mistakes or of playing a note that is less than perfect. No human can rise to that kind of perfection and those who appear to, don't, not really, not with complete reliability, if you really keep track. But the illusion, and it is an illusion, has had a strong grip for a long time and puts, I believe, a straightjacket on art--and on many who otherwise would aspire to it. Sounding more familiar now?

So, as Norman would say, "start with what you 'can do,'" but for goodness' sake, start! ;-)


Ross said...

This is a subject that I've thought about for a long time, but didn't realize it for what it was until you made this post.

When I had been playing trombone for only a few months, I heard a CD with Ewazen's trombone sontata being performed and I abosolutely loved the piece.

So even though I had been playing for only a few months, I bought the music and started to work on it.

I definitely thought it was worth doing...and I definitely did it badly.

I just think back and wonder if me starting to play a bunch of trombone rep that was too hard for me at the time led to bad habits that still affect my performance of those works to this day.

I think that I wouldn't be having those problems if I had started from a "can do" point...but back then I think it was hard for me to appreciate the value of "can do." I just wanted to play!

But regardless, this post certainly made me think about my own beginnings on the trombone.

Carol said...

That's great, Ross! I'm just a visitor here but glad you found the post useful. Also, you hit on some interesting points.

I think a lot of young players (however they end up) want to play rep that's too hard for them, for the exact reasons of enthusiasm (and accompanying youthful impatience to be able to do it) that you mention; (you did it, I did it, Norman probably did it, a lot of others have done it and will do it). I love the spirit in that and I'll bet you love that kind of spirit in your own students, when you see it!

Yes, that can lead to some bad habits. But, sometimes a teacher will spot them early on (note to teachers!) or, even if they slip by, we're not stuck with our bad habits, even if they can be challenging to rehabilitate/creatively manage. Can you be as creative in your problem-solving as in your playing? That's an interesting one, isn't it?

And you know what? I have to wonder... Did the benefits, to your life and playing, from giving free expression to that enthusiasm you felt so many years ago ultimately outweigh any bad habits you picked up (likely can correct and, possibly, play better for the effort)? I'll bet they did.

It's interesting, isn't it, because, in principle, it's not about staying "bad" because you've started over your head, but in being willing to start "badly" because usually that's the only place one can start most things that they're not already good at. That IS their "can do." And to get better, you have to start. Even in areas where someone may be more proficient, being worse before you're better, on any given occasion, can be a natural part of the progression. Take warming up. Not everyone starts their warm up sounding gorgeous. But that's not the point, is it?

When we're older, fear of judgement, self-consciousness, perfectionism (especially when that's the "style" or we're already prone) can be bigger stoppers than when we are a lot younger and often don't even think about those things. And, I think, throwing oneself into action, even if somewhat over one's head, is better than doing nothing, especially if the worst thing that happens is acquiring a correctable bad playing habit (that might not have been avoided anyway).

Obviously, if it would mean doing real harm, that's not a good idea. But I'm talking about things that wouldn't do us any real harm in terms of consequences from taking action, but that, in fact, could pose the greater harm through the stress and discouragement and regret for lost opportunity we could experience by not pursuing what we value.

Of course, when thinking about making serious progress in an area "worth doing," the great balancer, all around, at any age, is starting with what you actually "can do," but you can't start with what you "can do" if you are too reluctant to start. So, "aye, there's the rub." ;-)

Tina said...

How great to see you as a visitor on Normans blog, Carol! It is a fantastic post, very thought provoking and inspiring. Thanks!

Carol said...

Thanks, Tina! Glad the post was useful.

Gabe Langfur said...

I was just talking about a related "muscle memory" phenomenon with a friend the other day. He commented that he had spent the most time on Bordogni/Rochut vocalises at a time when his embouchure was sort of all over the place, and he had a hard time playing them now without reverting to the ways he used to play.

Thinking more about it, I think that another concept Norman and Carol have helped cultivate among students and FB participants is that of mindfulness - that starting something badly (or at least with results that can be described as bad) is not necessarily harmful at all IF the process is carried out with mindful intention to the goal of improving it, getting it to be what you want.

I think my friend can probably correct the way he plays Bordogni with increased attention to playing them in the way that he now knows is the best and most useful, consciously finding ways to choose the better methods over the older, less effective ones. This requires, of course, mindfulness.

Charlie Vernon has said to me and others that the key to playing well in the high register is to start by playing badly in the high register. Of course, Charlie is always mindful of beautiful singing tone, so anything he is doing badly at first will become beautiful because he will insist on it. That will always be his progression from "bad" to "good," and it's the most central message of his method. There are other ways of course.

Carol said...

Absolutely, Gabe! Great additions!

Chris said...

Of all the things musically and otherwise that I have to work on, going ahead and doing something -even if it's very badly at first- is not one of them. And I can definitely say that, at least in the situations I've been in, this approach has eventually led to a lot of good results.

I am in college now, but came from a very small high school music program. I was one of the foremost members of the instrumental music groups, and throughout my four years there I got a lot of opportunities to play in different settings and on different instruments.

When I volunteered to play trumpet in the winter musical's pit orchestra, substitute for the sick lead alto in jazz band, or provide an important missing tuba voice in the concert band, most I could barely play the required instrument to start with. I learned a lot about effective practice and learned to see the music from the perspective of many different roles in the ensemble, and I think that I'm a better musician because of these experiences sticking my neck out.

Being so eager to try something new, and not afraid to be less than perfect (much, much less) also helped me find my way from electric guitar through several changes to my now primary instrument the trombone. There's definitely a lot of room to make mistakes and pick up habits, but in my opinion being shy and afraid of failure is one of the biggest things that can hold back success in much of a person's life, and as you may have guessed I personally feel I've gained much more from adventuring and "doing it, even badly" than I would have from not trying so many things.