Sunday, July 17, 2005

the dirty room theory of practicing

Max Dimoff's bass on stage at Blossom Posted by Picasa

Lately I've been thinking a lot about practicing, and coming up with bizarre theories and analogies as I often do. I think that practicing is a little like cleaning your room - both tasks never seem to quite get finished, and both can be a bit of a chore, even though we're much happier after we've done them well.

Also, just as the way you clean and organize your room says an enormous amount about you (Malcolm Gladwell's Blink has a great chapter on this subject!), practicing can be an extension of your personality. In the past, I've been the type of person who keeps things in a state of semi-disarray, just messy enough that if someone is coming over I can quickly shove everything into drawers and closets and create an illusion of neatness. I'd like to be more organized - not only is it stressful to have to shove things in drawers all the time (stressful for me, as well as the drawers), but it's pretty obvious when someone lives this way. You don't have to poke around much to find the chaos beneath my veneer of order - just ask me for a pair of scissors, or where I put my keys!

If keeping one's room in constant disorder is an unpleasant habit, practicing this way can be disastrous! When an audition comes along, I try to pull everything together, spray a little polish on all the excerpts, hide the problems or just not think about them too much. Just like the quickly cleaned room, though, I can never hide the mess as well as I'd like. Ask me to play it a bit faster, or with a different articulation, and all the dirty laundry comes tumbling out of the closet.

Which is why I posted this picture of Max Dimoff's bass - Max is the principal bassist of the Cleveland Orchestra, and he is an inspiring example of dedication to practice. He does a routine every day, maintaining his technical fundamentals; and he practices in the same systematic, organized, and brilliant way he plays. There is a tremendous ease and naturalness to his playing, but it is grounded in the careful and consistent work he does.

Lately I've been challenging myself to be just as conscientious - a daunting challenge, which makes my respect for great musicians like Max still greater. No one likes living in a dirty room, though, and I figure that if I practice in the right way, it will make me happier as well as a more organized musician. I also might not have to worry so much about people smelling my dirty laundry.

You can see pictures of Max Dimoff and other members of the Cleveland Orchestra at the orchestra's website by clicking here.

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