Saturday, October 25, 2008

the practice room cyborg

Jason Heath wrote a post recently called "Nine Dynamite Practice Room Accessories." He starts with some basics everyone should have: metronome, tuner, a pad of paper -- and then moves on to some more high-tech stuff: iPods, notation and editing software, a laptop computer.

Personally, I don't want a laptop computer anywhere near me when I'm practicing. It's just too much of a distraction visually. I can see how certain functions might be useful, and I know some people who can incorporate computer technology into their practice very effectively; I just don't see the point.

My deeper philosophical argument with all this stuff is that it makes you practice like a robot. If you constantly have a metronome, tuner, or computerized MIDI-file playing along in the practice room, you're training yourself to sound like an electronic device. That might mean more precision and clarity, but I think it's inevitably going to compromise the things a computer can't simulate:

  • a warm, rich, resonant sound, with a varied palette of tonal colors
  • a sensitivity to inner lines, and harmonic voicing
  • a sense of bulding phrases, dynamic contours, and the larger architecture of the piece

You might make a case that these aren't so important, within the specific skill-set demanded to win an audition. I think they matter very much to anyone hoping to have an enjoyable, extended career, because these are some of the main qualities that make orchestra playing enjoyable and fulfilling.

So while I appreciate Jason's suggestions, my own contrarian advice to anyone looking to tech out their practice room is this: give it a try, but don't go crazy. Don't think you can't have a worthwhile practice session without plugging into ever power outlet in the room. And at least one day a week, turn all the gadgets off and just remember the simple joy of drawing sounds out of a big, resonant chunk of wood. No accessories required.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When someone asks me what my son does for a living, I can now say "He draws sounds out of a big resonant chunk of wood".

Bassist's Dad.