San Diego Saxophone Lessons

San Diego Saxophone Lessons
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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Music As A Sport

There have been a lot of analogies going around (on this site and others) comparing musicians to professional athletes.  Although the end-goal may differ, there are many similarities in our training. Just like an athlete, we must warm up, increase our endurance, and focus on developing individual groups of muscles to be able to execute very specific skills.

To play a difficult (or easy) passage in music requires repetition and muscle memory.  Your muscles must learn to fire in a certain order and in a relaxed manner – just like serving a tennis ball but on a much more ‘micro’ level.  We’re dealing with our smaller finger muscles and facial muscles here, as opposed to your whole arm, shoulder, chest, and torso.  Playing music is still very much a physical action, and just like serving a tennis ball or pitching a baseball, it must be practiced until your body can execute the motion naturally and without thought.  Serena Williams isn’t wasting time thinking about how to properly hit a backhand in the middle of a match. In the same way, you should never have to think of how to execute an E major scale or how to play over a Ab7#11 – with proper practice it will just happen automatically and in the moment.  A scale or musical passage can become one motion, just like serving a ball. Although we are talking about a series of muscles firing in the proper order, with enough practice it’s possible for this to eventually become one kinesthetic event to your body.

Another useful comparison between music and sport is the use of repetition. As musicians, we must develop a high level of consistency, just like a star athlete who shoots a basketball, hits a baseball, or uses a certain stroke in tennis.

If a professional basketball player attempted 10 foul shots and only made 1, this would be considered laughable.

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However, with many music students, it can be difficult to ingrain the concept of consistency.  Many beginners will practice a passage 10 times until they play it correctly once.  After playing it correctly once (and improperly 9 times), they consider the task completed and then move on to the next etude!  Thinking in terms of sports, this would make absolutely no sense.  I am a horrible basketball player - if I went to the gym and made one out of 10 three-pointers, it would be pretty obvious that I only got lucky on the one that went it!  As musicians, we need to strive to execute the passage correctly 9 times out of 10, just as the player strives to hit 9 out of 10 three-pointers or foul shots.

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One final thought: No one goes into a sports game hoping that they can get by on “talent” or even luck when in fact they are underprepared, or possibly even have no-idea what they are doing.  In music lessons, rehearsals, and even in performances, I’ve seen this many times!

1 comment:

Peter August said...

Excellent insight, Ian. I definitely believe that the path to becoming a great athlete is analogous to becoming a great musician. Excellence in both fields requires a great amount of muscle memory, which can only come from mindful practice.

When you hear great athletes speak about their routines, it can be quite inspiring. One such athlete is Kobe Bryant. As much as I hate the Lakers (die-hard Sacramento Kings fan), he has same level of discipline as Michael Brecker.

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