This series on practice is aimed at exploring not only the practice of performance (musical instruments, voice, dance, acting, and so forth) but also the practice of making (writing, composing, painting and sculpting, choreographing, and so forth). In both realms of activity, practice might be viewed as a gateway to more fluid creativity.
When a beginning drummer enters a practice space, her first impulses (like those of the beginning writer, dancer, painter) are to 'let it out,' though what it is may not yet be known to her. The thrill of doing something with this newfound medium is foremost in her mind, and this inevitably leads her to go for it, to smash and crash and rock out. Doing so, she hopes to find expression.
And then this goes nowhere. The drummer is disheartened. She doesn’t feel she is quite letting it out, perhaps because she has not yet realized how much effort she has inserted between herself and her ideas. She’s gripping her sticks tightly, making faces, hitting loudly. What awaits her is the discovery that progress will come with the removal of effort.
The point is made brilliantly in this Ted Talk from classical pianist Benjamin Zander. The relevant segment is found from 1:15 to 4:15 in his presentation.
Thus, whenever we creators are in our practice room, writing desk, or art studio, we might constantly ask ourselves, “Where am I feeling effort, and what happens when I remove it?” Answering those questions illuminates the way forward.
The point of practicing any creative activity is to align one's output with one's intuition. And too often, what stands between those two is effort and all of the inefficiency it interposes between the artist and her intuition. Effort seduces us into thinking we are smashing through some wall. Too rarely do we realize that this wall is the effort we are injecting into the process. By removing it, we learn to get out of our own way. We find that our deepest expression is within us and that we access it not through effort but through relaxation.
Thank you for reading.