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Dedication: A Guide to Practicing

Recently I wrote to you about purposeful practicing. Purposeful practice can ensure that we are constantly solidifying our foundation and moving forward, both as an instrumentalist and a musician. However, creating a practice plan and schedule with intent is simply the first step. We must put this plan into action for it to be successful.

The execution of a plan is often much more difficult than the creation of the plan. Much like an exercise regimen, we may be motivated in the short term by this or that impending deadline or desire, only to find ourselves slipping very quickly into previous bad habits. All the planning in the world is meaningless if we do not take appropriate action and implement the plan.

We can only extract a finite amount of motivation from short-term goals. The next lesson, audition, competition, concert etc. may stimulate us in the short term (often in spurts) but to ensure progress over a lifetime it will require something on a larger scale. It is not enough to ask ourselves “Do I want to be a bass player and/or musician?” This will not provide the explicit answer we need.

First, we need to know what kind of musician we wish to be. By this I do not mean musical style or genre, but rather skill level. Would we be happy as a hobbyist or amateur level performer? Or do we wish to be a master musician and virtuoso performer for life?

If we presume that our answer is that wish to be a master musician, we must next ask ourselves the following key question: “Exactly how important is it to me that I become a master musician?” The answer to this question will put everything in its place. It can inspire us to practice when we aren’t naturally inclined, to practice not just what we feel like doing in the moment but what is necessary to progress, to take gigs that are inconvenient but will help us grow, to spend a fortune on the right education and to put in long hours when needed, among other things.

We should ask the question “Exactly how much do we want it?” often and make sure that our actions reflect our desire. The proof of our true desires is in our actions. If we say we want to be a great bass player, then we should be playing those technical exercises and fixing our intonation, as well as playing music we enjoy. If we say we want to be a jazzer, then we need to be working our scales, arpeggios and ii-V’s as well as learning tunes we dig. A reminder of how important something is to us can keep us from straying far from the path of success.

To refer back to our exercise analogy, one might be motivated in the short term to lose 15 pounds for cosmetic reasons only to find themselves “sleeping in” more often than going to the gym. Someone might be more likely to exercise daily if the know a fatal heart attack is impending should they neglect physical activity and they had something to live for. Perhaps they might never see the love of their life again, their children or conceivably they are the only caretaker of someone who would be left without care in the event of their impending heart attack. Such things can spawn dedication where less significant things can not. Such a person might be inspired to go to the gym by asking themselves “exactly how badly do I want to see my children grow old?” Just how important is it?

To truly become a master of any art or craft, such as ours, one must be devoted and resolved. It will take a certain measure dedication to ensure progress in the long term. Goals and objectives may be measured in hours, days, weeks or months, or perhaps even years, but dedication is measured over a lifetime.

Even the most dedicated musician can become frustrated with their progress at times, especially in the early years. Persistence is the key in such matters. Being a musician is not an event, but a path, and we will likely have missteps here and again. However, we will get back on the path… if it is important to us.