Over the past couple of years I’ve been theorizing a 4-plane paradigm for the way musicians approach their instruments: 1) practice 2) rehearsal 3) performance and 4) play (whatever instrument on which they perform). I think it’s a really valid way to look at the different types of mind sets it takes to master the playing of a musical instrument because each are subtly different but necessary for musical/athletic growth on their instrument. And that has been reinforced by the response from a few others who’ve adopted the idea. But at a recent lesson with one of my master students the idea of playing music vs. playing the guitar came up, and it was an Aha! moment for me. There was a Fifth Plane, and it had nothing to do with playing guitar, harp guitar or any specific kind of an instrument. And to me it represents the highest plane we can achieve as musicians. Playing music!
During my recent mini-tour that was largely a series of unfortunate events, the one positive is that I found myself moving from the rehearsal plane to the playing guitar plane to the playing music plane. And it was transformative. I found that the dynamics came naturally, the rhythms were all in nice pockets-I never felt rushed, never stumbled through phrases because I was pushing the tempo. In many ways it’s been life changing for me on the guitar.
I started playing songs in concert I hadn’t played in a long time, or ever, because it was music that gave me joy and/or told a story that was important to me. I had stopped worrying about whether or not a tune was difficult enough, or used enough of the fingerboard to impress audience members. And at my last concert I played music the entire concert. I wasn’t focused on the guitar at all. I just played music. And it may have been the best solo concert I’ve ever played.
I started looking at my pieces as I think I should: they’re musical stories. Stories don’t have to be long or complicated to be good, they just have to be engaging. And that was so incredibly freeing. To me music is a conversation between the player and the listener. The instrument really shouldn’t be the focus of the conversation; it’s a tool. It may be a cool and expensive tool, but it’s a tool nonetheless.
Don’t get me wrong, the instrument we play IS important-there is a reason each of us chooses a particular musical instrument, as well as the choices we make among manufacturers and builders of our chosen instruments. And what we play can be of interest to some of those we’re playing for, but NEVER forget that most of the people who are listening to your playing are doing so because they enjoy the music you make with it, not how you do it or what you do it with. It’s about the music.
I’m planning on living in this plane for a while. I’ve spent most of the past 6 years in either practice or rehearsal mode; ever since I got my first harp guitar. And those have been transformative years in their own right, and were necessary for me to achieve my goals with the instrument. But it’s time to change the mind set for a while.
My ultimate goal is to transcend the instrument. I’ve gotten about as good as I can as a guitarist; I’m 61 and have played for 42 years. What I’ve got is what I’ve got, and it ain’t bad. But, I’m not nearly as good a musician as I can be, so that’s what I’ll be working on with the time I have left. Ahem, I mean that’s what I’ll be playing with during the time I have left.
It’s really all about the music. And it really has been that way all along, whether I’ve recognized that or not.