Do You Still Need to Practice?

Recently, I remarked to my bass guitar teacher, Phill Fest, that many of my friends question my need to take bass lessons, due to the fact I have been playing the bass guitar for over 20 years. (This was the subject of a previous post, in which I mentioned that, although I have been playing the bass for almost 20 years, I still have a lot to learn.) Phill, who is a professional musician and the son of two professional musicians (meaning music was and is his family’s “day job” in that it is a full time career and occupation), remarked that he is often asked a similarly short sighted question by people who just don’t get it. This question is, “Do you still need to practice?”, followed by “Haven’t you played that song before?”, or “Can’t you just read the notes and play whatever they happen to be?”. Practicing is what we musicians do. In fact, professional musicians, such as Phill, practice their craft for several hours every day, weekends included. The late Neil Peart, undisputedly one of the best drummers in history, took drum lessons and practiced playing the drums. Guess what? That’s why he was so amazing! The only way one will get better at anything is by doing it. And, the more one practices, the better one becomes. So, yes, I practice playing my bass guitar as often as I possibly can. And, I still play the piano too, even though I have been a pianist for over 50 years. Why have instruments and refuse to play them? The old saying, “practice makes perfect” is, in my experience, a truism. Keep playing that rock and roll or, if you prefer, Beethoven!

I took piano lessons as a child, but fishing seemed much more fun than piano, so I didn’t play piano long!  But, call it what you want, practice, playing, fishing, getting better, and staying strong at anything takes time and effort.  I’ve written about Dr. Fran Kinne before. She started playing piano at age 3 and started winning piano competitions at an early age. Yet, even when she was over 100 years old, she played daily to exercise her fingers, and her mind.  Focusing on a task like playing piano, or probably anything, a sport, or, for me, photography or skeet shooting, is good for the mind.  Practice improves performance as well, of course.  But, the mental benefit is strong; forcing the mind to focus on something removes many other distractions and improves concentration.  I know my mind finds clarity after “practicing” one of these activities.  It is interesting to think about the practice of law – something we work around daily.  Many skills are required of trial attorneys.  Legal research, writing, depositions, and more.  Yet, one of the most important skills is the most difficult to practice – courtroom trial performance.  The opportunities to practice courtroom skills are fewer than ever as mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution have grown.  Therefore, when it comes down to fighting it out in the courtroom, we know many attorneys have not been able to keep their skills sharp.  Mock trials are one way that attorneys can “sharpen their saw” (to borrow from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).  On mock jury research days, it is often obvious that the practice effect is at work, and quickly, as attorneys improve their presentations from their first presentation to subsequent ones.  Practice never ends!  It just makes us better.

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