Three important components of learning music

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Twice a month, I take a piano lesson with Kevin Bales in Atlanta.  Kevin is a college professor of music and a concert pianist who has played in major venues around the world.  He knows far more about music than anyone I know and is easily the best pianist I have ever worked with.  I usually play one song for him and just ask questions the rest of the time.

Today, we were talking about practice and he mentioned a few things I thought I would pass along.  He was talking about how when he was in college, he was intimidated by the music majors who lived in practice rooms (going so far as to set up a microwave and bed).  But then he mentioned that their focus was misguided because they were only focused on one out of three of the components necessary to be a great pianist.

Of course, their focus was on mechanics, and there is no doubt that developing technical skill is very important.  So I asked Kevin what he thought the other two components were.  Here is what he said:

1) Listening – Musicians should listen to music as much as they practice it.

2) Living – Musicians should live a life that allows them to experience things they can express through their music.  In other words, musicians should not just exist in practice rooms.  They need to live.

He went on to say that musicians should allocate 1/3rd of their practice time to hard practice, 1/3rd to listening, and 1/3rd to “frolicking” (fun practice with a focus on learning to express yourself through improvisation).

I tend to agree overall.  Living a rich, diverse life that is not too overly focused on music is probably more important than many of us realize.  Musicians usually peak later in life long after they are past their technical peak, and in many cases, it is because they have something to say in their music that they did not know when they were younger.

There are obvious applications especially for Christian musicians.  Christian musicians that want to express the character of God and truth in their music need to be close to God and actively living a rich Christian life.

And this is for you music majors: get out of the practice rooms and go socialize once in a while!