Wanted: a taxonomy!

The techniques associated with playing an instrument are a vital ingredient in determining how far one progresses; although there are plenty of examples of players who work to their strengths within their technical limitations at any given point in their playing career.

Fine. I'm certainly not saying that techniques are everything; and I don't rate my favourite players in terms of how good they are technically. But still, I'm sure that most of us would want to have the best possible techniques...to ensure the best possible outcomes. Technical limitations have always been and will always be a source of frustration amongst players of any instrument; especially when we see others seemingly overcome a given limitation; thus raising our expectations.

What in fact we would really like: is a taxonomy: for everything to be classified, categorised, every variable to be identified and accounted for; and for an exact science with hard and fast rules..so that there is no element of doubt or confusion. In essence, if we could only follow a simple recipe: you want this (outcome) - you need this and this and then you need to do this and that. Bingo! The same outcome every time for every individul player no matter what their physical makeup.

But surely it does not and cannot ever work that way. And that is why there can never be an exact taxonomy - a simple recipe in regards to technical approaches. And of course, there are always players who get around their shortcomings or handicapps or prove the exception to any rule that may be foolishly laid down for want of a black and white world. No, the truth is that there are lots of ways to go about things to achieve the same outcome musically speaking...or better! However, there are some truths that are worth presenting to any instrumental student:

  • You are what you practice. Time spent alone forming habits etc define your approach. No matter how good or bad they are, the techniques you use during practice become 'normal' or 'natural'...even if they aren't... or perhaps they are harmful or ineffective.
  • There is no alternative to intelligent practise: where during pratice the player is constantly body-aware, body-centric...tuned in to what their physical self is telling them. And more to the point, listening to what their bodies have to say. Making adjustments and thinking, evaulating etc. Don't just switch off!
  • Be prepared to give an approach up when something better comes along. Sure it would be nice to have the right ways right at the start; but this isn't always how it goes. Sure, the process of undoing something can take time and can be demoralising; and one has to be sure that one is doing the right thing. Only do it when one is certain; or learn to be flexible in one's approach. It's between you and your body to decide these things.
  • There may not be one answer: beginner students may believe there is just one way to do something -and they are looking for definitive answers to their questions. No necessarily so. Raise the debate with them - make them aware of the debate, the diversity of opinion and get them thinking about - beyond the obvious incorrect approaches!
  • Learn to live with uncertainty!

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