Rethinking Technique

Concerned students frequently ask me about improving their technique.

I tell them two things:

First, if they want to learn how to play harder faster stronger, they should find another teacher; I’m not a technique specialist!

Second, I ask why they want to play harder faster stronger. They never answer: “Because I’m hearing music and I want to have the technique to execute it.”  Rather, their answers usually boil down to “social pressure.”

Maybe somebody called a tune (quarter note 300+) and he/she couldn’t play eighth notes comfortably; he/she felt stupid.  So I ask: “Next time, why don’t you play something you’re comfortable with?”

This stumps them; it compels them to rethink the purpose of technique, what they’re playing and why they’re playing it.

Improvised/Jazz music has a tradition of technical excellence; that shouldn’t be ignored.  But it also has a more important, overriding tradition: Playing by ear.  Technique is the ability to execute what you’re hearing (without hurting yourself).  See my post on perfect technique.

The social pressure isn’t healthy; it causes us to neglect our ears and play outside of our physical thresholds.  I prefer to make students aware of their thresholds and teach them how to create without overstepping them.

Then I can give them ideas for expanding their thresholds, without leaving their ears behind.

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