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Discussion Starter #1
For years and years i've had what i'll call musician's block, for want of a better name. It's some kind of mental wall that stops me from practising. If I don't have something to rehearse for that i absolutely have to do, I usually end up stopping altogether. At some point I'll kick myself up the backside and force myself to play at least for just 5 minutes or so, but i end up stopping again.
This has been going on my entire life as a musician, so getting on for 3 decades now. It's reached the point where I've made myself ill and can hardly bear to talk about playing, practice or being in a band without getting extremely angry & upset.
I feel like I've wasted a lifetimes worth of natural talent by not being able to put the practice in consistantly over the years. When I'm dropped into a musical situation i can usually come up with something and know that i have good musical ideas and a good ear but it's kind of pointless when my technique and tone fall so far short of the mark.
I haven't met any other musician who understands why i don't love just picking up my sax and making a noise. And in case you're wondering, there's no question of me trying to be something i'm not. I've always been a musician and know without a doubt that that's what I should be doing. If I had the t & t to be jamming all the time, I'd be a very happy bunny. But I can't get there without picking my sax up, and picking my sax up makes me feel ill.
Obviously I've got a pretty big issue here so I'd appreciate it if you're not hard on me.
Thanks, JJ.
 

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Being hard on ourselves, and each other, is an occupational hazard. Especially since, for many years, it was the only real learning strategy musicians had. It became a tradition, and if you don't revere tradition in this biz...well, never mind!

A lot of talent has been casually squandered by music because the talented individual wouldn't put up with enough bull$#!! - their leader's, or their teacher's, or their method book's, or, of course, their own.

I suspect, Jane, that you may be perpetuating your own bull$#!! - and if you were a good student, possibly others' as well. And that that is what is kicking you in the practice room and making sure you pay in heartache and gutache when you play.

It's a long road. I too have 30+ years in music and I have been up against the same issues from time to time. I have never felt sick with a sax in my hands, though. But maybe this will start some insight...

Have you ever heard of a pianist/writer/coach named Kenny Werner? He wrote Effortless Mastery, which is sort of a philosophical music method book. It's got its flaws and its gems, like anything. But one thing Kenny says early on is that every sound you make is beautiful.

Let's play with that for a moment. It doesn't mean every sound you make is in tune, or has perfect tone, or is even the right note. More like an inner affirmation that no one can take from you. Every sound I make is coming from me. It may not be right, right now, right here, but it is mine, and I need make no apologies for it, because there are no wrong notes.

A little out there, I know. It may mean blocking off parts of your mind you didn't even know were there...if you've ever heard anyone talking about superegos or inner critics or the like and said "***?", that's what I mean.

BTW, I'm no expert myself. I've only learned lesson one so far: don't beat myself up. It's easy to forget, and hard to reconcile with growth and skills and learning sometimes. It's even giving me down days in my new venture of freshman theory and piano - much of what we teach freshmen is to beat themselves up. Kindly, rationally, don't overdo it, but learning means taking that beating. It's insidious in music. But the lesson will always be with me.

BTOW, if you'd rather continue this discussion in PM, that's ok too. This stuff is personal, I know. Altho I suspect some might benefit from a public thread.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Hi, thanks for your reply. I've just submitted a reply to yours and been told it's not been processed and I have to go out now! I'll repost later. How do I PM?
Cheers,
JJ
 

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I have a similar problem but its due to being busy. I get my practice tracking or playing live mostly. Rarely i will have to practice a bit for something that might embarrass me if I don't nail it in one. Find a working band. One that works all the time. You'll be forced to pick up the sax and the material. You'll get to work out your chops on the gig. You'll practice because you have to. I jump from one project ( and instrument ) to the next out of necessity. Tonight I'll be playing guitar so I'll probably practice a bit later today as I haven't touched a guitar in a few weeks. I'll be ready but just barely.
 

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Fully understand....my ability to practice waxes & wanes & I usually wind up playing what I want to play....not what I need to play.
Take comfort from the fact that the converse is worse. I have a son who is a guitar obsessive....he practices seriously for more than five hours a day & is never, nor ever will, be happy with his performance, despite the fact that to everyone else he is superb. This was a problem known to Artie Shaw.
When I am in idle mode I put on a Blues (real blues as distinct from jazz blues) anthology CD in various keys, & busk along to that.
Defeatist I realise, but I will never be a Michael Brecker....neither would I want to be.
Perhaps the trick is just to enjoy what you do.
 

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JJ, I'm sorry I didn't notice your post count...I think you need 15 posts to PM. Oops.
 

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Sorry to hear about the slump, although it sounds more like you may have developed some negative associations in regardes to sax and music. Maybe try associating music with happiness - you could, for instance, listen to it when jogging or in any highthened, positive physical and/or emotional state. Larry Koonse, a guitar player I studied with, made me dance while playing, partially in order to assoicate dancing and motion, physical self expression with playing and music. Good luck..
 

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Hei Jane! Here's my five cents for the issue, I might know how you feel.

For 15 years I used to think that singing is my main instrument. I also bumped into the similar dilemma time after time; I couldn't really bring myself to practice as intensively as my voice would've required to be as good as the physical possibilities would able it to be (I have a big, heavy mezzosoprano, with which singing could as well go for excercising in the gym!). Also, voice being such a private instrument it brought me more trouble; all smallest changes in the mood immediately influenced the tone and tuning, as well as all criticism or lack of response for what I do. God how I hated that insecurity with my instrument, and every now and then I ended up hating the instrument, too.

It all started to change when I started to study music and changed my intention from singing to saxophone. Knowing myself I got me a teacher to kick my butt with bringing me something I _have_ to practice until the next class. After a while due to a happy incidence I started to spend more and more time here in States where I started to gain positive feedback for my doings. It has been like a long, slow uphill: I started to notice that I actually develop as a player, and that brought me to practice more. I started to play more and more from mere joy of playing my horn, when with singing it had always been more or less exhibitionist behaviour, aiming for gigs etc.

There were and are still slumps, but they are now different. Firstly, the slumps now don't leave such marks than the slumps with singing did. Of course my embouchure gets worse after the slumps, but I'm aware that the breaks in practice also give my brain time to go through, analyse and organise all the new information, and when I finally drag myself to practice again I notice that developing has occurred even when I have not been physically practicing!

And now I have come to the point where I am able to kick my own butt what comes to practicing: I give myself goals as songs I want to learn, and struggle towards them. I do still use teacher to give me reality checks every now and then, since I've learned how blind (or deaf) I can be to my own playing.

So maybe if you don't have a teacher yet you could benefit from getting one? That would at least put you in that "must do" mode and if the lessons are weekly or at least every other week the mode would have longer span than an occasional gig would have. And on the other hand from a teacher you could receive true, and objective response of what you do.

You don't tell what other instruments you play, but do you think you could try something else for a while? Just to get you in the good mood with music again, and to guide you away from the negativeness of this slump?

And then I could recommend you also couple of books that I found very inspiring. One is called Zen Guitar, another is Victor Wooten's Music Lesson. They are both approaching practicing from quite a different view than your orginary music literary.

Hope my writing made sense (English is not my native language). Here's wishing you luck with your way!
 

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Jane,

You don't say if music is your career or a second job. If you don't HAVE to do it, then why keep doing something that causes you so much anxiety?

Twenty plus years ago I was a restaurant manager. I hated going to bed at night because I knew I'd have to get up the next day and go to work. My life was miserable. I fantasized about driving my car into an abutment or off a cliff as a way out. One day I literally worked off the job and never looked back. It was a lousy way to leave a job and I regret doing it the way I did. I struggled for a few years to find another vocation but it all finally worked out in the end.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Thanks for all your replies. Quite a lot to take in so I might post in bits.
Paul, the missing post said that it was indeed me that was perpetuating my own bull, but that knowing it and stopping it were 2 things. Thanks for offering to chat, much appreciated. I'm sure I'll be able to pm soon as I'm hoping to be on here more regularly.
Re the Kenny Werner book, I bought it and started reading it but stopped because i was put off by the writing style, which is a silly reason. I also said that being a Zen Buddhist I felt like i should already be implementing the point that he was making, that I should be playing whatever's here now, without comparison or judgement. Thanks for bringing it back to the front of my mind. I will probably get back to reading it at some point.
 

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I was also thinking that just posting my feelings to a bunch of sax players might be something I needed to do. To say out loud how I'm feeling and to see if others had any similar experiences to stop me from feeling isolated in this.
Matt, yes I think you're right to say that I've probably got some negative associations with sax and music going on, given how strongly i react to it. Most likely some childhood crap, cringe.
When I was working with a band it kept me playing something, but not what I wanted to be playing or really ought to have been playing to improve my technique and also to enjoy playing. I was just doing the bare minimum to get by and wasn't as comfortable with improving as i wanted to be, yet I wasnt' putting in the time doing what you need to do, to get better at improv. I left as I wasn't enjoying the music as much anymore, as well as the usual band politics nonsense and was just hating it. So I stopped.
Why do i keep getting an error message every time i want to post??!!!
 

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JJ - I know where you are at, and you are not the only one. I was a hotshot high school clarinet player - other players no better than I were planning to go off to conservatories, etc. But despite my talent, I hated to practice - the repetitious drills bored me almost instantly. So music became a minor part of my life, where I would haul the clarinet out once every few months and play a couple things, or read something someone had brought by.

It started to change when an accordian-playing friend was working on playing some klezmer, and wanted someone to play with him. Ah! I LIKE playing with other people - that is the fun part for me. Then he left town, and I put the horn away again. Then I got artist block on my visual art, which had become a big part of my life, so I decided to try music again, but this time on sax (so I could play funk and R&B and blues).

I have been doing group classes and ensembles at the JazzSchool in Berkeley, and at a summer music camp, and playing clarinet with my synagogue's band. Playing with other people makes all the difference for me. It is way fun! I still struggle to practice on my own (yes, I know I need to learn my scales better, etc.), and that is the major factor limiting my ability. I do feel guilty at times for not practicing, or for not doing what someone suggested to me two years ago. But by shifting more into playing-with-others mode, I am getting better and having more fun. At some point, I will make peace with not living up my full potential (or if I decide I can't, maybe then I will practice those damn scales)...
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Thanks for that Artstove. I was never hotshot at any instrument because I chopped and changed so much and by the time i realised sax was where it was at for me, all my peers had been playing their instruments for years and so (obviously) were way better than me. I mean playing other instruments means you already know the basics and you generally know what you should be doing, but when you started on classical guitar, then did a bit of piano, a bit of euphonium, a bit of singing, it doesn't really help you when it comes to getting to grips with the physical and mechanical aspects of the sax, or at least not for me. If anything, I find it ten times harder to make a nice sound out of my sax when compared to those others, just sod's law that sax is what i love. I just wish it hadn't taken me 10 or 15 years before I realised that!
 

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It sounds like you're still a 'beginner' when it comes to playing sax.
Don't beat yourself up over not sounding good yet. It takes time. We all 'suck' for the first few months/years.
It's just part of the journey. Sure, parts of it are painful but we keep plugging along.
Shoot, I've been playing clarinet as my primary instrument for 40 years and I'm STILL not happy with all aspects of my playing.
Sax is my secondary instrument and I'm sometimes very ashamed at what comes out of it.
It's how I get better. I'm a good player, or at least that's what I've been told, but still..... There are days where nothing sounds or feels good to me.
If we don't dare to suck we make no forward progress. Keep at it. One day you'll see that you aren't as bad as you thought! :)
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Thanks. I'm not sure if 15 years counts as a beginner lol, though I guess if you spend enough of those years hiding away from practice and playing off and on, maybe it's justified, if not a little hard to take.
I'm finding it helpful just to talk with you all. I feel like I'm coming out or something :p
 

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Art Lande (an amazing musician/teacher) said: "People think I am creative, but I just make lots of mistakes."
 

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It's a litetime struggle--especially if music is your life's work. Many, many factors. Artists are rarely satisfied and are always seeking, experimenting. Analyzing meaning naturally influences motivation.

It has been said that the true use of music is to become musical in one's thoughts, words and actions. Note that this perspective supercedes other aspects with which we typically associate, and gets to the heart of the matter. An existential approach.

We can play for ourselves, we can play for others. We can play for our hearts and for our minds. We can make work of play, or we can simply play for enjoyment, and recreation.

The motivations, and feelings around the what and the why are always changing. As you have mentioned, it is a given that you will play, no question. The challenge is in managing our feelings around it. Artists and reflective people often analyze meaning. Music is as much a blessing as a curse. C'est la vie. Music is like golf--golf is like life, etc.

I sometimes call myself an ambivalent melancholist. It took me a long while to learn how to manage this dilemma--it affects me profoundly, since music is such a large part of my life.

If nothing else, we can talk about it--share our experiences. Like all objects of emotional struggle, it can be helpful to have a type of support group, which is one reason why I enjoy these forums. My wife has for many years worked as a psychotherapist--many of her clients are writers and artists of all types and are typically struggling with these issues. It's not uncommon for sensitive people to experience crises of all types--manifesting in creative and artistic "blocks," since our work and play often emanates from deeper psychological, emotional and spiritual aspects of living.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Thanks a lot. That struck a lot of chords with me (no pun intended). I've often joked that being a musician is like an illness that you have to manage, though not all of my musical friends have seemed to get it. I think I just happen to have many really laid back mates who don't beat themselves up over anything and use music to escape from their troubles, instead of beating themselves up over most things, getting troubled about it and trying to escape from music, which is the way round I seem to be doing it-ugh.

Well anyway I played a brief version of Misty after my initial post. I hadn't played in weeks, months. I had a cry (cringe) then did a little dance :p. I felt good and like I'd released
something, but as I've been here before I won't buy any champagne yet. That said, I'm more determined and did a whole minute or 2 of long notes earlier-whoop whoop.

You're right about sharing experiences. I can fall into a black mood over this and be asked by a friend or family member what's wrong and not even begin to be able to explain to them. If you're not arty, it's like being an alien. If I've ever made the mistake of wincing at someone's ringtone because a note's a semitone out and sounds like it was programmed in by a monkey, I just seem like the most pretentious person they've ever met, as opposed to actually feeling like someone's jabbing sticks in my ears! To explain or admit that the most soul destroying thing in my life is to do with music would just make no sense to them.

I think I'm probably pushing myself a little as well, the logic being that if i track my progress out loud it might motivate me to keep going. Yeah, I know, that could also bite me in the arse if I hit another wall but I can always run away from the computer if I feel ashamed, whereas the positive is that i might make some friends, learn what their lives are like from a musical point of view and get some encouragement along the way. I'm used to just seeing my mates turn up somewhere, play **** hot and then have a beer and talk about stuff. Online friendships tend to have a totally different dimension, which to those of us who are sensitive can be incredibly useful. In face to face life we often think people have no insecurities and are probably always wrong.

Ok that's a long post so I'll go for now.

Cheers,
J.J.
 

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Something Elvin Jones said always resonated with me in times of self-doubt: we need to know that what we are doing has value. It's okay to question meaning--I think it's the natural disposition for some of us. But it's also important to not lose touch for very long with the simple significance of music. I get totally lost in some abstruse forms: I like everything--the weirder the better. But I play simple folk music too. I get a similar satisfaction from playing folk music for dancers as I do getting lost in free improvisation. Different, but similar enjoyment. It's no different than other phenomena--sight, sound, sensation. It all translates into beauty, which doesn't necessarily need to be discriminated. There are many paths of beauty--so it shouldn't be long before you rediscover it. Don't worry--but be attentive.

Perhaps contemplate sound, rather than music.
 
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