practice through listening
After I got my instrument with money the The Prince's Trust I did what any bloke does with a new toy: I played with it. Incessantly.
I wasn't particularly old, but I had a vision of how things were going to go on the scene; each "new thing" was going to be younger, and would have started playing since they were six, and had gone to college to gain a deeper understanding of the music. And none of those things was ever going to apply to me. And I wasn't going to be good enough.
I threw myself into practice. Almost daily ten-hour sessions, going through all my Monk CDs. Had to be ready! Even when it hurt [and I assure you, it did] I'd be there, making runs on the instrument through fear of failure.
I was consumed with making music at the time: I'd wake up early, switch on the PC and write. Then, after a few hours, I'd practise. Not through enjoyment necessarily, but because inside I never actually felt up to standard. And I really wanted to be. I used to [and still do] get stage fright before my gigs; but at that time it was much worse since I hadn't found a real purpose to play. Everything was mechanical and about doing. And the more I did, the worse my hands got until the repetitive strain was too bad, and I had to stop playing. I still have R.S.I. now—and therein lies a warning.
Luckily, this coincided with a very low period of my life [break-up: eviction, &c.], so I wasn't in the position to make any gigs even if I wanted to!
I spent some time looking after three cats at a family friend's house in South Derbyshire. They had a great sound system, lots of Eastern European grammar books, a bicycle and a pianola.
I was there for a fair few months, not able to play, but just listen: either to music, or the clock, or just to ride up to Calke Abbey or Melbourne and hear the outside. And I seemed to reconnect with why I loved music in the first place: an expression in sound. Previously, even though I was playing by ear, hitting each harmony and making the scales, I'm not certain I was digging into the story/expression of the song, or what I wanted to say. And in fact, I gain a lot of pleasure from listening. Always with the listening. So why don't I actively use it? I'm not saying it never happened before: just that it was a less conscious decision.
So I endeavoured to listen actively, to express the song itself using my language—to keep my mind sharp. Over time I have felt happier about my music-making, with less pain. There have been low moments—and in fact I pulled myself out of music twice—but I feel I can express myself better than I could previously, even though my technique has dulled. And the fears that I had are still there, but they are much quieter in my head.
Now, when I practise, I sit, and I listen. My face might look a bit moody, so I tend not to do it around other people, because everyone thinks I'm upset! Sometimes there's music: other times, it's just the ambient noise that surrounds us every day. I organise it in my head: then there's music.