Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

Fiddle Lovers Online

Whole Hearted Playing

Posted by bj on Friday, October 16, 2009

I played with Jane again this past Wednesday.

It was weird, I got way into it, and what she was doing, especially on Down The River, the second tune we played, sounded really great to me. But she kept fussing with the equipment- tuning, tightening the skin head on the banjo, switching to the little Martin guitar, tuning some more, complaining about the dead strings, switching to the electric guitar, and all the time saying she wasn't sounding right, when she sounded just fine to me. At least in those intervals when she actually played instead of fussing.

Let me repeat that.

She sounded just fine to me.

In truth, Jane has been doing this so long that she can play in her sleep. And she insists that's all it takes for anyone to become at the very least proficient in music. Putting in the time.

I do know what was eating at her. She's got a new painting in progress on a three panel screen. It's transformative, luminous, fabulous, and a few more adjectives that haven't been invented yet to describe something so heartfluttering and the person who commissioned it is lucky indeed, since I think it's going to be one of her best pieces ever. I'm very sad I won't get to see it finished. I know Jane was itching to get her fingers back on her paintbrushes, and that's what made her fuss while playing music.

But this was a lesson, though she didn't intend for it to be, I don't think. The heart of the musician has to be in the music-- if the heart is located somewhere else at that moment in time, then the music is not going to sound good to the person who is making it, even if it sounds fine to everyone else.

You have to play whole hearted.

14 comments on “Whole Hearted Playing”

Mandogryl Says:
Friday, October 16, 2009 @8:35:59 AM

Maybe that explains why the best I've ever played Lover's Waltz, by Jay and Molly had been about 4 months ago when I just started learning that piece. I played it for a friend, and could not wait to "get good at it". I just went ahead and played it, and let what ever would happen, happen. It is a pretty tune, and I was anxious. Well, I haven't been able to play it nearly that well since (in my mind).
I guess I was "whole-heartedly" into the piece that particular time.

bj Says:
Friday, October 16, 2009 @8:56:54 AM

Well, the weirder thing is I've realized that a couple times when I wasn't "whole hearted" in playing with her, I pushed myself into being there. I don't get nearly enough opportunities to play with her, so I'm not going to waste the ones I do get by not BEING THERE. And you can do that. You really can. You can grab your heart and plop it down wherever you want it. And sometimes you should, but not always. You can try it though. It's very much related to being in the zone. You have to shut off the extraneous stuff and focus. Then your whole heart can be moved into that space created by your focus. And when you're in the zone, the whole becomes more important than the parts, so the little oopses remain little, and lose their ability to grow into monsters that batter down your self esteem.

Anyway, I wasn't about to point out to Jane that she could play better music if she just focussed on what she was doing, since finishing that painting represents a nice chunk of change for her, and I've finally, in my dotage, become sensitive enough to daily needs to recognize when I need to back off, and let people go where their heart is telling them they need to be for their own wellbeing. I did get a half dozen tunes in with her, enough to satisfy my immediate craving, and then I let her get back to work.

ScottK Says:
Friday, October 16, 2009 @5:21:16 PM

Good post, bj!

I recently read Mdeline Bruser's "The Art of Practicing: A Guide to Making Music from the Heart" ( It's pretty much a book-length treatment of this topic. It helped me realize that I was not being fully present in many of my practice sessions, especially those in the early evening following a hectic day at work and a freeway commute home. Now I try to take a couple of minutes to breath, slow my head down, and get centered before I practice and generally get much better results. I certainly enjoy a practice session more when I do this. Anyway, it's a good read.

Cheers, Scott

bj Says:
Friday, October 16, 2009 @5:45:48 PM

Scott, thank you! I had almost 20 years of modern dance lessons early in life. Funny, you mention "centering" and I realize I've been doing it with fiddling and not realizing that's what I was doing. That was a major part of dance training, mostly physical centering, but once you get that the mental focus is so much easier! I spoke recently in a forum post about the Zen of Fiddling, and also in an earlier blogpost about being "in the zone". It's all part and parcel of the same thought process on whole hearted music.
The technical stuff will come as long as I put in the time and keep my focus, and keep loving the music.

Scott, I'll also mention that my most incredibly valuable practice time is the ten minutes I put in immediately after I've gotten out of bed in the morning. I solve fiddle issues in my dreams. I need to catch those solutions immediately upon waking or they take flight. Even if I don't get any more practice for the day (which has only happened ONCE in two years!) I'm okay as long as I've gotten my before coffee ten minute playing time in. Maybe you should give it a try.

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Friday, October 16, 2009 @6:28:04 PM

Hmmmph.... Whole-hearted this, centering smentering--just guzzle some beer and get out there and get loud and have fun! Whether you like it or not!

bj Says:
Friday, October 16, 2009 @6:52:15 PM

Beer? The only thing I use beer for is to catch slugs . . .

ScottK Says:
Saturday, October 17, 2009 @2:07:29 AM

Hey Humbled, I live in Portland, Oregon. When I'm not drinking (fresh) Bridgeport IPA, I'm drinking Amnesia IPA or Lucky Lab's Super Dog or... the point still stands. You get better practice (and other) results when you're fully present. I learned this with rock climbing after reading Pat Ament's "Rockwise" and just sort of took it into telemark skiing after that. But I wasn't bringing it into my fiddle practice until I read Bruser's book. Needed a reminder, I guess.

bj, I get my best practice time in the morning, too. My schedule is such that often the only practice time I get is like 6-9am on Saturday and Sunday mornings. This used to be my drive time for skiing. I love getting in those early hours on the fiddle with a cup of coffee! Been thinking about trying to work that into weekday mornings, but not sure I can get to bed early enough to get up early enough to make it work. Might experiment with it this fall, though.

Oh yeah, I like slugs, too. We have awesome banana slugs in Oregon! :-)


scrubber Says:
Saturday, October 17, 2009 @2:07:48 AM

It's easy (especially if you learn from written transcripts) to be come a musical zombie -- a 'dead' musician that acts without thinking or knowing, merely 'playing the notes'...

Musical vitality, as you've correctly observed, bj, comes from within!


bj Says:
Saturday, October 17, 2009 @4:03:50 AM

Scott, the morning practice doesn't have to be a long one, it can be very short. It's just to cement in the brain the things that you figured out overnight. That short morning practice makes the later practices more productive.

Oh yeah, Dave, I see those "musicians" come through our school system.

Ozarkian DL Says:
Saturday, October 17, 2009 @4:34:48 AM

Ya jus caint git in tha ZONE witout whole-heartedness, be it music, painting or any of tha arts. I'z been knockin on tha ZONE door off & on fer yrs. & sometimes it jus do'nt open all tha way. Sounds like ya jus interupted Jane while'st she'uz in uh different ZONE. BTW, she occupies tha music ZONE splendidly.

Ozarkian DL Says:
Saturday, October 17, 2009 @4:44:47 AM

Ooooo.....I'z wit u on tha beer solution Humble....glug-glug.

Whiskey's too rough....champange cost too much....& vodka puts my mouth in gear...............................

bj Says:
Saturday, October 17, 2009 @5:12:31 AM

Yes, Jane was indeed in a different Zone! And yes, she does occupy the music Zone splendidly indeed.

Re slugs-- beer is bait so I can rid my garden of the damn things. They eat stuff. Like cukes.

OTJunky Says:
Wednesday, October 21, 2009 @4:25:05 AM

Ozarkian D.L. wrote:
"Whiskey's too rough...."

This, of course, depends on the brand... ;-)


janepaints Says:
Friday, October 30, 2009 @8:04:10 PM

first thing upon waking has long been a HUGE FAVE time for playing...birds wake up and start singing, right?--a good example for warm weather with the windows open, woods right outside my window, i often do call-and-response with the birdsongs, a truly interesting thing i know, it's dinnertime.

You must sign into your myHangout account before you can post comments.

More posts from bj

Newest Posts

Click for Details 'Nursing home' 10 hrs

Click for Details 'How to start?' 18 hrs

More >  

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories