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Approaching Music like an Athlete

Music is an intellectual pastime. Though any full-time musician will tell you that there is definitely a physical element, I don't think anyone would necessarily qualify it as a "sport." Now, we could go back and forth arguing about this, but it isn't really the point of this particular post. The point I wanted to make is that those that don't play an instrument already will immediately categorize music as a "study" rather than "training."

I think this lack of awareness of the physicality of instrument playing is the cause of 99% of all frustrations for beginning students regardless of age. As soon as they know how to do something they should be able to do that something, right? Well, if you were memorizing history dates, I would say yes. But playing an instrument requires muscles.

Yes, muscles. Those poor finger and back muscles are so easy to forget. Playing an exercise once on your instrument is like running once around a track and saying you're in shape. It doesn't work like that. Olympic runners run around the same track over and over and over again. They know that they have to condition their muscles if they want to expect peak performance from them. They have to establish muscle memory.

It's true that you probably won't get winded playing an instrument. And you're not trying to reach your optimum heart rate. But the muscles in your hands work exactly the same as any other muscle in your body. Response time and strength must be trained, not just thought. Thinking about having nice biceps won't make any develop. Unfortunately.

Therefore, the mastery of difficult techniques must be approached like an athlete. Endless, tireless repetitions are the only way cure screeches or awkward fingers. That's part of the reason why learning to play any instrument takes so long. Our muscles are slow learners.

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Victor Wooten is an innovator, composer, arranger, producer, vocalist, and multiinstrumentalist. He has been called the greatest bass player in the world. He is a skilled naturalist and teacher, a published author, a magician, husband and father of four, and a five-time Grammy award winner.