Ever since I’ve been listening to music on a regular basis, my life has changed. Every day, when the house goes quiet in the evening, I put on some music when the house. Hearing the depth of the craftmanship has moved me. Yes, to tears, sometimes, but more importantly, it has also made me play more music. I’ve always practiced, mind you, but I have a different intention about it now. I understand like never before how a detail plus a detail makes a great performance.
I perceive the tone of my drums or my piano in a more accurate way. I’ll give you a for instance.
If we define roughly a groove to be a bar repeated exactly over a period of time, one has to pay attention to make sure those sounds are the same from one bar to the next. Right! It means, the accents, the tone of the drums or the cymbals, the way they are stricken must be done with surgical precision. Should you decide to give it a little imperfect note here and there, those imperfection are to be replicated also. Not an easy task. It demands a great control, for sure, but also a good ear. Well, that’s the part that has been developed in the last few weeks: my ability to pick up the minute details of a pattern.
On piano, the flow of a phrase has to have a direction. I noticed that the great players use dynamics, ties, staccatos, tempos, to make the instrument pensive, thunderous or joyful.
If you want a comparison, here it is. I remember watching an interview of a voice over actor. As an experiment they made him read the same text but with different emotions, like when he’s promoting movies. First was comedy. His voice was going up, the flow was playful, unexpected and he used some of the lines as punch lines. For drama he used a lower register, the pauses between sentences were longer, every time he sensed a period coming, he would dip into even lower tones. The flow was even, paced and almost pedantic, like a teacher explaining something. Then came horror. Never screaming, never panicked, his flow became chaotic, unpredictable, we never knew how long were the pauses, his breath became more frantic, almost panting, his tone fluctuating between brittle and overwhelming. Nothing was on steady ground. That was an impressive demonstration.
Great musicians do the same. They have a message to convey, it doesn’t matter the instrument they use, they will use subtle but powerful means to do so.
I am now practicing with that in mind. I am spending much more time than before on a piece of music. The research never stops. I work and rework on certain passages, polishing up the accents and the progression. It is like trying to flap my wings to fly. And I understand more and more why Anthony Hopkins says each line he is given 500 times before he performs it. I can’t say I’m matching his number. But give me time.