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TOPIC: Preparatory practice for practice

Preparatory practice for practice 27 Aug 2019 17:39 #111462

As all musicians know, practice is fundamental. I’m often interested in ways meditation and the many techniques and practices that exist can inform musical practice, and occasionally vice versa.

As well as meditation, I practise music every day. I’ve been thinking about how I can focus my practice so that it is as fruitful as possible. What techniques do people know that can be done to begin a practice session to prepare for what is to come?

One I’ve been playing with recently is tonglen, “sending and receiving”, as seen here:
tricycle.org/magazine/tonglen-spot/
I’ve been doing it for just 3 minutes with the guitar in my lap before I start practising properly. 3 minutes obviously isn’t much to go very deep into it, but the idea is that I hope it will colour my practice session with the spirit of compassion and kindness, and can settle and concentrate the mind. I chose it because I liked the idea of playing a concert in which I could take all the suffering of the audience into the music, and shine out kindness, joy, peace, vitality, love, happiness, inspiration and all good vibrations in return.

Any suggestions or comments?
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Preparatory practice for practice 27 Aug 2019 21:18 #111468

So you are playing guitar as a variant on tonglen practice, or as a means of tonglen practice? Did I understand?

I suppose now in particular music is very much a part of my life and practice, and nearly all of it is sacred music. In my lessons I study sacred (classical) music, so that is sung prayer, even if we are working on technique, too. And in the Gregorian chant group we sing the liturgy of the Mass, so that is also sung prayer (the chants are mostly of the psalms). I originally became interested in singing specifically because I wanted to be able to chant the Divine Office for myself, like monks do. Now that I think of it, I have never run into any ancient religious tradition that doesn't chant and sing their prayers.
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Preparatory practice for practice 28 Aug 2019 04:43 #111470

Ona Kiser wrote:
So you are playing guitar as a variant on tonglen practice, or as a means of tonglen practice? Did I understand?

Maybe not quite – I've been doing 3 minutes of tonglen (just with the breath with the guitar on my lap ready to play) before beginning what is normal guitar technique practice, left/right-hand exercises, and then (when I remember to do it :unsure: ) once again before I began practising pieces or start composing. So, so far, technique practice looks like normal technique practice, but there are a couple of things I might highlight as relevant from a meditative perspective in the way that I've been trying to do them:
  • concentration: I try to focus carefully on the movements of my fingers/hands in a similar way to what one might when concentrating on an object in meditation; sometimes movements are very slow, but sometimes faster. Sometimes exercises are repetitive, like repeatedly practising a right-hand finger pattern, in that they can become similar to a mantra and concentration deepens
  • brahmavihara-type stuff: in a similar vein to the question Ken McLeod's teacher asked: “If you could really take away all the suffering of the world by breathing it in in a single breath, would you hesitate?” (tricycle.org/magazine/anger-meditation/), if I could do the same with a single note, then there'd be music till the end of time (obviously if one note were enough you wouldn't need to play anymore, but hey). In this regard, for directly musical I have tried doing some similar things:
    • when working on the tone in the right hand, I use tonglen breaths together with single notes on each in and then out breath (maybe a minute for each finger)
    • improvising with the same feelings of tonglen alternating.
Now that I think of it, I have never run into any ancient religious tradition that doesn't chant and sing their prayers.
I think you're right. Maybe it's because that's how they actually spoke back then :P . Fun to imagine.
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Preparatory practice for practice 29 Aug 2019 11:51 #111490

It sounds like you’ve got a good routine going, but I’d also advise you to be on the lookout for getting bogged down. I got bogged down in an elaborate preparation routine at the beginning of each meditation sit and eventually had to pare it down. Even during practice, if it becomes too intense then you have to lighten up. Who was it that said, “My burden is easy and my yoke is light”?
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Preparatory practice for practice 29 Aug 2019 14:38 #111496

Laurel Carrington wrote:
It sounds like you’ve got a good routine going, but I’d also advise you to be on the lookout for getting bogged down. I got bogged down in an elaborate preparation routine at the beginning of each meditation sit and eventually had to pare it down. Even during practice, if it becomes too intense then you have to lighten up. Who was it that said, “My burden is easy and my yoke is light”?

Thanks Laurel! I know exactly what you mean, I've been there before, it starts with one thing to help prepare for one thing, then finding something else lacking just a little bit, then something else... Sometimes you've just got to get on with it. Hence it's only 3 minutes.

One aim of mine is to continue the tonglen intention/quality of mind through the music session, although this gets lost easily when concentrating on technique and how to play or compose a piece. Maybe I just need to set an alarm to remind myself periodically.
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Preparatory practice for practice 29 Aug 2019 16:55 #111497

Not being a musician, but thinking about your question of how to integrate the two, what about visualization? Concentrating and seeing your fingers doing the specific drills, and then doing them.
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Preparatory practice for practice 31 Aug 2019 16:00 #111514

Tom Otvos wrote:
Not being a musician, but thinking about your question of how to integrate the two, what about visualization? Concentrating and seeing your fingers doing the specific drills, and then doing them.

Yes, good idea, thanks! I haven't done that much, or even at all. I know it's not an uncommon exercise amongst musicians—visualising playing the instrument, standing in front of the audience, imagining how the music should sounds etc., and I'm sure it's quite effective. I'll give it a go!

I'm also wondering and almost concerned now about contemplative practices at the service of "lesser things", and would like to aim for the opposite, i.e. for the act of music-making to develop, kindness, compassion, wisdom, peace, joy, relief from suffering, insight, and many more wonderful things. Hence using tonglen as an attempt to imbue the music practice session that follows with some of the above qualities.

I wonder if anyone else does anything similar to consciously bring there practice to other aspects of their activities?
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Preparatory practice for practice 02 Sep 2019 08:11 #111528

Junglist wrote:
I'm also wondering and almost concerned now about contemplative practices at the service of "lesser things", and would like to aim for the opposite, i.e. for the act of music-making to develop, kindness, compassion, wisdom, peace, joy, relief from suffering, insight, and many more wonderful things. Hence using tonglen as an attempt to imbue the music practice session that follows with some of the above qualities.

I wonder if anyone else does anything similar to consciously bring there practice to other aspects of their activities?

I think the common equivalent in Christianity (and at least one orthodox Jew said she does something similar) is that one offers ones activities (using a verbal statement of intention, spoken outloud or in your head) for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, or in thanksgiving to God, or even for a particular person's dire needs (ie someone you know has been in an accident or is in crisis, you can offer everything for their well-being, healing, salvation, conversion, etc.). Those activities can be any non-sinful activities, such as caring for your family and home, your duties at your job, your creative work, and so on. But the exercise is used in particular to offer things that are difficult, such as waiting in line, being stuck in traffic, having a blister, being too hot/cold, being annoyed, bored, tired, frustrated, and so on. In other words you offer that suffering (however major or minor) in union with the suffering of Christ. The more unpleasant the context, the harder it is to do the practice, so it counts for more... that being said, what is very difficult for one person may be very easy for another, so there is not a fixed standard of what you "should" be able to do. Tiny little efforts are often worth far more than evidently big efforts.
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Preparatory practice for practice 02 Sep 2019 09:44 #111529

I might add I hadn't ever thought of the idea of 'preparatory practices' in this context, but it makes sense. Thanks for that perspective.
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Preparatory practice for practice 03 Sep 2019 06:39 #111532

Ona Kiser wrote:
Tiny little efforts are often worth far more than evidently big efforts.

Thanks Ona, interesting points. :)
This one is really the important one for any practice I think isn't it; 10 minutes a day is better than 70 a week, and it's the long-term efforts that have the long-term effects.
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Preparatory practice for practice 03 Sep 2019 07:16 #111533

Junglist wrote:
Ona Kiser wrote:
Tiny little efforts are often worth far more than evidently big efforts.

Thanks Ona, interesting points. :)
This one is really the important one for any practice I think isn't it; 10 minutes a day is better than 70 a week, and it's the long-term efforts that have the long-term effects.

In part (as I've been taught anyway) to do with what's going on inside. That is, for one person, sitting still for an hour may be no effort, where for another sitting still for five minutes is a raging battle, and thus worth gold stars and an A+. So even though to an outsider the former appears to have "done better", actually the latter "did better" for having conquered a really difficult (even if objectively tiny) challenge. I think I've usually been equally hard on myself and others in terms of "doing well enough". I'm pretty sure that goes in parallel (thus "judge not, lest ye be judged" is more of a law of physics than a threat).
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