Fun and play as a part of skill development

I mentioned in a recent post the idea that, when you perform, what the audience remembers most is how you made them feel—what emotions and feelings you conveyed in the performance, not how amazing you were on your instrument, or what you wore. I don’t know why that is (might be because one of the functions we have in the community as artists and musicians is to convey emotion), so I’ll have to settle for talking about how this can inform your preparation.

Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters performs with Sound City Players at the Hollywood Palladium on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2012 in Los Angeles. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP Images)

Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters performs with Sound City Players at the Hollywood Palladium on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2012 in Los Angeles. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP Images)

Practice having fun.

When I give students homework from their lessons, I always break it down into three areas: 1) work, 2) listening, and 3) fun.

‘Work’ is important because if you’re not working on something that you can’t play, you aren’t getting any better. ‘Listening’ because it is the most important skill to develop as a musician.

And ‘fun’ is a part of the homework because we play music we don’t ‘work’ music. It also reinforces good practice habits when you incorporate it into your practice sessions (if you know you’ll have fun, you’re less likely to skip the practice session). It’s also preparing you for performing–if you need to convey enthusiasm, suspense or love in your performance, starting from a place of ‘play’ relaxes you and makes it easier to convey an emotion in your playing.

Having fun on the instrument inspires you.

It’s important for me to inspire my students to get past all the challenges and drudgery they might have while practicing drumming, and just plain have some fun. The fun thing you do could be anything: making up a beat, making up a fill, playing along to your MP3 player or phone on shuffle, etc. Anything, as long as it’s fun for you.

So, fun is important and yes, it’s something that you can practice (and rehearse). I have it in each students homework because there will come a day when I will hear them play something that is technically accurate, but doesn’t move me emotionally. When that happens (and it usually does at some point), I just point out their ‘fun’ homework. As in, “what you played was OK, but can you add THAT feeling to it (the feeling from the fun homework)?”

This sense of ‘fun’ is not only for musicians and their craft. It can be for anybody. Musicians practicing is similar to developing your skills outside of work as an accountant, lawyer or school teacher.

Let’s say you’re taking a night class to develop your public speaking skills as a lawyer. One of the things you can do to keep you focused and productive is to find a way to incorporate some fun into the process of going to class, or doing homework. Might be a visit to a favorite coffee house once a week after class as a reward for good attendance. Or, it could be having some escapist fun watching videos on youtube as a reward for doing your homework. It can be anything that’s fun for you that would help you with some part of the class.

Having fun relaxes you.

Another thing that’s important to add here is that ‘play’ relaxes me, and seems to relax my students also. As I mentioned above, I believe this make you better able to convey emotions and more receptive to inspiration. But, even if it all it does is relax you, that alone is well worth the effort as relaxation is critically important to performing on a high level.

Fun and play are an important part of developing your skills. They relax you, motivate you to put the time in on developing your craft and inspire you by connecting you to the emotion, or meaningful experience at the core of your activity.

Are there any ways that you’ve incorporated fun into your routine that have made you more productive?

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