This particular exchange from one of my Twitter posts resonates with me because as someone who spends a great deal of time in the classroom, I’m often inundated with questions from students wanting know "when" and "how." As teachers and mentors we want to be able to bring a magic formula with your pedagogical offerings. But the reality is that no advice offered would be a dealbreaker.
I started thinking about this during the COViD lockdowns, during which I developed a fascinating with fiction writing. (Yes, the book of short stories about jazz is in the works. More about that later.) As you can imagine the first thing I did was try to take lessons. Quickly realizing my fiction writing skills were hardly worthy of a teacher. I did seek help, though. I watched a ton of videos and read numerous articles. What they all taught me was that I just needed to write. One video suggested writing one short story a day for a month: short, long, good and bad. Just write. They guaranteed at the end of this creative immersion I'd come away totally transformed with a new relationship to writing short stories.
I was reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours article. However, this exercise wasn't about putting in the hours, but learning what one knows and doesn't know, and how to get to the essence of one's craft.
Just as a writer must put pen to paper, musicians put mouth to horn, fingers to keyboard, and sticks to toms. More specifically, one must play, observe, and revise. There’s no substitute. In order to learn and progress, students and players at all levels need to be their own teachers. Your chosen musical consultant should act more as a compass than a map. They should steer you to where you’re headed, not strap you into the car and drive you there.
There are a lot of things that happen on a micro level when we play that’s difficult to articulate. Micro-actions happen that you may not even notice. And you know what? This is OK. When we walk, it would be a waste of our observation skills to notice every micro-movement of our muscles and bones. Bottom line: just get to where you’re going. Sometimes this is all you need be concerned with.
One problem with our sophisticated music education system is that we’ve grown accustomed to over-explaining things. It’s the gig. I get it! But the problem is that we’ve created a culture of aspiring musicians and artists that need to “know, NOW.” It’s great for enticing students to come to weekly lessons or pay a heathy tuition bill, but damage is done when we no longer have patience for the process. We don't want to walk our journey. We want to Uber it. This is the real tragedy of music education—especially jazz education. The classical world works differently. Students develop mostly through developing musical calisthenics, learning repertoire, and receiving coaching. These practices are essential in jazz as well. However, the true essence of jazz learning is discovery. Discovery is not something that should over-intellectualize. Which is what PhD earners paid a lot of money to learn how to do. So, of course they’re going to seize every moment.
Sometimes, you just need to play and discover things organically, and not simply listen to someone pull you along, convincing you to follow their absolute truth. The answers you seek don’t always come when you ask, but when you’re ready for them.
In the meantime..JUST PLAY!