Just like tying my shoes

I like to use shoe tying in my teaching, as an example of what regular practicing—even just a few minutes every day—can and should accomplish.

Playing a woodwind instrument involves a number of complex physical actions: coordinated finger movements, a delicately balanced embouchure, well-timed breathing, and more. And musicians mostly need to execute these physical elements without a lot of thought, so that they can mentally focus on things like expression and communication. The way to do this is to practice the physical stuff regularly and consistently, so that it happens automatically.

Like most people, I think, as a small child I found shoe tying to be a complicated proposition. It’s a sophisticated task for little fingers. But once I got the technique worked out, I just did it every day, day in and day out, until I didn’t need to think about it anymore.

Or so I thought.

Imagine my dismay when I discovered, just this morning, that I have been doing it wrong all my life.

Yes, I am the poor sap in the video who has been unwittingly tying the apparently much-inferior “granny” knot for more than 25 years.

So what does this mean for my practicing analogy?

Perhaps that it’s not enough just to drill my basic skills every day—I need to make them better than they were yesterday.

  • Can I move even one finger more smoothly, quickly, evenly, or efficiently?
  • Can I make my articulations more crisp, fluent, and poised?
  • Can I get fuller, deeper, more relaxed breaths, and make them go farther?
  • Can I further internalize and refine my sense of pitch and pulse?
  • Can I find any excess tension anywhere in my body, and release it?
  • Can I focus more? Tune out one more distracting thought?

Oh, and I suggest you check your shoes.


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