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Music is a powerful method of communication. With any type of speech, a person may feel the urge to censor the self. And yet, it is this musical suppression that forms a chasm between sounds heard near the soul and those felt distant.
Now, there is even <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2008-03-04-musician-brain-scans_N.htm">brain imaging research</a> to back up the notion: improvisation is a story of the self told in music without self-censorship.
<td><i>"In jazz music, improvisation is considered to be a highly individual expression of an artist's own musical viewpoint. ... one could argue that improvisation is a way of expressing one's own musical voice or story."</i>
- <a href="http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0001679">Limb and Braun</a>
An improvisation may be described as an effortless meditation of self in sound, as noted by the occasional stumbling into an improv state and "being in the zone." It is often signified by a subsequent nearly universal statement, "hey, that was cool."
After a series of sounds and a feeling that one somehow <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yesterday_%28song%29#_note-y_songs">had little to do with it</a>, at least consciously, it would seem natural to question the purpose of practice. If there are these moments where wonderful melodies emerge with little conscious effort, why practice?
Fundamentally, practice is the learning of a language in order to speak in one's own unique voice. Even the practice of scales and theory can be a method of understanding the communicative abilities of sound. As the language is learned, the ability to reach those golden moments becomes more readily attained.
Where we see errors in practice is in the neglect of the latter half of the phrase - i.e. practice is a path towards speakng one's own voice. After all, we have all seen those with a grasp of only small parts of a language who still say beautiful things and those with near perfect diction with little to say.
Practice is more than mere mechanics. One gains understanding of not only the instrument, but also of one's anxieties and fears in order to navigate the instrument's channel between self and audience. It is an understanding of the differences in the origins of anxiety's chill winds from those of silent mirrored waters ideal for traversing the mind's oceans.
Such a grasp of the mental climates requires several fundamental aspects of practice: presence, observation, and time. Whatever the point of focus in the language, be it chords, melody, song, rhythm, or an exercise made up entirely in one's own style (my personal favorite), the musician must be present at the point of practice, observing with focused attention, and patient in the time it takes for natural growth to occur. These are the very same components found in a <a href="http://kouroshdini.com/2008/01/21/what-is-meditation-and-why-is-it-useful/">meditation</a>.
It is along these lines, that practice shapes a goal of presenting good music. It is true that beautiful meanings can often still filter through broken speech. But a higher fidelity of soul is always nice to hear.
Practice is learning the art of allowing the self to present without conflict, censorship, fear, or desire. In so much as these aspects of self are filtered from the sound, what we hear, both as audience and as artist, becomes more pure, beautiful, and true.
See also previous posts on the subject:
<li><a href="http://kouroshdini.com/2006/03/27/some-thoughts-on-improvisation-as-self-analysis/">Improvisation as Self-Analysis</a></li>
<li><a href="http://kouroshdini.com/2006/09/24/why-write-music/">Why Write Music?</a></li>
Special thanks to Lucy Tornado for sending the article <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2008-03-04-musician-brain-scans_N.htm">"Brain scans tune in to personal nature of improvising music"</a>.
<a href="http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0001679">Limb CJ, Braun AR (2008) "Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical Performance: An fMRI Study of Jazz Improvisation." <i>PLoS ONE</i> 3(2): e1679 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001679</a>
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