An a/r/tographer’s perspective on practice
By Peter Gouzouasis
Whenever I hear or read the word ‘practice’ I think of the infamous Allen Iverson rant from 2001.
“If I can’t practice, I can’t practice man. If I’m hurt, I’m hurt. I mean … simple as that. It ain’t about that … I mean it’s … It’s not about that … At all. You know what I’m saying I mean… But it’s…it’s easy … to, to talk about… It’s easy to sum it up when you’re just talking about practice. We’re sitting in here, and I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we in here talking about practice. I mean, listen, we’re talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about practice. Not a game. Not, not … Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last. Not the game, but we’re talking about practice, man. I mean, how silly is that? … And we talking about practice. I know I supposed to be there. I know I’m supposed to lead by example… I know that … And I’m not … I’m not shoving it aside, you know, like it don’t mean anything. I know it’s important, I do. I honestly do… But we’re talking about practice man. What are we talking about? Practice? We’re talking about practice, man. [laughter from the media crowd] We’re talking about practice. We’re talking about practice. We ain’t talking about the game. [more laughter] We’re talking about practice, man. When you come to the arena, and you see me play, you see me play don’t you? You’ve seen me give everything I’ve got, right? But we’re talking about practice right now.”
All kidding aside, the term ‘practice’ means different things to different people, in different professions.
I started playing guitar at age 8. I didn’t ‘practice’ the guitar much from age 8-12. I was mostly interested in baseball and playing outdoors with friends. In fact, I recall a glorious summer morning when I was waiting for my old guitar teacher, Mr. Shumsky, to come to our house for my weekly lesson when we received a phone call that he’d suddenly passed away the day before. “Woo hoo, I can go play ball with my friends!” was my typical 10 year old reaction.
Mr. Shumsky was a patient man. His older brother was a world famous violinist, but he was merely a ‘jack of all trades’ when it came to musical instruments – he played guitar, mandolin, tenor banjo, violin, cello, and mandola. A confirmed bachelor, he lived at the YMCA in center city, and always wore a nice cleanly pressed wool suit, crisp white shirt, and tie. A week after he passed my mother saw the obituary in the newspaper – he’d left close to $200,000 to the American Cancer Society.
I recall that we’d always have fun lessons. He’d take the time to review exactly how I was to approach and go though his prescribed music readings, songs, and chord progressions. It was from him I learned that it was important to engage a child with playing music to develop a deep, sustainable love of music making. Without ever saying anything about my habits, he knew I’d rarely practice more than 20 minutes a day, and sometimes I’d be more interested in making feedback sounds with my electric guitar and old tube (valve) amplifier than in learning to play “Home on the range.” But somehow, I was always prepared to play my lesson and take my learning to the next level.
Even in my early teens, when I started to play guitar two to three hours a day, I never thought of play as practice. Learning to transcribe songs while playing drop the needle with LPs on my small turntable was sometimes arduous. But the rewards of learning a new song to play at a weekend coffeehouse or house party were plentiful.
Playing didn’t become practice – in the tedious, repetitive sense of playing scales and arpeggios over and over to reach technical perfection – until I started studying music at age 15. It was then I received my first book of classical guitar etudes by Fernando Sor, which built upon the techniques gleaned from scales and arpeggios, and went about the demanding task of learning to play like my new found idols, Andres Segovia and John Williams. And of course, by the time I auditioned for university and I began the ‘serious study’ of music, I was practicing 4-6 hours a day – the monotony of repeating the same passages of music, over and over, until my fingers and mind could perform at perfection and from memory.
In consideration, perhaps playing music – making music, musicking – should be equated with praxis, not practice.