I just heard a strength and fitness trainer advocating “training to failure,” and I thought that was an odd thing to say. I had to hear more.
First though, you need to understand something. It should be obvious by now that I am a big fan of improvising in music, and in fact, that’s what this website is about, in part. But not just improvising out of rebellion to the composer, but in order that the music set aside for worship can be the best possible music out there. There are times when improvising isn’t the best thing to do, but in general life throws curve balls, so I think we should look at improvisation as practice for real life situations.
With that understanding as our foundation on this topic, I’d like to explore both what the Fitness Trainer said, but in terms of our musicianship, and also another saying no doubt you have heard which goes like this:
“Practice Makes Perfect!”
Hmm…But does it really?
Like so many sayings we have come to believe because we have heard them so often, which may or may not have an element of truth, this one too, could be true or false.
Let me explain:
It doesn’t take long to think up a situation where it would not be true. If you are incorrectly practicing a piece of written music, or failing to execute a technique correctly, than you won’t get it perfect (even if everything else is right except one little thing). In this all-to-common scenario, instead, practice makes pathetic, because the incorrect rote practice now becomes a habit that is very hard to break.
However, it would be true if you practiced it perfectly through and through, each time, which is what we strive for.
Let’s face it though, how many of us actually really do this? Of course we are human and will make a mistake, but many of us are also lazy, especially when it comes to worship music? I’m not sure why, but in 22+ years of playing in churches, I have witnessed the general unspoken consensus among the musicians, that, It isn’t going to be as good as the symphony, so it doesn’t REALLY matter.
That is a sad indictment, and I hope it isn’t true of you. I’m sorry to say it has been true of me at times.
I’m not sure if it is a lax attitude among laymen because we aren’t paid, so why bother, or maybe you are paid, but you feel it is not enough to practice like a pro. Or maybe it is because we feel like the people who are listening don’t care, which is a mistake in itself because our music shouldn’t be for them, it should be for our LORD.
And He deserves only the absolute very best.
But is that even possible to deliver?
That is really the crux of the matter and a question that only you can answer:
Do YOU give YOUR very best?
Do you do as good as you would if you were first chair Violinist, or a musician invited to play with the New York Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall?
And that brings me to the other thing I want to explore:
Some of us practice daily, while others are lay musicians who practice when they can. God has called each of us to different walks of life, and I get that. However, if He has called you to make music for Him, you should have some sort of a plan in place to ensure that you are giving your very best.
So how should we train?
Each of us will be inclined to one method or another, and some ways may work better for others. That’s understandable. What I want to do is encourage you, whichever course you take, is to train to failure. Not for failure, but to failure.
In other words, train until you can’t anymore. Until your muscles give out from exhaustion, Your brain can’t take it anymore, and there is nothing left to learn.
I don’t typically listen to celebrity trainers but as I said earlier, I happened across a short clip of celebrity trainer, Jeff Cavaliere, advocating “Training to Failure.” Since that seemed contrary to my thought process, I thought I would see what he had to say, and I heard this:
“Train until you reach failure in your technique, where your technique is good, but you go as hard as you can and if you have to change your tempo, that’s okay, as long as your form is still good. What you don’t want to do is change your… form in order to keep going, that would not be training to failure.”
Does that make any sense? He’s advocating training with the right technique and not letting up until you can’t go any further.
He’s not saying train so you WILL fail, but UNTIL you fail. Only then should we take a break.
This isn’t just true of athletes. I know musicians who would practice something until they got it right, and then, at that point, they would play it 100 times in a row nonstop. If they got it wrong, they would start over. And that wasn’t even for the LORD!
If we are going to bring the LORD our very best, than this kind of hardcore training is necessary to condition ourselves into the proper technique, the right notes, the perfect tempo, the exquisite dynamics, the perfect phrasing, etc.
I know that some of you won’t even know what songs you may be called on to play next. I played for many years at a church where they called out the hymns from the congregation, so I never knew what I was going to have to play. But still, I had to be ready. And you can be too. You can practice through your whole hymnbook if you are a church pianist, until you know all the hymns by heart. Words too.
I must admit here that I never learned every one of them (partly because I was lazy, and partly because we didn’t sing certain ones) but I know most of them to this day, by heart.
We can be ready for whatever we are called to at a moment’s notice, by taking the time and energy to train like an athlete. In a very real sense, this is a sacrifice of praise.
If a concert pianist would train like an athlete in preparation for a concert, why shouldn’t you or I train like an athlete in preparation for Sunday morning worship of the God of all the Universe, who gave His most prized possession to purchase us?
I’d like to know if you agree or disagree, or if you have another opinion. Please leave a comment below, and if you found this useful, share it with a friend.