Before FiddleHed took over my life in the best possible way, I was studying piano and learning from a book called Re-introduction Etudes by Chilly Gonzales. It’s a great book with lots of insight into how music works along with pieces to learn and practice.
Usually at the top of a classical music piece there is some instruction for tempo and feel, like “Largo” (like, way way slow or something dude) or Allegro non ma troppo (meaning fast but not too fast; kind of like getting a psychic reading, “You’re an extrovert, yet you have an introverted side…”) In Re-introduction Etudes the instructions are in English and contain more visual cues and poetic jokes:
Slower than one would imagine
Credits for a French movie
Reaching for something you’ll never get
Brisk, while still wringing the pain out of it
Religious while skeptical
The one that stayed with me was “Just play it”. This simple phrase has helped me enormously when playing, especially when performing. It reminds me to not get to caught up in how the music should be or how you are being perceived and to just make it sound good. As a fiddler, I have a tendency to want to overplay or tweak and vary things a little too much. It’s like another expression I picked up in Ireland: Play it clear.
Just play it means do the perfect thing for the song. It’s more about the music than you, which is a completely liberating experience. Probably the best moments in my musical career (and life) are when I feel like I’m just an agent for channeling the music, when I feel like a radio picking up signals in the air. These moments are rare but they are what keep me coming back to practice and playing year after year.
And so at the risk of sounding like a hippie, I’ll say that this little mantra is a way of seeing music as a spiritual practice. It’s a reminder to pay attention to the present moment and see how all things are interdependent.
I guess it’s similar to “Just do it”, except that “Just play it” is not currently owned by a multinational corporation. So you’re free to use it any time you like without supporting “The Man”! Ha ha. But I’m wearing Air Jordans right now.