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The Art and Science of Jazz

The Student Performer Cycle

By Published: October 20, 2010
The Four Factors of Students and Performers

The four contributing factors which deserve special consideration are:
  • Hands
  • Mind
  • Soul
  • Ear

The Hands refers to the physical aspect of playing. It can be the hands themselves, the embouchure, the voice, etc. Physical coordination, synchronization or control is stressed in this area. Since it is a purely physical factor, we can identify it with the technique of playing. Some would consider it to be the easiest factor to develop though in most cases this would be the musician who had above average natural coordination in the first place.

The Mind refers to the comprehension factor in music. Understanding a musical principle intellectually is not particularly difficult. It is naturally more difficult to apply or master the same principle. Music is often made overly complex from an intellectual point of view. I think that this is often done so that the subject of music seems as complicated as the subject of calculus for example. Perhaps this attitude stems from the ego of music teachers striving for a type of equality with teachers in other disciplines. In any case, music is fundamentally an art form and though it does have its theoretical or analytical side, I do not feel that this aspect of it should be stressed to the detriment of its other important aspects.

The Soul refers to the creative urge or capacity. It certainly is not limited to composing music. It can manifest itself in improvisation, interpretation of a theme or in a multitude of other ways. The touch, the sound, the ability to express one's emotions to others are indicators that this capacity exists in the musician at one level or another.

The Ear refers to the aural capacity in the musician. We differentiate here between simple listening and hearing which is a very personal and involved relationship. Obviously to "hear" in this context goes beyond the physical ability of hearing. The "hearing ear" must be able to recognize, identify and categorize the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic factors of music. Instrumental virtuosity, i.e. technical brilliance, should not properly be called virtuosity without a well developed and sensitive ear. Most musicians can relate to the fact that there are players with well developed technique whose agility and coordination are exceedingly above average but whose music seems empty and purposeless. What they are describing is an instrumentalist, perhaps an outstanding instrumentalist, but is he a "musician"? These questions have launched countless debates but the subject is at the very least intriguing to consider.

The musician must be a rather complex human being and that he is. He is also a simple human being. This quality causes trouble for the musician himself and then, of course, for those who are in contact with him. In order to sort out this complexity, we will attempt to order the four factors of a musician's dual role of student and performer. Perhaps this ordering process will be of assistance in maintaining a musician's individual identity as a musician in the face of his seemingly conflicting roles.

The Student: Mind—Hands—Ear—Soul

To begin, a student must understand, at least grasp an idea, a concept or a technique. Without this step, the resulting confusion produces non accomplishment and probably frustration. The hands have no trouble "understanding" the orders of the mind but they may have difficulty responding to them. This inevitability is a physical coordination or response problem and is easily solved by the many technical exercises designed to overcome such difficulties. Up to this point, the ear has not really been involved. It is incapable of hearing or identifying a music principle or sound with which it has had no experience. Thus, the ear must wait for the hands' response to the mind's commands. Once played, the principle becomes sound and at this point, the ear hears, grasps and hopefully retains it. As sounds and principles begin to build cumulatively, the student's awareness of the possibilities of music begins to unfold. This discovery of unfolding potential in music and in the student himself is exciting and one of the greatest rewards of the student role.

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