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The Student Performer Cycle

Chuck Anderson By

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Every musician is at once a student and a performer. In each role, the musician explores and hopefully expands. The efficiency of progress for the student often suffers because of his inability to clearly see the differences between his own roles as student and performer.

The attitude of the student must essentially be one of humility and patience. The work usually centers on the difficulties of developing one's technical capabilities and one's unique musical personality. Focusing on weaknesses rather than strengths is often difficult for the ego to accept. Most musicians prefer to hear themselves at their best and practice per se is certainly not their best. Stumbling over fingerings, rhythms and new ideas is not particularly inspiring. This difficulty, if considered in the proper perspective, can be exciting since the search inevitably leads to progress. However, a time gap is always present. That gap, filled with doubts and frustrations, is a critical point in anyone's awareness and evaluation of himself.

Feelings of non-progress or even regression are so common that they can be considered virtually universal. Continuing to work and strive forward during this period is often painful.The student destined to succeed seems to know, intuitively perhaps, that endurance and determination are necessary to help him through these periods and feelings.

Ego, so disruptive to meaningful student-teacher relationships also has a destructive effect on the student-performer relationship. The performer feeds on ego. This ego is not conceit but the projection of the uniqueness of oneself to others. Since ego is critical to the performer and the performer is at the same time a student, the ego must learn to function on different levels. It must accomplish this by neither exaggerating nor depressing the ego. The fact of one's concern for and with oneself must be accepted and used to benefit the two distinct but forever interwoven personalities that is the essence of a musician.

The student works on a level of conscious awareness and concern for progress. Often this occurs in a disciplined manner. The discipline is not always easy to perceive but it is usually there is some form. The progress can occur in many areas and on many levels. It may be technical, aural, creative or any number of other possibilities. In most cases multiple areas are affected simultaneously.

Typically, the student has some type of accomplishment goal in mind. It can be measured in quantity, depth or subject matter. In contrast to this approach, the performer typically has no predetermined accomplishment goals in his conscious mind as he performs. The performer's intent is to express. The expression itself can be of one's emotions, ego, personality or physical capacity. The conscious mind is not in control of the performer while performing. It is as if he is directed or guided by a force. It is a force difficult to define or describe but it nevertheless moves and motivates the performer to perform. Much of the mystique of music performance comes from this force. The force itself is so strong, so attractive, that it is often the single most important factor in the drawing power of live music performance. The force driving the student as a student is nowhere near as strong nor as appealing. Thus, playing or performing has infinitely greater appeal than practicing.

Every teacher is familiar with the dilemma concerning playing and practicing. Questions like "how long will it take to get good!" are so predictable as to be humorous. Confusion about the means as a contributing factor toward the accomplishment of the end is a typical dilemma to many students. Practice as a means and performance as an end is not difficult to accept and even believe from the standpoint of the intellect or logic. However, as so often happens, logic is not the determining factor in many situations involving music. The desire to succeed in as short a time as possible has been instilled in many by the very culture in which they find themselves. Something for nothing and short cut attitudes surround everyone in daily life. It is little wonder that it affects musicians. Since a musician is striving so hard to develop his own sensitivities, these difficulties probably affect him more severely than many others in the same culture. The musician must see the performer in himself as a student and the student in himself as a performer.

This paradox becomes easier to accept by considering four critical factors of music that are in common between the performer and the student. It will be seen that it is not the factors themselves that allow the differentiation to be clear but rather it is the role of each factor as a prime mover of the other factors. This ordered approach can be helpful to a musician's understanding of his seemingly contradictory roles. This comprehension in turn should allow the musician to function more comfortably in his role as a student-performer and musician.


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