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Matt Roberts' Music Blog

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jazz Mind, Beginners Mind

(This is actually something I posted to my Facebook page a while ago, but I thought I'd re-post it here, since it seems relevant.)

Lately I was re-reading a chapter from one of my favorite books, "Zen Mind Beginner's Mind", by Shunryu Suzuki, and I was stuck by it in a new way - I saw how it relates to my music practise. When I first started learning the double bass, I felt I had virtually no skill and everything to learn. Although this was very stressful for me, I practised hard and eventually saw some dramatic improvements. I didn't become a virtuoso, but in a two or three years I went from having a poor sense of time and being virtually tone-deaf to having a reasonable concept on the instrument. Since then, however, I think I have seen a gradual reduction in my rate of improvement. I've been practising the same things for years now and not improving so dramatically. When I first started, everything seemed extremely hard to me. Now I tend to practice things that seem fairly easy to me, with the hope of perfecting them. However, if I was really aiming for perfection, then they I would still regard them as hard, because perfection is very hard to obtain! I think this subtle difference in attitude, together with simply less hours put into practicing due to a lessened sense of urgency (the threat of getting kicked out of Grant MacEwan College for failing my technical jury no longer looms over my head), may be responsible for the diminishing returns I've been experiencing. Basically what I am saying is I think every time I practise it should seem "hard" to me, whether that is because it is something new which I actually can not execute presentably, or because it is something I am aiming to master perfectly. I want to feel like a beginner every time I pick up the bass. But that's kind of a tricky thing, isn't it?

Here an excerpt from the original lecture, which was given after a meditation session. I see further implications for music, beyond just technique, into creativity as well. I would highly recommend buying the book, it contains many other fascinating insights into life and art. You have to excuse his broken english - it isn't his first language.

"We say, "Sho shin." "Sho shin" means "Beginner's mind." If we can keep beginner's mind always, that is the goal of our practice. We recited Prajna Paramita Sutra this morning only once. I think we recited very well, but what will happen to us if we recite twice, three times, four time, and more? Then we will easily lose our attitude in reciting -- original attitude in reciting -- the sutra. Same thing will happen to us. For awhile we will keep our beginner's mind in your Zen practice but if we continue to practice one year, two years, three years, or more, we will have some improvement, and we will lose the limitless meaning of the original mind. In beginner's mind we have many possibilities, but in expert mind there is not much possibility. So in our practice it is important to resume to our original mind, or inmost mind, which we, ourselves -- even we, ourselves do not know what it is. This is the most important thing for us. The founder of our school emphasized this point. We have to remain always beginner's mind. This is the secret of Zen, and secret of various practices -- practice of flower arrangement, practice of Japanese singing, and various art. If we keep our beginner's mind we keep our precepts. When we lose our beginner's mind we will lose all the precepts."

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