I’m not a control freak when it comes to people, but I do see the very important role that control plays when it comes to a musical instrument. Hours upon hours of practice drill into our heads the fact that the more precise we can be, the better will be our playing. That’s just common sense, but it’s so easy to let these small details slide and get sloppy if we don’t watch it.
On the other hand, I think of early blues musicians like Blind Willie McTell, Furry Lewis and Muddy Waters. These were musicians who had feeling and soul; borne out of hard Mississippi Delta times. They were not primarily about precision and clean playing. They were from a different time and social environment; still, plenty of soul more than makes up for a lack of high-speed precision in most anyone’s thinking.
Then again, I’m thinking at the moment about bluegrass banjos here, the predominant emphasis being on speed and precision. We can learn lessons from old-time, folk, blues and elsewhere, as we always have. We just have to keep a good balance and not fall off on either side.
So then, we practice to refine our technical skills and at the same time, we bear in mind that these techniques are refined in order to better serve the more general artistic needs of music. That’s one aspect of music that is so thrilling; to be able to blend something highly skilled and physically technical with the artistic vision in our minds, yielding something that is so satisfying to both the left (technical) and right (artistic) sides of our brains – a song.
Next time we’ll get back to specifics of using control to improve our technical capabilities. We’ll start looking at specific techniques and how to best think about and train with them.