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The disciplined study of a musical instrument is one of the most effective methods for expanding mental suppleness, promoting a healthy unity of body and mind, and training both to be constantly alert and flexible, ready to make quick choices not limited by habits, and to instantly translate novel thoughts into physical action.

All of our daily activities, with rare exceptions, tend to slide into a groove of memorised muscular sequences, which are repeated every time we perform a given action with little or no variation. We can observe this in the way we brush our teeth, soap up our body under the shower, the way we drink from a glass, cross our arms; the list is positively endless.

This is a natural human process, as the living system that we embody tends to always choose the path of least resistance. It has the advantage of helping us save mental and physical energies during our waking hours, and the downside of offering us the possibility of going through our days, and whole lives, without fully engaging our brain.


Playing a musical instrument is not immune from this risk. As soon as a decent level of proficiency is gained the temptation of falling into known patterns, of using well oiled “winning” licks or phrases, will always be there, providing either the tension necessary for growth, or the misery of stagnation. However great your repertoire of patterns and technical solutions may be, it will alway remain a vocabulary, a lexicon. Disciplined study provides us with the means for expanding that vocabulary and, because music is unique among languages in its peculiarity of not making use of symbols, the possibility of enriching and articulating its syntax are practically limitless. One method for breaking loose of self-fulfilling vicious circles consists, for example, in analysing other players’ styles, trying to “enter” into their mind, and expanding ours in the process. Another common approach is that of practicing exercises that challenge our musical habits, dealing with combinations of elements which we have never thought of, and which can initially feel awkward and uncomfortable. Both systems have the function of forcing us out of the comfort realm of things which come “natural” to us, and the inevitable consequence of expanding (to some degree) our sense of self.


Going systematically through all the possible permutations of, say, a paradiddle, or a particular scale, might not, at a first glance, appear to have much musical value. Yet it is precisely by playing each and every permutation that one conditions the body to memorise all possibilities of a given set of elements. This trains the mind to be constantly alert and capable of instantly translate into action any idea that your musical imagination might suggest - even a completely novel one.

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