The Lazy Musician

A little while ago, I wrote a few posts based on posts at Leo Babauta’s website, Zen Habits. His posts on simplicity and getting things done are often more directed to office workers (so it seems) and with good purpose – there’s quite a lot of them out there. Every now and then, I find a post that speaks to me, that says “Hey, musicians could really take something from this.” And when I find such a post, I tend to write about it, as I am doing now. Leo’s post “The Lazy Manifesto: Do Less. Then, Do Even Less.” has got me interested. Perhaps because I’m lazy.

Is being lazy a bad thing? No, argues Leo, giving three reasons why:

  1. Lazy means that your body and mind are tired and want to rest. That’s a sign that you should actually rest. When you ignore these signs, that leads to burnout. So rest, and feel good about it!
  2. Lazy means that you don’t want to work too hard, which often leads to figuring out how to do less work. Just about all of the advances in technology come from laziness: we drive cars instead of walking because we’re too lazy to walk, we use washing machines because we’re too lazy to do it by hand, we use computers because writing things out by hand is hard. Of course, reliance on machines isn’t a good thing, but using laziness to figure out better ways to do things is a good thing.
  3. Lazy people don’t start wars. Who wants to go through all the trouble to fight a war? Peace and friendliness is much easier.

I especially like that last one.

But a lazy musician? Does such a thing work? Is it possible to be lazy and a professional musician? Take a look at the second point: “Lazy means that you don’t want to work too hard, which often leads to figuring out how to do less work.” This can only be a good thing. If you can figure out how to achieve the same results in less time, that’s great!

Which is better? To work all day in a flurry of frenetic activity, only to get a little done, or do just a couple of things that take an hour, but those key actions lead to real achievement? Obviously, the second one, where you did less, but the time spent counted for more.

It is a bit hard to come to grips with, especially as a musician, where we often feel that in order to get the results, we need to work harder. This is not so. Do less, but do it smartly. Find the actions that produce the best results in the shortest time, and do them.

Do less scales, but make sure the scales you do are the most useful ones for you (Why practice Db melodic minor 4 octave scales, if the piece you’re working on is in C major and only spans 2 octaves?). Do less etudes, but find the etudes that will have the most effect on your preparation for pieces.

How to do less

If you want to do less in your practice, but achieve more, it’s simple to do.

1. Do Less. Well, duh. You’re doing 3 hours practice? Try and get the same results done in 2 and a half hours. Or 2 hours. Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available. If you’ve given yourself two hours to get through the same amount of work, you’re going to find ways to make it possible. You’ll probably find the exercises that are the most essential to be done. You’ll be more focused and spend less time being distracted.

2. Then Do Even Less. Once you’ve done the first step, you’re now doing less than you were before, so congratulate yourself. Celebrate by going to take a nap to recoup that energy. When you’re ready to get started again, try to do even less. See if you can get that time down even further. Imagine, getting the work you used to do in 3 hours in only 1 hour. Look for more fat to trim. Find out what’s really necessary in your practice.

That’s it. Those two steps flow into each other. Take a read of Leo’s post – might help you in other areas as well as music. And let me know what you think of this post. Are you a lazy musician? What worked for you? Are you trying to be a lazy musician? Let me know how it goes. Comment away, I’d love to hear from you.

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