Friday, July 17, 2009

Q & A #3: Saxophone playing and life-long learning

Writes "ten man" in Sax on the Web Forum:

Old people don't have to think ... cuz they don't NEED to
... and because it hurts.

considering this "thinking" thing again, ... I'd like to ask a question, but let me explain 1st...

I've worked In my field (electronic Industry) about 27yrs. when younger, I was ambitious to learn and and acquire knowledge. old folks used to annoy me because they seemed to be mentally stagnant and not concerned - even resistant to learn. now that I'm reaching Into my middle ages, I'm starting to understand the complexity of the reasons behind such attitude and behavior.

I saw a tv special about the brain, and it mentioned that babies have gobs of [brain connections], but many of those are lost as the baby grows, leaving and strengthening only the ones that are used. It mentioned how things slow down In the aged, but mentioned the brain's capability to use the channels it has formed for other uses If trained/forced (given time).

I am not so enthusiastic about my career field anymore. I don't meet many *mature* follks that are. when I have to learn new stuff, my brain (and body) gets noticeably tired faster. however, I can use what I already know very proficiently and competitively - better than the younger folks.

there was a story about a guy that was blind since his youth, then got his sight back at around 40ish. wasn't that simple. he talked about how just being able to see doesn't mean you know what, how to comprehend, or how to respond to what you're seeing. his brain had not been trained to do such. he still used a stick to walk - he couldn't comprehend depth preception by sight (yet). he said the learning was slow and difficult (but he was glad).

also, the brain doesn't have to take time to think about what it already knows, allowing use of such knowledge with little or no effort andd allowing energy/time to use other thought process (or none).

QUESTION: how do you feel about learning new playing skills versus just playing? are you excited about music? how old are you and how long have you been playing? Is it a paying carrier for you? and ... when improvising, how do you think/feel?
 Harri answers: This is a good topic, albeit quite a broad one.

I'd like to approach it from the viewing angle of my personal experiences.

I was in my mid-40s when I first time received individual training in saxophone playing. It was during a 10-day summer music camp, perhaps 30 minutes a day. When I went there next summer, the sax teacher remembered me and said: "It is amazing that one is able to advance at your age." I know he meant well, I am still a good friend with him. But first I felt kind of hurt, I was still under fifty and felt that I still can conquer the whole world.

Many community bands and big bands in which I have played since then have a lot of the players close to retirement age and above above it. It is amusing, and sometimes sad to observe fellow players in amateur band rehearsals. When the conductor is instructing one section, the players in other sections are having idle talk at the same time. Instead they could have been listening the wisdom coming from the mouth of a paid professional, because they are bound phase the same issue later on.

Of cause there are individual differences. Some players feel that they know already everything worthwhile of knowing whereas some others (minority) are open for new ideas. Perhaps the educational background has something to do with this. People who had to participate in "life long learning" in order to cope in their working lives, may have more aptitude for learning more.

That's by two-bits for the moment. 
I'm 58 and my experience with learning may be the opposite of ten man, if I understand what he said. I'm far more motivated to learn and meet challenges now than when I was in my early '20s. Back then I did go to University and earn a Masters degree in geology, etc, etc, but a lot of the time I was 'going through the motions' of learning rather than fully engaged in it. And more interested in, shall we say, extracurricular, less productive activities. Nowadays I find everything more interesting than I did then.

Regarding music, I'm more motivated now than previously, maybe because I have seen some results. I can't say I'm making a career out of music, but I do paying gigs regularly. Do I think when improvising? Sometimes, but probably my best playing is 'beyond thinking' and more intuitive. The thinking goes on more during practice sessions. When I show up for the gig, I just play.

Whether my brain works any better now than when I was younger, I don't know. But I do think the more you use it, the better. There have been studies that show the brain is highly adaptable and new pathways can be forged well into old age. I suspect it's a "use it or lose it" type of thing. And that might be a good argument for continuing to learn and play music right up to the end...

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