Approaching Music With A Beginner’s Mind

Approaching Music With A Beginner's Mind

Have you ever felt that your practicing has become tedious or boring? Do you feel burned out on playing “the same old songs”? Have you lost your momentum or joy in your practicing?

There a solution for you.

It’s called “Beginner’s Mind”.

The well known and respected zen master, Suzuki Roshi said “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind, there are few.”

This idea is very counter intuitive for us. Doesn’t everyone want to be an expert and understand everything, and avoid being a novice?

What Suzuki Roshi was talking about has to do with one’s approach to music or anything in life. If we approach music thinking that we know everything, then the result is a limited view of what we can achieve. Our mind is conditioned to go down certain paths, the paths that we know. Over time, this becomes a burden.

For a beginner, the experience is fresh, new and full of possibilities. Think about the times when you traveled to a new country and experienced it’s essence for the first time. The food, people, language, music, scenery all filled your mind with wonder and excitement. This is having a Beginner’s mind. This mind is open to all possibilities, without judgement or preconceived ideas or ideals to measure up to.

My zen master once told me that in any given moment, the creative potential is infinite. It is only our minds, our conditioning and thinking, that limits this potentiality. She also shared that this is our birthright, not something that we need to learn in school or by formal education.

Another example can be found by observing children. Children are constantly discovering things about their world. Everything is a game. Joy and playfulness go hand and hand with learning and experimentation. If you haven’t had the chance to hangout with some young souls, it will be worth your time!

I have been teaching guitar for over 28 years. When I was younger, around 30 years old, I felt burned out on teaching. I lost the joy in it for a few months and felt strangled by teaching the same repertoire for years. Frustrated, I went to a zen master and shared my problem with her. She smiled and told me “Well, you know you haven’t taught that song to this student, in this moment, every before. Also, you will you do it again.”

These words were both liberating and sobering. The key was to realize that every moment we live is fresh and alive, if we choose it to be. All we need to do is be aware, breathe, and watch as the creativity unfolds.

After that meeting, my teaching opened up immensely. These days, teaching kids is especially rewarding for me. I watch as they show me their spontaneity and playful spirit. Interacting with them teaches me much about life and fills my heart with joy.

We can use a Beginner’s mind in serious performance as well. In fact, each time we pick up our instruments, so many aspects of music can be experimented with. Tone, phrasing, technique, repertoire, to name a few, can all become stepping stones to jump into the unknown.

Improvisation and composition can also be approached in this way. At any given moment, if we are open to it, a new phrase can pass through us, or we may hear the next part of the piece.
When performing with others, this is especially useful. We can enter a new situation free of expectations and be present to what happens. All we need to do is be patient with the process as it unfolds.

I find that daily meditation and yoga helps me access this much more quickly. For many, music is also a form of yoga and meditation that brings forth it’s own energy, if practiced daily.

I hope this inspires you to let go of what you know and be free to delve into unknown territory. Be brave and resilient and you will be rewarded many times over.

Posted in learning, music, musician, zen.

One Comment

  1. Great blog post Martin! Your Zen Master was so correct about beginners being wide open to new experiences. We all need a “beginner’s mind” so that we can have perpetual growth. But also having a mentor is equally as important. I appreciate you for not only being my son’s guitar instructor for the past 2 years, but his Zen Master as well.

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