About Me

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Harrisonburg, Virginia, United States
Professor of Saxophone, James Madison University

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Lessons from the pool hall (how to be mediocre forever)

It's a dream come true.  I own a pool table.  In fact, I've owned it for years.  I've made it!  But man, I am no pool player.  I own a pool table, but I stink up the room.  Why?

I don't get to use the pool table nearly as often as I would like, but when my son wants to play, or when I have friends over, we rack 'em up!  Awesome.  The problem is that we just play.  It is absolutely fun, but I really haven't improved my game much.  All play and no work makes for a nice hobby, but not a profession.  Maybe this isn't even a hobby, but just a social activity, or a time-killer.

A few summers ago, I got exceptionally motivated to learn how to take a target ball that is against the rail, to hit the cue ball beside it with some inside spin, and to push the target ball sideways into the corner pocket.  I watched some clips on the internet, made some notes, and lined up balls around all the corners.  I took the shot over and over again, learning to cut the angle closer to the target ball, compensating for deflection. I practiced this shot, again and again, for weeks.  No surprise, I have become quite good at this particular shot.  I practiced it.

I love to play, whether it's Bach or a good game of nine ball.  Play is important, but we can't expect any amount of play to ever equal real practice.  We make decisions about how hard we are willing to work, and how much skill we need to enjoy an activity.  If you intend to make a living as a musician (or a pool player), you will need those 10,000 hours of skill building before you can return to the joy of playing.  This is the secret of the virtuoso, and the way the seemingly impossible is made to appear easy, and even fun.

1 comment:

  1. note to self: don't leave pope a shot behind a ball on the rail. :)