Okay. I know what you are thinking. What in the world does bowling have in common with playing the horn? Well, for the most part, nothing. But as I was bowling yesterday, I realized that it is not as dissimilar as one might think, at least when it comes to mental preparedness.
I’m an avid bowler. I usually bowl four times a week. I’m in three leagues and I practice at least once a week. I hadn’t bowled in about 4 weeks because of my trip out to IHS and preparations for my daughter’s wedding. I bowled pretty badly yesterday. Probably a bit better than my first practice session with my horn after IHS, but not a whole lot better. My body was stiff, my shoulder, forearm, and hand hurt and my timing was off. My teammates were telling me to slow down, to concentrate, to watch my posture, to pay attention to the little things. Sound familiar?
Let’s look at posture first. To bowl successfully, it’s important to stand correctly, be well balanced, and hold the ball comfortably with the proper hand position. Once you find the correct stance, it’s essential to repeat it consistently or the ball won’t go where you want it to. Proper posture for the horn is also essential. Both my horn teachers have worked with me on posture (Scott Bacon spent at least a half hour on it at one of my lessons) and I don’t play as well if I’m not sitting or standing correctly because my air support suffers among other things. There’s lots of discussion on the forums about playing on the leg or off and similarly, there’s lots of discussion about where it’s best to hold the bowling ball and how many steps to take on the approach. As an aside, I have switched from playing on the leg to off the leg and my tone has improved significantly.
Concentration is a biggie. When I step up to bowl, I set my posture and then think about what I need to do. I take my time. I visualize my stroke and release. I take a deep breath and then I throw the ball. This is pretty much exactly what my horn teacher was reminding me to do at my lesson the other day. The difference being feeling the beat and singing the music in my head before playing instead of visualizing.
Practicing is another area where there are similarities. We all know that playing through pieces is not the same as practicing. When we practice we break down the difficult passages to the smallest components and slow down the tempo until we get it right. The same is true for bowling. If you’re serious about actually practicing rather than just bowling a few games, you break down the components – approach, release, specific shots – into the smallest parts and slow down until you get it right. For one of my practice sessions I shot at the seven pin 50 times in a row. Boring I know, but I nail seven pins now.
Still seem a bit farfetched? Let me propose that it’s not just practicing bowling that is similar. There are many (most?) things that we do, if we want to do them well, that require following the same conceptual methodology to achieve success. On the sports side, golf comes to mind.
Of course the analogy between horn playing and bowling stops once the ball in thrown. Although there is skill required for bowling, it is nothing compared to the skill required for horn playing. Some bowling pros may disagree with this statement but if they do, they have never seriously tried to play a musical instrument. I’ve never heard of anyone getting a PhD in bowling performance, though it is true that most pro bowlers played on competitive bowling teams in college.
Right now I’m a better bowler than I am a horn player but I hope that will change. I am much more likely to bowl a perfect 300 game (though that really is highly unlikely) than I am to perform anything without any clams. If I had to choose between the two, the horn would win hands down even though it can be a lot more frustrating. Someday I may have to choose because I am left handed and I do experience some pain in my fingers when I bowl. Obviously having a working left hand is critical to horn playing.
One of the best things about writing a blog is that I can express my opinion and not necessarily be right or wrong – I guess that’s why it’s my opinion. Some of you may disagree with this analogy about horn playing and bowling and, hence, this is why we have comments.