What if I told you that for less than $10 and with only a few minutes a day you could improve your instrumental proficiency in a short period of time? Would you believe me? Does it sound too good to be true?
And to set the record straight ...
- It's not the total solution to all your problems.
- It will not magically make a master improviser out of you.
- It will not get you a multi-million recording deal.
- It will not guarantee you a stream of successive top-10 releases.
No such thing - but I do want to share this simple, fun way that helped me personally improve. I'm talking about juggling.
Sorry for the low resolution example. That clip is more than 8 years old, but the juggling in it is just insane.
Juggling? What's juggling got to do with improving on your instrument? That's not a music related activity - so what's the point?
Well, think about it...
In order to keep the balls/clubs/rings in the air you have to keep a steady rhythm, or everything falls apart. Kind of like in music, you know.
You need to coordinate your left and right hand action. So unless you are a singer (when this might not be as important to you, as for most other instrumentalists) I think you are interested in improving your sense of coordination.
3) Improved Peripheral Vision
Juggling can increase your peripheral sense of vision. This can come in handy for chart reading or, the way I noticed on myself, when (finally) seeing a piano spread voicing as a unit instead of a mental split-image of left and right hand parts.
I can't emphasize the benefits of this enough. If your field of vision is good already, then that's great. If not, you should definitely give juggling a try. In case this fun activity adds a few degrees to your field of vision it'd be totally worth it.
You need to stay focused. You can't look somewhere else or forget to move your hands in order to catch the next ball. Therefore it helps you develop concentration.
However, and that's a biggie ...
5) The Flow State
It's not a tiring kind of focus and concentration. Rather, it's relaxing and fosters that sought-after Flow state that has been described in Cszikszentmihalyi's seminal work on Flow.
Juggling, in my experience, is one of the easiest practices to experience that elusive flow state.
- There's a defined, clear objective - keep the balls in the air.
- You know what you are supposed to do - use your hands in the recommended manner and pattern.
- You know when you are winning - the balls stay in the air.
- You can easily see and measure progress - even if you can't perfectly do the cascade (yet), you know quickly whether what you are doing is a step in the right direction or not.
- There's enough variety to put yourself in that flow-inducing window of difficulty.
See, if the challenge is too overwhelming, it's easy to get frustrated and as a result, you give up and quit. If something is too easy and there's not enough challenge involved, things get boring rather quickly and you quit.
However, dangle the carrot in front of you at the right distance, so you have the feeling it's in your reach and that within the next few tries you'll get it, and you'll continue.
This model of flow and the realization of how to tweak it (let's say during your practice sessions) for optimal results, is a topic for itself - one that I do intend to cover in more depth in the future.
For now, I hopefully convinced you enough to at least give juggling a try.
What Are The Next Steps?
Get some juggling balls. You could start with tennisballs, however it gets tiring rather quickly to spend your time chasing the balls after you've dropped them. And drop them at first you will, young Padawan.
Again, the transparency disclaimer: if you purchase via my links, Amazon will pay me a commission at no extra cost to you. You'll get juggling balls that I personally use (without issues, they fulfill their purpose with more than decent quality) and can recommend with a clear conscience. And the few cents I'll receive in affiliate payouts help off-set the hosting costs of this site. So, thanks in advance for your support.
Learn The Cascade And Other Common Patterns
Here's a great tutorial that explains all the steps to master the basic cascade pattern.
And once you have the basic cascade down, you can learn some extra patterns and add to your juggling repertoire.
Warning - Don't Confuse Your Priorities! 🙂
Don't juggle all the time, you still need to practice on your instrument. But do create those little pockets of juggling time. Simply use your downtime or breaks. For instance, when I boot up my PC, I juggle a bit. Even if it's only 30 seconds. After a practice session I juggle some more. It helps to relax and get my mind clear for the next practice session.
Give it a try, and please keep me updated about your juggling progress. And especially, if you noticed any benefits that ported over to other areas of your life.