Practicing scales is a daily discipline for a musician because playing scales, the basic building blocks of music, maintains his or her level of technical mastery. For an aspiring musician, practicing scales is how you develop musical facility in your brain, fingers, embouchure (the placement of your mouth on the instrument) and ears. It takes a long time to master a musical instrument (including the human voice), requiring many years of daily practice and a great deal of patience and perseverance.
The same can be said about most things in life. It takes time to build up good habits, to build a new business, to develop a career, to develop spiritual muscles. We need to remember that patience toward ourselves and perseverance are necessary traits as we seek to achieve mastery in our lives.
I recently started practicing the piano again after a twenty-five year hiatus. My church’s beloved professional accompanist suddenly passed away before Christmas, and, for lack of anyone better, I am now the interim accompanist at my church services for the next several weeks. Over the holidays, it became painfully clear that I needed to start practicing in order to NOT embarrass myself. So I am practicing again, starting with scales and other agility exercises. In college, I was a music major who performed first on piano and then on viola, so I am fortunate that my fingers and brain used to know what to do. I assure you that both my fingers and my brain have forgotten almost everything, and it is very humbling to attempt to build up muscles and memory again after so many years.
As we begin a new year with all its resolutions, I am aware of the special meaning that practicing scales holds for me and for you. You must remember that new year’s resolutions are nothing without perseverance to the task and patience toward yourself. You must practice scales before you can play Chopin or Beethoven - there is no shortcut! In other words, Rome was not built in a day - rather, a little work was done each day to ultimately create the magnificent city. That means that you must do your homework, your preparation, your daily lessons, your meditation or prayers before you can achieve mastery. It means that you will build a new business client by client, you will write your new book paragraph by paragraph, you will find a new job by re-writing your resume and finding interviews. Practicing scales enables us to achieve our dreams.
I am not saying that achieving mastery needs to be hard. Indeed, it should be joyful! As a youngster, I loved to practice because it gave me joy and a sense of accomplishment to be able to play an exquisite piece of music. I didn’t love practicing scales, but I loved the end result - my musical expression of beauty.
May you prepare for creating beauty in your life - however you define that - by practicing scales.