I am glad that this has come up as the very first question on this forum…
Unless you are born in a musicians’ family, you really do not know what and how much you have to go through, to become a performing musician. I myself have said a few times that I completely underestimated the effort and time required ( and still working at it!).
I think the process can be broadly divided into three basic stages:
· Stage I : The How Stage.
This is the beginning part. The focus is on producing a good sound out of the flute. You also learn to play all the swaras to a reasonable level of accuracy. Then you go on to play various alankars in Laya. The tempo should always be just so that clarity is maintained. Speed should never be the aim at the expense of clarity.
In short, the focus of this stage would be on developing the playing skills and dexterity.
During this stage, I strongly feel that you should also try and play popular songs, as many as you can. This will help develop the sense of melody, and will ease the process of connecting the notes.
· Stage II: The What Stage
This, I think is the most difficult phase. You can now play the flute reasonably well, but do not know what to play.
You are getting more and more acquainted with the concepts of the raga and tala, and are able to play a few bandishes. How to expand and develop on the bandish using various musical material ( like alaap, taan etc.) is what you are learning during this stage.
What is really required is to internalize the structures of the raga and tala, wherein you get these into your subconscious. So you do not deviate from the structure of the raga, and are also able to comfortably catch the mukhada and arrive on the sama.
You are now able to present a raga through both Vilambit and Madhya/drut bandishes, and are able to give a reasonable level of performance.
· Stage III: The Why Stage
The aesthetics, or the core of any art form, is a different matter however, and develops as you start finding the answers to the “why” question. Only then you can begin to form your own aesthetic sense, and aspire to make every single moment of the presentation meaningful. This is the stage where you graduate from just being comfortable in your presentation, to the ability of trying and making it beautiful.
These stages of course are not discrete and exclusive, but there would be overlaps, and you would keep going back and forth, consolidating your own concepts, and honing your skills to finer and finer levels.
As you go along, you also start realizing that just “understanding” something, and being able to do it beautifully on the flute, are two different things, and there is a huge gap between these. Riyaz is the process of bridging this gap, and this process happens at a much slower pace than you would expect when you begin.
Lastly and most importantly, you need to be lucky to find a guru who guides you through the whole journey.