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Thread: Training the Mind

  1. #1

    Default Training the Mind

    Hey everyone,

    I'm having three different mental problems:

    1. Thinking
    I'll be going on just fine, following the music and as soon as I have a specific thought I make a mistake. Particularly after a successful difficult part and I say to myself "that was great!" or "I'm playing well" or "almost finished with this section," then I'll mess up an easy part.

    2. Focus lapse
    I'm doing some repetitive chop chord sequence and my mind wanders and I mess up something easy. Or I'm playing something I've memorized and played dozens and dozens of times and then I'll forget whether a sequence is 4-5 or 5-4 and it becomes a guess.

    3. Duet playing
    I can play something by myself. I can play it in a group. But playing with 1-2 other people is difficult, whether it's a friend or an instructor. Sometimes they must wonder if I even practice, the day after I nailed it practicing by myself.

    What is your frame of mind while practicing, playing with friends for fun, or performing for an audience?

    Being in the zone kind of implies playing at the top of your skill level, but are you aiming for that mindset 100% of the time, even while practicing? Do you have different mindsets for different situations? How do you quiet your mind when you're no longer having to think about physical finger placement as much (they seem to just know where to go)?

    Are there mental approaches or resources you use to develop the mental side of playing?

    It feels like I'm at a transition point where the mind is limiting the actual skills...I find it amazing that anyone can play hundreds of notes in a row with no mistakes, let alone improvise hundreds of notes in a row with no unintended dissonance.

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  3. #2

    Default Re: Training the Mind

    I'll comment on the third item, playing with others. I was rather nervous about performing with others but it turned out just a matter of getting used to it. With some experience I would typically find just the opposite, that we would all merge with the music and I would, in the moment, do things I didn't even know I could do. I sometimes seem as if I have left my body and am looking down at myself playing.

    I guess this relates to your other points as well. The sub-conscious is vastly more powerful than the conscious and thinking slows you down too much in a real time uncontrolled situation. As baseball hitters say, "see the ball, hit the ball." Practice is all about getting enough reps to allow your subconscious to take over.

  4. #3
    Registered User Zac Hilbert's Avatar
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    Default Re: Training the Mind

    I think the thing to keep in mind is that when you practice, you are practicing more than apparent skill or task at hand. In addition to practicing technique, you are also practicing training your mind to overcome the issues you raise above. So my advise would be, now that you have identified areas for improvement, find ways to practice that help improve those areas. It's not a far step from identify, for example, a melodic or rhythmic fragment that you have trouble with, and using whatever practicing techniques are necessary to improve that fragment (e.g. slowing down, lots of repetition, reevaluating your left hand/right hand approach, etc.) So I guess, you probably just need to practice focus/attention/nerves just as you would practice timing/tone/accuracy/etc. Perhaps spending some time visualization your playing with out holding your instrument might help.

    One other thought is that lapses in focus could be a symptom of fatigue; take breaks and stay fresh. Focus can also be interrupted by distractions. I know some players are very keen on using meditation to clear their heads before practicing/performer. This might help.
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    Registered User flatpicknut's Avatar
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    Default Re: Training the Mind

    Quote Originally Posted by mandokismet View Post
    I find it amazing that anyone can play hundreds of notes in a row with no mistakes, let alone improvise hundreds of notes in a row with no unintended dissonance.
    You'd probably be surprised at how common it is for folks to make mistakes in memorized performances as well as in improvised performances. I've read too many interviews in which world-class musicians talk about either fixing the clunkers after the original recording OR insisting on keeping the klunkers in the performance. In either case, the biggest issue is to maintain one's poise and continue on.

    A lot of improvised performance is actually quite forgiving for mistakes, as there tends to be a lot of intentional dissonance moving to consonance. As long as you stay cool and move your mistake in a general path back to the "right" note, it can sound perfectly fine, even inspired!
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  6. #5

    Default Re: Training the Mind

    I am in a similar place, and I think it comes down to a couple of things. Listening and muscle memory. While I do think being in a specific frame of mind helps, I can't imagine that is what the issue is. I have asked myself similar questions, how in the world can some people know hundreds of tunes and play so much without making mistakes. Can they simply put themselves in this state day after day, night after night, gig after gig, seemingly on demand? I have come to the conclusion that they are not supernatural beings, and are susceptible to the same things you describe, but they have the skill, experience and talent to work through it. And when you truly listen to your mandolin heroes, you can hear the adjustments they make, their occasional mistake and suddenly, the veil is lifted. I think it is their ability to listen that really sets them apart, that and the ability to perform the physical tasks and the mental tasks at the same time. And I imagine that takes a lot of time and practice.

    For me, playing a tune in practice is different than playing along with a guitar backing track, which is different than playing a tune with several others, which is different than playing a tune as a duet. All of these involve listening on completely different levels. Realizing this, I see how my listening skills need to improve.

    Take music out of the equation, and I question my listening skills (just ask my wife!). I may hear, but am I really listening? I can equate this to playing along with a recorded backing track, you don't have to hear the entire conversation, just the important parts. In a noisy group environment, I tend to zone out, as I find it hard to focus on the person I am speaking to. Ok, that describes most of my experience in a session setting. I don't have much experience in playing in a duet, but if it is anything like some of the conversations with my wife, I need to work on it.

    The times when I am dialed in tend to be when I am relaxed, not thinking about the tune, and the muscle memory just kicks in. This is also a good indicator on how well you really know the tune. Your examples given make me wonder if you really do have the tune firmly fixed under your fingers, for all the different scenarios you are describing.

    I can't really say I have different frames of mind for these situations. But what I will do is slow things down if I experience a bump in the road. Also, playing with others is really helping, even if I sit in on a session and end up playing just 4 tunes.
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  7. #6

    Default Re: Training the Mind

    Practice is different from performance, and jamming is a performance. The skill to nail a phrase or tune on the third pass is distinctly different from nailing it on your only pass. You have to practice that. One way is to warm up and then play the tune once, then move to another tune and play once, etc. Then understand where you stumbled and then practice those elements. At least two things usually are at fault, you don't know the piece as well as you think and you can't relax enough to let your practice shine through. (at least for me anyway).

    Getting out of your own way is a phrase heard a lot around this topic.

    but ymmv
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    Orrig Onion HonketyHank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Training the Mind

    Re your first two questions, for me, it seems to be a question of "am I sick of this tune yet?". If the answer is no, then I haven't practiced it enough to just go with the flow and let the notes come out on their own. Kinda sad, yes?
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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Training the Mind

    Zac Hilbert mentioned fatigue, and I'd agree. Sometimes you're just more tired than you know. If you find yourself doing a lot of mind-drifting, take a break, get some water, walk around, stretch. As for playing with another person, a lot depends on how comfortable you are with that other person. I play a lot with my-husband-the-guitar-player, and i'm comfortable enough with him (musician to musician) to point out repeated bad chords in a tune or mention if he's slowing down, stuff I'd never do if it was an exchange husband-to-wife. I'm comfortable enough playing with my teacher to make mistakes and get a good laugh out of it; same with people during a session --any clams I make, i just keep going.

    I know that saying that you're overthinking stuff isn't any help, but i think you're too focused on mistakes. Mistakes happen. Unless they're life-threatening, it wouldn't hurt to cultivate more forgiveness for yourself for making them.
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  13. #9

    Default Re: Training the Mind

    Sometimes when my jam friends and I play a gig and we get some applause I make a joke: "And we didn't even make any mistakes that time!" Mistakes are not a big deal. You play this stuff enough times and "mistakes" just aren't made anymore even if you don't always play exactly how you expect or your concentration lapses or whatever.

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    Registered User Brian560's Avatar
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    Default Re: Training the Mind

    I have trouble with the first two,especially focus lapse. I also have trouble with playing getting sloppy during practice. My current attempted solution is recording my practicing. That prevents me from glossing over mistakes.

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    Registered User gfury's Avatar
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    Default Re: Training the Mind

    Timely topic. Items 1 and 2 have been on my mind lately.

    Sometimes while playing or practicing, I'll have a totally unrelated thought ("I should pick up some milk on my way home") and blow it.

    Other times, I'm thinking about the next phase, can't remember it completely, but the fingers just play it correctly.
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    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: Training the Mind

    Thinking is no good - especially about parts of the tune you just passed by ("never look back" ist the strategy here).

    Memorizing into the correct memory is the key. Practising must go into procedural memory, so ideally it does not even stop to tell your declarative memory what you are doing. Then, if declarative memory tries to remember, it throws procedural memory right off. It is like running down a flight of stairs at home you have passed a 1000 times, and in the middle of it trying to remember which foot you're supposed to put forward first (don't say I didn't warn you).

    As for small ensembles: practise with a metronome. It may not play the melody, but it is the most badass co-player simulator you can get for little money.

    And as for practising real situations: the challenge should be the maximum possible. If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere. Invent additional challenges for your practise routine if you have to (when I think I have a tune down, I sit in front of Russian dashcam videos and play it to prove I can play through any kind of diversion).
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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Training the Mind

    Trying to focus and keep focus is always my difficulty. Especially if I'm playing a tune I don't know and/or have never played before in a live setting (only happened at 3 different shows this past weekend). If it's to the point where the focus is good, then I'll start looking at the dancers and try to play off them. Make sure what I'm playing is what they are dancing. As I've only been playing mandolin a couple of years, the latter is still difficult. Most of the time still trying to focus on the tune and where I fit in the band for the overall performance sound.

    And, yes, a metronome is essential. Not just for overall tempo, but for the spacing of the notes. How much lilt or swing to put in.
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    Default Re: Training the Mind

    I was trained in a vocal setting from an early age in choruses and choirs in church and in school. Part of my well rounded public education included chorus and three years of music theory in high school. This taught me how to focus on what I was doing while being aware of what was going on a round me. This is important not only in learning a piece of music but in the execution of performance of music. These skill have to be learned and are rarely taught in formal settings as most folks don't place themselves in those settings. I teach classes of young folks to play instruments, sing and perform in groups as part of the JAM program. They get it and we have fun pulling it together. They face challenges and best of them rise to those challenges. Music is not for everyone just as sports at a high level is not for everyone. But everyone can have fun with either of these activities.

  20. #15

    Default Re: Training the Mind

    You might try overloading yourself while you practice. An example of this is when basketball players practice dribbling two balls at once—a skill they will never use in a game. By adding difficulty during practice, your mind is more prepared for the demands of performance.

    Folks may be able to give suggestions for a specific overloading technique. One that comes to mind is playing to a backing track for the “wrong” tune, using it as a reference only for tempo. This will force you to focus harder on playing your target tune while tuning out interference.

    If you try it, let me know how it works.

    The Bulletproof Musician website has a lot of research-based articles about mental training for musicians.
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    Default Re: Training the Mind

    The above is an interesting concept. Some friends and I used to try playing two fiddle tunes simultaneously that had the same chord structure and timing. It's surprisingly difficult, but fun when you can get your mind wrapped around it. We still like to segue without warning into a new tune and see if everyone can pull it off. Sliding seamlessly from one melody to another can be a real test of how well you have that melody internalized.
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    Orrig Onion HonketyHank's Avatar
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    Default Re: Training the Mind

    Hmmmm. Interesting thing about changing tunes seamlessly. This past month I have been messing around with a barebones version of Wildwood Flower in C, Bb, A, and G played from the open position, moving from one to the next without a pause. I still can't do it even though I can play each individually. It's definitely a mental problem.
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    Well …. I expect all players of anything be it baseball or chess have to keep a tight focus on their output. I know when I listen to other players at a jam or rehearsal I can lose a beat. Stopping to think about "what to do or play" will always leave a player a beat or glitch behind. Then the self berating process can lengthen that moment into a full blown mess. Knowing a piece of music well enough to play it without those moments of thought is first. Second is maintaining focus on what you know. Third is trusting your musical partners to know their parts and have focus. If there is a mistake the best thing to do is , of course, carry on. You will find them or they will find you and if you are lucky enough to have a good rhythm section you can fall back into the music / groove / moment fairly easily. Practice your scales , double stops, arpeggios and chord forms until they become automatic. Practice them by key so that you are working them in the groups music is written in. Work on playing in closed positions so the intervals are always under the same fingering. Start the scales on different fingers. All this takes TIME ….. play daily and be patient. It is worth the investment. R/
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Training the Mind

    I have suffered from all three problems, plus another, which was an occasional total black out where I entirely forget how the remainder of the tune goes while performing it solo or with a duet partner.

    I have been trying to think of specific tips and tricks that will help and unfortunately I come up empty. For me it has been just exposing myself to these situations over and over and over and gradually becoming able to depend on myself more and more. For me I think it was just new mental territory with which I was unfamiliar - performance anxiety and its side effects.

    One thing that seems to help is taking 15 or 30 minutes just before I "go on" how I just gently go through things mentally, and get my anxiety under control. If I neglect that, even now, things often don't go well.
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  25. #20

    Default Re: Training the Mind

    For me, when I have an audience the big thing is to ignore the mistake. Play through it and keep the performance going.

    If you do this confidently enough and later quiz audience members you get one of two responses:

    1. What mistake?

    2. (From experienced musicians) Yeah, I heard it but it didn't ruin the song and I doubt anyone else noticed.

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  27. #21
    Registered User Jon Hall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Training the Mind

    I recommend reading "The Inner Game of Music". Paul Glasse recommended it during his MC interview.

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    Default Re: Training the Mind

    #1 and #2 are the nemesis for me. Especially if the tempo is slow enough for my focus to wander. I forgot what key I was in on a song before. I believe my brain is programmed to move on to other things if feels it's repeating a mundane task. In practice if I catch a hint of focus lapse on a tune I'll move on to something else.

    One thing works for me - if I can remember to do it. Sing along silently while playing. Chords, melody notes, what ever you're doing at the time. Drive out everything else while playing if you find yourself drifting. Sing the notes/chords loudly in your mind. I do it for nerves when I need to and it's the best thing I've found.

    When I played bass in a working band - I would carry on conversations while playing and not have a conscious thought of my playing. That has not carried over to mandolin one bit so far.

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    Default Re: Training the Mind

    3. Do your own backing tracks in a looper or DAW, or have friends do them, you'll be able to hear your rhythmic/chording "eccentricities" and figure out how to fit yourself into it.

    For 1 and 2, there's other books about how to pracitce i remember besides *Inner Game* that might help, by authors Margaret Elson, Tom Heany, jon Harnum, David Dumais, you can read Amazon reviews

    It's also possible you're being really critical of yourself, we in internetland can't really tell
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    Default Re: Training the Mind

    Thanks for everyone's thoughts! Really helpful...

  31. #25
    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Training the Mind

    No clue how to help. . .

    I find it interesting to play my mandolin while walking about the yard. The conscience part of the brain has to watch your step. There are also birds, dogs, traffic, neighbors, etc. All can be a distraction. What I find interesting? I've adapted to playing music separate from the mindfulness of walking.

    I also find it interesting how I personally learn music. The music just informs my ear. I think I'm much more of an ear player. So, to me, I'm whistling the mandolin. I mean when we whistle or sing, we are not using our brain to process how to form the lips or larynx for a D or F# or such. No, we just force out the notes - straight from the brain to the sound. Learn to do that with your mandolin. I mean how often do we whistle a wrong note?

    It's just a matter of getting in the 10,000 hours, eh?

    Well, maybe. . . ?

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