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Thread: See think play to auto feel play

  1. #1

    Default See think play to auto feel play

    So I have been learning classical guitar and mandolin.
    I keep hitting a wall!
    How do I get past it.
    Practice and scales is my only ladder so far. Doesnt help much.
    When learning I read the notes, figure out where they are, how long to hold them, look for the next note then play the first note .
    All this over and over a 100 times a minute...100bpm.
    Then my teachers give me new pieces every week.
    But when good players play, everything is automatic.
    They dont think like that, they play by instinct like a machine gun.
    I just cant think fast enough??
    How do I get over the hump of having to read all the notes, rests, sharps and flats, repeats, soft or loud etc etc.
    I can play listening to others. But to construct a passage of music from paper to strings through a read, think, move process is exhausting and frustrating.
    Is there another way?

  2. #2

    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    Are you faster than when you started out? If so, keep doing what you are doing and you will continue to get faster. There is no magic pill to getting better other than playing + time.

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  4. #3

    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    I assume you are asking about how to get past producing music that has been "composed" for you. If so (and it isnt just a question of playing faster like Josh Levine implies above), then my take is this:

    "Thinking" is getting in the way of "playing". Personally, I believe that trying to think music isnt really possible. Thinking is a useful tool to LEARN a technique or a particular passage, or to figure out an approach to fingering, or to study a musical theory or harmony structure. But in the actual production of music, particularly improvised music, thinking actually gets in the way. I would suggest trying to go directly from the sounds you can hear in your head to sounds produced on your instrument with as little "thinking" as possible.

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  6. #4
    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    Time. sorry about that. The longer you play, the easier it gets to move past the "thinking" and into making music. There really aren't any shortcuts. On the other hand, you can experiment with something entirely different. There are some genres -- classical isn't one -- where you don't read while you play. You probably can do some of this in a rudimentary form -- close your eyes and play Happy Birthday or Mary Had a Little Lamb or some favorite Christmas carol on your mandolin. for some genres -- say, Irish Traditional, Old Time or Bluegrass -- where you learn the tunes/songs by ear instead of by reading them, that's the preferred technique. It still takes time to learn this way and the roadblocks are different albeit they're still there -- but it may allow you to think about music a different way and expand your understanding. Being able to learn a tune/song by ear and being able to sight read are both excellent skills and worth cultivating even if you never move out of the genre you prefer.
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    Registered User Charles Kelley's Avatar
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    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    I don’t know if your problem is the same as mine, but my problem is that I am comparing myself to players with years or decades more experience than me. I still stumble playing scales and have trouble even at the 60 bpm with any moderately complicated fiddle tune. Then I compare myself to my instructor (Adam Steffey via Skype—who is a really good teacher and an all-around nice guy BTW) and I feel utterly incompetent.

    I think time in the saddle will solve this problem for me and probably for you. Lots and lots and lots and lots of time in the saddle.

    That’s my 2 cents.

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  10. #6
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    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    Play daily … Practice scales arpeggios double stops within a group of chords working a given key example G Em C D … two chord three chords whatever suits your ear … make something melodically interesting … catch a groove and jam … This will help you to learn where what is an what works together. Modes are another way of accessing melody. You may find them interesting. Listen to your favorite players as often as you are able. It helps. Mostly be patient and play ……. Find some people to play with ….. and carry on. R/
    I love hanging out with mandolin nerds . . . . . Thanks peeps ...

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  12. #7
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    yikes I just wrote a bunch of stuff that probably doesn't apply now that I think about what you asked. All I can say really, is that sometimes it takes a decade to sound like you have been playing for ten years.
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    Orrig Onion HonketyHank's Avatar
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    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    I have nothing to add to all the wisdom in the preceding responses except "Welcome to the forum".

    I have hope that all my practice time will one day accumulate to a level where music comes easily from my fingers instead of reluctantly fro my head.
    New to mando? Click this link -->Newbies to join us at the Newbies Social Group.

    Just send an email to rob.meldrum@gmail.com with "mandolin setup" in the subject line and he will email you a copy of his ebook for free (free to all mandolincafe members).

    My website and blog: honketyhank.com

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  16. #9

    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    Rather than practicing scales, practice using scales to make musical lines.

    In other words, practice what you want to do.

    At first you might just use one scale over a whole tune, but you will make more interesting lines when you combine scales within a tune. For example, it is common in Bluegrass to use a different pentatonic scale over each chord. Practice transitioning between scales.

    Start in a small section of the fretboard, over just two chord changes, slowly, using a backing track.
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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    I like JonZ’s response. Compose some licks.

    I’m pretty sure that the “machine gun” players you refer to have built up huge vocabularies of “licks” or phrases they’ve heard, copied, altered or composed and have fashioned personal styles that include a fluent use of them. And consider the relationship between fluency and fluidity: The vocabulary is always in flux, evolving, sometimes on the fly live, and sometimes even due to recovery from “errors”. Keep at it.
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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    Take one or more of the pieces that you have been playing for some time. Memorize it and put the paper away. Think of the mandolin as your voice. You know what these pieces should sound like but use your mandolin as you would a singing voice. Work on phrasing and dynamics. The musical notation and reading is the map to playing music but sometimes the process can get in the way to actually playing real music and putting some feeling into it. Much more fun, too. You will eventually get to the point of reading adn playing smoothly and not thinking about any of it.

    Also, as far as reading. When you first were learning to read sentences you read each letter and sounded it out. Eventually you started to read full words and would only get hung up on unfamiliar words. I am sure that these days you probably are able to scan whole sentences and paragraphs to get the meaning of a passage. Same goes for reading music.
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    Registered User gfury's Avatar
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    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    I've been working with the Strum Machine backing track tool (www.strummachine.com).

    I put on a simple song that I know well (Angeline the Baker, or Bury Me Beneath the Willow) at a slow tempo.

    I play it straight, then experiment with improvisations of the melody and phasing and I'm often amazed at what comes out of my fingers.
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  24. #13
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    dont't practise scales, practise pieces, chopped into measures
    Sing the melody with your voice, then sing it with your mandolin.
    Avoid thinking - thinking comes from the wrong type of memory, the one that can talk about music but can't play it (aka declarative memory). Practising should go right into procedural memory (faster and more reliable but unable to explain).


    Dont get pressed into learning more pieces, but play the ones you know over and over until you can do them by heart, as they say, i.e. without notation.
    the world is better off without bad ideas, good ideas are better off without the world

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  26. #14

    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    Quote Originally Posted by Bertram Henze View Post
    Avoid thinking - thinking comes from the wrong type of memory, the one that can talk about music but can't play it (aka declarative memory).
    Thanks Bertram for putting into words what I too have been grappling with for many years. On those rare occasions when I was playing on auto-pilot yet still in the moment, it felt like it was coming from the right type of memory, not declarative but more on the expressive side.

    Len B.
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  27. #15
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    Quote Originally Posted by jonfranzis View Post
    But when good players play, everything is automatic.
    They dont think like that, they play by instinct like a machine gun.
    I don't know that that is true. I would be skeptical of assuming what you can't see.

    My experience has been that good players have a lot more good habits, that facilitate new situations quicker and make special techniques more automatic. Techniques that make playing easier, faster, and more beautiful. Things like keeping fingers down, identifying up the neck options that make transitions easier or prettier, etc. And once something becomes a habit, (by definition) you don't have to consciously decide to do it.

    So for example someone who has been practicing reading and playing in third position will quickly be able to see in a new piece that playing this section up the neck is much easier.

    So practicing good techniques so they become good habits - I think most closely addresses what you are getting at.
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  28. #16

    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    Thanks Josh, I guess I cant beat the 10,000 hours! Better than I was last month and the month before. I guess I need patience and persistence!

  29. #17

    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    Bertram, yes I keep wanting to perfect pieces. But tutors drag me into something new all the time!

    - - - Updated - - -

    Thanks Greg, will take a look. I feel I need to feel more, think less.

  30. #18

    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    [QUOTE=Jim Garber;1712886]Take one or more of the pieces that you have been playing for some time. Memorize it and put the paper away. Think of the mandolin as your voice.

    Thanks for the advice Jim. Reinforces my own (and many others) thoughts.

  31. #19
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    Quote Originally Posted by jonfranzis View Post
    Bertram, yes I keep wanting to perfect pieces. But tutors drag me into something new all the time!
    Sounds like those people who try to find the love of their life with speed dating. This is one of the factors that made me avoid teachers altogether - if I can't take music by the scenic route, my route, I can't take it at all.

    I know what I am talking about: after nine years of violin lessons I realized that I had stumbled through the score of the next practise piece repectively week after week, but I never got to play the instrument (not that I wanted to - the violin was a wrong choice and not my choice in the first place, but that's another story). So when the mandolin finally found me (yes, like that) I took what left-hand technique I had picked up in those years and began playing an instrument, and I've enjoyed every single minute of it.
    the world is better off without bad ideas, good ideas are better off without the world

  32. #20

    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    My kids started violin at age 3. It seems like they had a new teacher every year. When they were 5 and 6 a teacher rejected them as "not serious enough". They plodded along for years, doing a minimal amount of practicing, sometimes complaining. But when they reached their teens and decided to get serious, it's amazing what a difference having that foundation made.

  33. #21

    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    All excellent comments above. Especially about the different kinds of memory and thinking.

    For me anyway, I see parallels between playing music and touch typing. (Beyond just the obvious thing of muscle dexterity.)

    In both cases, after sufficient experience and some sort of adequate training or practice, the part of the mind that controls the fingers eventually just 'knows' where to go to get the desired results. Much of it becomes practically automatic, no hard 'thinking' required.

    In typing, you're able to duplicate a written (or spoken) word and type all the correct letters that form those words, without having to consciously think about each and every individual letter.

    Also in touch typing, you're able to do what I think of as (sort of) the equivalent of musical improv, where you type at the same speed that the ideas (words) come into your mind, such as when you're typing a letter or an article or a forum post or an email or whatever. (Actually in my case, I can type *faster* than I can think, the combination of being a slow thinker (raises hand) and a fast typist can lead to problems sometimes... proofreading required.)

    Anyway my point is that you can get those not-yet-written-down words and sentences to basically just flow from the fingers while typing, without having a script to follow - kinda like musical improv, in a way.

    So to sum up... the parallel in music, as I see it:

    In music (beyond just the obvious reading something off of a page), when you're creating variations and improv on-the-fly (while playing a tune you already know well), you might 'hear' a sound in your musical mind and you can then (sometimes) produce a similar sound on your instrument - often (as mentioned by other posters above), by accessing appropriate scales and stock licks and runs and other things that aren't necessarily specific to any one tune but that work well as building blocks to create musical variations in a wider variety of tunes (but preferably without making them all sound the same lol). The fingers have become at least somewhat familiar with what's required to achieve an acceptable or semi-acceptable result. Sometimes it works out better than other times. (Here's an improv example I like, everything just seemed to be working right the day I recorded that, even though I've strayed rather far from the original composer's excellent score... and in retrospect, there are a couple of my impromptu variant notes that (now) sound a bit repetitive and I would do those particular notes differently now if I were to ever re-record that tune.)

    One difference, I'd say, between the non-'thinking' aspects of touch-typing vs musical improv, is that even boo-boos in music can sometimes work out just fine, unlike misspelled words while typing. Actually, a lot of the time, the best variations/improv can come from aiming for one thing and inadvertently playing something else instead, then listening to a recording of it later and thinking "Huh that ain't half bad, let's try to figure out what we did and play it that way next time too." Nice when that happens.

    Oddly though, when it comes to tunes I've never seen or heard before and have no clue what they're supposed to sound like, my musical sight-reading is typically rather *slow* (if I'm trying to read notes off of a page). I often have to study the notes by either looking at them and silently 'hearing' the notes, or by actually playing them on some sort of instrument (or nowadays putting the written notes into a music notation app and having the app playback the notes), in order to make sense of the tune. I'm not an instant sight-reader (not required in the genres I play). But making up variations/improv on known/familiar tunes, is a whole 'nother category, much easier, without 'thinking'.



    Addenda, misc info, full disclosure yadda yadda:
    In my case, I was a better typist before I got serious about music. I took one entire school-year of typing class when I was 11 years old, where the instructor - a very nice lady with the patience of a saint - made the class do enough repetitions of various typing exercises and tricky words and sentences etc, in increasing levels of difficulty including the dreaded number row, to where literally the entire class was finally able to type with pretty good accuracy (although the speed levels varied quite a bit from one student to another). No fancy electric typewriters either, these were regular now-oldfashioned manual typewriters that had the looooong heavy keystrokes which really gave the fingers a workout (I didn't have finger arthritis yet, so it was all good). That class was a good foundation for a lot of stuff later, even though I had no intention of every becoming a secretary (and home computers hadn't been invented yet) - I typed because even as a little kid I was a gadget freak who liked mechanical gizmos (such as mechanical typewriters) in addition to being fascinated with page layout and publishing, just a hobby thing (when I was 5 years old I'd nagged my folks into buying me a junkstore 1911 Underwood typewriter for $1 which I did hunt-and-peck on just for fun, having no clue what I was doing lol). Anyway, after the typing class, the improved finger dexterity did come in handy shortly thereafter when I got more seriously into playing music instead of just plunking around on various musical instruments.

    P.S. This post is undoubtedly a prime example of the pitfalls of being a fast typist, i.e., writing too much without a quality editor who prunes out the fluff and condenses it down. Some of my music is probably that way too, I'd say only a small portion of the stuff I record still sounds halfway acceptable a year or two later... the rest, not so much... sign of progress I guess.
    Last edited by JL277z; May-05-2019 at 10:30pm.

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  35. #22
    Registered User Jon Hall's Avatar
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    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    Hum or sing the notes as you play them. This will build neural connections between what you hear and what your fingers are playing.

    The rhythm is in your picking hand. Stay relaxed without tension. Tension is your enemy. Practice tremolo and alternate(down-up) picking with a metronome.

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  37. #23

    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. When I started performing my playing fell apart, of course, but soon recovered and improved vastly. Learning to do an extra thing (performing, which is a whole new skill) while playing cemented the playing part in my brain/muscle memory. So practice could build on the rock steady part of my playing, adding new ideas, techniques etc. This also happened when I trained to instruct in sailplanes - after that training, when I was flying alone I had much more time to think.

    2. One think I did fairly early on was to join a local monthly "busking" group. Just a bunch of amateur musicians who go round the room, taking turns to play a song. I made myself learn a new song for every month, if possible so I could play it without looking at the words or music. This really speeded up my learning (and gave me a performance repertoire too!).

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  39. #24

    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Hall View Post
    Hum or sing the notes as you play them. This will build neural connections between what you hear and what your fingers are playing.
    I have heard this claim often. Has it ever been tested?
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  40. #25
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    Default Re: See think play to auto feel play

    Memorize a piece of music. I used to perform written music, but
    found a deeper connection when playing from memory.

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