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Thread: What's In Your Mind

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    Default What's In Your Mind

    How much thinking while playing? The goal of learning tunes is to create "muscle memory", while clearing the mind of other thoughts. Sometimes that works but not always. For a tune I've been playing a long time this theory seems to work better than with newer music. But I always seem to be thinking about finger positioning, tone, right hand technique, holding the pick right, etc. And then there's the melody itself I'm thinking of. Is this normal? If not then what? It seems like thinking gets in the way of playing better. How do you deal with this?

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    Registered User Gunnar's Avatar
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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    If it's a tune that I'm learning, I try to focus on playing it, if it's one I've known for a while, I think about nothing and anything and everything in between. I find frequently I'll forget part of a tune, or how I played it, and if I hit it at speed without thinking about it I can usually play it right, but if I think about it I mess up. Sometimes it messes me up, depending on what I think about, but usually it's no problem
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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    [QUOTE=Gunnar;1736154] if I hit it at speed without thinking about it I can usually play it right, but if I think about it I mess up.

    That's exactly what I'm talking about. There's a desire for perfection involved here which makes it difficult to "let go" so to speak. Playing as relaxed, without tension, certainly helps. But for me thinking about the mechanics, etc. inserts themselves into my mind.

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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    IMO..if your not thinking while playing,your playing mindlessly,,how can you possibly put any feeling in your playing if your not thinking about what your doing,,otherwise its just unemotional ,cold repetition..

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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    Quote Originally Posted by T.D.Nydn View Post
    IMO..if your not thinking while playing,your playing mindlessly,,how can you possibly put any feeling in your playing if your not thinking about what your doing,,otherwise its just unemotional ,cold repetition..
    I disagree with that. If all you're thinking about is technique or fingering I'd think you wouldn't be able to put as much feeling in it, but if you know what you're playing well enough to not think about it, then whatever else you think about can flavor your playing. So if you're thinking about your girlfriend who just dumped you, it'll come out in your playing, or if you are hungry, and thinking about eating, your playing will sound hungrier.... and unemotional cold repetition sounds better (if marginally) than excessively sloppy bad playing with feeling.
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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    I'm not talking about playing mindlessly. However if I'm thinking about Part B of a Monroe tune, and how hard it will be while I'm still playing Part A, then it's more of a distraction I would say. As I said earlier, it's hard to let go and let the music flow. To paraphrase Charlie Parker, you learn your instrument, then learn the music, and then forget about all the sh**t and just play. For me I seem to be stuck in parts 1 & 2.

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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    Not sure the goal of learning tunes is muscle memory, whatever that really is. I observe my playing, but don’t think.

    So, how does thinking while playing work at improvising at tempo?
    Last edited by Bill McCall; Sep-23-2019 at 11:04am.
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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    With fear that this comment may start a diversionary topic, I liken my playing to golf. I always play golf best when starting out each spring. The further into the season the worse the play is. You start analyzing your swing, why your fade has left you, and all the mind games the game throws at you. That happens playing my mandolin when I spend too much time analyzing, especially while playing.

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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    When learning, whether a passage in a tune or a technique alone, you of course pay attention to the aspects you are working on. This could be technical or timing/phrasing. The eventual goal is to able to forget details of making sounds and pay attention to making music. In a band, this means listening to the others, feeling the way the song is going, etc. It means playing to help deliver the feeling, not the notes alone.

    A jazz example is the convention of starting your solo by using the last few notes your other band member just played. This gives a new idea you can use to comment on and launch your solo. But you need to be really solid in your playing, your available riffs, and the tune itself to do this.

    No one is mindless when playing, but the best are “thinking” about what everyone is doing, including the audience. More accurately, those players are not thinking, but paying attention to the feel, the groove, the audience’s reactions, and so on.

    Back to practicing—as you get better at a technique or a tune you ate able to forget some things that are reliable, and pay attention to further refinements. After being reliable in knowing which note comes next you work the speed upwards (if needed). Then you try for a generally pleasing tone, which means paying attention to picking and left hand accuracy. Then you start noticing timing issues, maybe, checking with a metronome to be sure you don’t drag the hard spots or rush the easy ones. Then you practice singing while playing. Personally, I came last to actually practicing improvising, playing multiple choruses of a tune with all new ideas if possible. I needed a solid base of technique and a decent vocabulary of melody bits and riffs, along with a good collection of chord shapes for a specific tune.

    Although it is easier on a 10-string or guitar to play the melody, chords, and bass lines, any solo version you can render means you know the whole song, which is essential, in my book, for delivering the song.

    So what should be in your mind is simply the thing you ate working to achieve. If practicing, that thing is technical. If performing, that thing is the feel.
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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    Not sure the goal of learning tunes is muscle memory, whatever that really is. I observe my playing, but don’t think.

    So, how does thinking while playing work at improvising at tempo?
    Myself,,when improvising I'm thinking about what note I'm on,what notes I want to go to,how I want to manipulate the sound,maybe changing tempo or go to double stops,do I tremolo a note,where on the fingerboard I might want to go,different improvised phrasing,etc..etc..I'm certainly not thinking about ,let's say bass fishing .or whatever...

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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    I encourage students to use the three legged stool analogy: Primarily, playing any instrument is first a manual skill, secondly an ear training application, & thirdly an application of music theory to understand what you're hearing, or wanting to hear, & and how to do or explain what you're manually executing. I maintain that only then is one fully functioning as a musician rather than one who can flawlessly process written musical data, creating wonderful musical sounds.

    Using the three legged stool analogy means you are totally immersed physically, emotionally, and mentally when playing music. Thus "real musicians' cars don't run well, the house is in disrepair, the kids lack attention, & eventually the wife takes the kids & leaves!"

    I think it was Issac Stern I once heard say this most simply & accurately while addressing a student audience? "You don't really know how to play your instrument until you can sing through it!" Always Think about that whenever you play!

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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    Quote Originally Posted by T.D.Nydn View Post
    Myself,,when improvising I'm thinking about what note I'm on,what notes I want to go to,how I want to manipulate the sound,maybe changing tempo or go to double stops,do I tremolo a note,where on the fingerboard I might want to go,different improvised phrasing,etc..etc.......
    That's quite impressive. I'm just trying to match what comes out of the instrument to the melody in my head. If I'm doing any of that, its below a conscious level.
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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    That's quite impressive. I'm just trying to match what comes out of the instrument to the melody in my head. If I'm doing any of that, its below a conscious level.
    I think working on that consciously until it is second nature is in itself a great exercise that must lead to mastery if such a thing is true.
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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    The music is that I hear in my mind is much better than what comes out of my hands . . . . .

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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    I think this was well said!
    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Wright View Post
    When learning, whether a passage in a tune or a technique alone, you of course pay attention to the aspects you are working on. This could be technical or timing/phrasing. The eventual goal is to able to forget details of making sounds and pay attention to making music. In a band, this means listening to the others, feeling the way the song is going, etc. It means playing to help deliver the feeling, not the notes alone.

    A jazz example is the convention of starting your solo by using the last few notes your other band member just played. This gives a new idea you can use to comment on and launch your solo. But you need to be really solid in your playing, your available riffs, and the tune itself to do this.

    No one is mindless when playing, but the best are “thinking” about what everyone is doing, including the audience. More accurately, those players are not thinking, but paying attention to the feel, the groove, the audience’s reactions, and so on.

    Back to practicing—as you get better at a technique or a tune you ate able to forget some things that are reliable, and pay attention to further refinements. After being reliable in knowing which note comes next you work the speed upwards (if needed). Then you try for a generally pleasing tone, which means paying attention to picking and left hand accuracy. Then you start noticing timing issues, maybe, checking with a metronome to be sure you don’t drag the hard spots or rush the easy ones. Then you practice singing while playing. Personally, I came last to actually practicing improvising, playing multiple choruses of a tune with all new ideas if possible. I needed a solid base of technique and a decent vocabulary of melody bits and riffs, along with a good collection of chord shapes for a specific tune.

    Although it is easier on a 10-string or guitar to play the melody, chords, and bass lines, any solo version you can render means you know the whole song, which is essential, in my book, for delivering the song.

    So what should be in your mind is simply the thing you ate working to achieve. If practicing, that thing is technical. If performing, that thing is the feel.
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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    Quote Originally Posted by John Bertotti View Post
    I think working on that consciously until it is second nature is in itself a great exercise that must lead to mastery if such a thing is true.
    My advice to students is to start simply. Vocalize a simple line from a song or a simple improvisatory phrase (lick, riff, or whatever) and pick (hunt & peck) it out on your instrument. Do this over and over and over (sing it or hum it then play it) ad-"infin"-nuseam! As you do this with more & more phrases, you'll hopefully begin to be more & more correct in choosing to play the same note you're vocalizing. It is a time consuming process but I have known it to work well. It actually helps to be a little "asperger-ish" or afflicted with hyper-activity as the tendency to endlessly repeat actions is a common trait for those populations.

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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    I try to be aware of any tension or strain in either hand or arm and make being relaxed when I play, a priorty over playing the best or even the correct note.

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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    The solution/cure to the performance problem you identified is much too complex, expansive, and detailed to write about in a simple post. If you really want to improve in this area you should read some sports/performance psychology books. Bob Rotella wrote some books that helped me a lot. And I found all of the insight and advice easily transferable to music performance as well.

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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    Quote Originally Posted by Jon Hall View Post
    I try to be aware of any tension or strain in either hand or arm and make being relaxed when I play, a priorty over playing the best or even the correct note.
    I can see where this is an area where I should really be aware of more and work on..I get tension headaches in my neck from playing to hard,,

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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    When I'm playing, I'm mostly just listening to what's going on around me instead of actively thinking unless it's some sort of internal notice that the woman playing beside me is slowing down, the guy on my other side is playing flat, the guy across is speeding up and now I can't keep up and whether the occasional twinge in my shoulder is going to be a problem later. Not what you have in mind for an answer, i'm sure! But I don't play any music where i'm asked to take a break or a solo of any kind unless it's to start a set or change tunes.

    For me, it's a lot like writing. I don't worry about the process or the mechanics, I just run on patterns and memory. If I'm playing something slow where there's some emotion involved -- say Foggy Dew or Crested Hens -- then I kind of listen closely to the blend of music around me and add a tremolo or hammeron where it feels right. For the usual 120bpm session stuff, I just play as I can and try to relax into the pulse. If I'm playing Bach or some other baroque thing, I listen to the internal patterns and the harmonies without thinking much -- but I also don't play these for anything other than pleasure, so if it's not up to the highest classical standards, that's OK.

    Like others have said, if I start paying too much attention to the details, I find myself lagging or messing up entirely.
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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    Quote Originally Posted by dorenac View Post
    The goal of learning tunes is to create "muscle memory", while clearing the mind of other thoughts.
    I am not sure I agree with that, if I get your meaning. The goal of learning tunes is be able to play them, with less and less effort perhaps, but I am not sure about muscle memory. If I am playing from sheet music, for example, I am not looking for muscle memory.

    And i don't want to clear my mind entirely. I want to use it.

    It seems like thinking gets in the way of playing better.
    Well let us say less and less of your brain is required for the specific task of playing the tune, I use the expanding unused part to concentrate on better syncing up with others in terms of rhythm, emphasis, then when less brain power is required for that, I concentrate on playing more expressively, trying to capture the internal drama of the tune in my playing of it, using dynamics and rhythm etc. Also a lot of my brain is free to pursue some double stops and harmonies.

    I have never yet run out of things to which I can dedicate my ever expanding amount of mental freedom.
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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    If I find myself mentally drifting, day dreaming while I play, I take it as a signal that I am phoning it in. That others can probably tell I am not into the tune, which is not at all what i want.

    I took on a project years ago (and encouraged others as well) to take old corny boring war horse tunes that take no mental energy and garner no enthusiasm, and to try and figure out how to make them into something fun to play, fun and beautiful to present. Make the old new again. The exercise has really stretched me, but the results are good, and make playing everything more fun.

    For me it starts with playing the tune as if I liked it. Pretending it is the first time I ever "got it" or imagine it is the first time these folks ever heard it. Wow, doing that backs me up and forces me to use more of my brain playing the tune.

    So when I find myself day dreaming, I re-dedicate myself to figuring out what is great about the tune and how can I emphasize that, and show my love or enthusiasm in my playing.
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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    Hope I provided some ideas that you find useful.
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    Default Re: What's In Your Mind

    JeffD, you may have hit on some helpful ideas. When I say "muscle memory" what I mean is the ability to play a tune somewhat automatically. I can trust myself to play the correct notes without worry about playing wrong notes. Another way to say it is I'm in the groove and just flowing with the music. If that happens then my mind becomes freer to "interpret" the music with my own take on it. I'm getting into the music and not just mechanics of playing. Then I can self correct while playing with others as to tempo or expression, and perhaps even improvise in an interesting way.

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