Monday, February 25, 2008

our perceptions - our realities

When you are walking or speaking, there is an effortless in your psychology. You aren't trying to do those things - you just do them. We don't see those acts as difficult, so we do them without thought. They become automatic. We do thousands of acts like this - all of them requiring complex body movements - and yet, we percieve them as easy.

In terms of playing the classical guitar, many of us perceive playing as "difficult". We may even have teachers or collegues who like to encourage this idea. The interesting point is - because we perceive it as difficult, we tend to make it more difficult than it actually is. Our bodies tense up for passages that are no more complex than typing fast or speaking. However, our perceptions are programmed to see great difficulty in it.

If we think that moving our hands/fingers is "easy" (like walking, speaking, or driving), it lightens the psychological "weight" of the act and we can move much more freely. We might still miss the passage for now, but the psychological and physiological freedom that is attained far outweighs the mistake. In fact, we will begin to play better much more rapidly if we start to see playing as "easy".

However, if we add heavy psycological weight to the same action (with thoughts like - "this is difficult, i never get this part, i want to get this perfect", etc.) then the act becomes overly dramatic - full of tension and fear. The hands and body tense up. It becomes more difficult to play because your body is reacting to your thoughts. Your thoughts are basically telling the body "this is a difficult situation" - and the body simply agrees with you.

While walking, talking or doing any other act that is natural to you - notice your mental state. Notice how easy it is and how you feel. Feeling is everything. Notice how you flow. It feels good in the body AND the mind. The same goes for playing. If you feel good psychologically while you play, you must inevitably play better. Don't wait to get the passage right first to feel good - feel good NOW - regardless of how things sound. Believe the passage is easy in your mind no matter how difficult it may seem. You'll notice with time how it gets easier - your body begins to react to your mind.

The body (hands epecially) represents your mental state. You can work on relaxing the body or hands as much as you want, but if you don't relax your psychology while playing, the body will keep slipping back into tension and difficulty.

The body mirrors our psychology. Feel good now.

Monday, February 4, 2008

the dissolving of fear and judgment

Lately, I have been applying some of my philosophical studies to my practicing and teaching. Probably one of the most overlooked concepts in playing well is the removal (or at least the taming) of fear and judgment. When a great player performs, there is a confidence, a radiance, a certain type of grace which only shines through when fear and judgment is let go.

Ask a great player what it feels like to be on stage when everything is going smoothly and they say something like "it feels free, fun, I'm just one with the music". That is to say - there is no fear, no judgment. When things are REALLY going well - there's no thinking at all.

As students (especially guitarists who see themselves as inferior musicians many times) we learn to fear and judge most of what we do. If the tone isn't quite right or if we miss a note, we get upset and judge ourselves harshly. When a difficult passage creeps up, our natural tendency is to tense up - a reaction of fear. We rarely enjoy what we do - instead we expect one day we will get better, and THEN we can then enjoy it. But I'm afraid that this keeps us "chasing our tail", because as we DO get better, our bar for perfection also rises. Thus we are always one step away from where we want to be - and fear and judgment continues no matter how far we've progressed.

There are two ways to deal with this fear and judgment when playing.

The first way is the way that most are taught (myself included). Practice a technique or piece/passage so much that eventually the body relaxes, the mind calms down, you start to enjoy the playing, and eventually confidence begins to come. You "know" the piece - and fear and judgment begin to melt away. On some days they totally disappear and you play great. On other days, they show their ugly heads and you play worse. We've all experienced this.

There's nothing wrong with this approach, however, it's incomplete.

The second way to deal with fear and judgment is even better in my opinion, because it deals with our mental state. You practice the mental and physical attitude of mastery and allow yourself to make mistakes - completely and with enjoyment.

This means, when you practice, you completely allow the mistakes - make them on purpose, with joy, with confidence. The whole time you are doing this, feel confident and enjoy whatever arises out of the chaos. Don't in any way think about the inaccuracy of notes or tone. Pluck multiple strings at once, enjoy your "bad" tones, make shifts fast without caring about accuracy, and push the tempo to what you feel like it should be regardless of current physical limitations. Practice with complete abandon and freedom regardless of what comes out. Imagine that the piece is written this way and you are playing it perfectly.

For people who obsessively judge their mistakes and fear imperfection in playing (most of us), this will seem weird, and if their mind is not open to this idea, they will think it's stupid and a waste of time. However, remember that playing well is much more mental than physical - we want to practice the mental state of playing with freedom, without fear, and with unconditional love.

So you want to focus on the state of effortless, free motion regardless of what happens. Will you make mistakes? - yes, and please make many....haha. Enjoy it, relax, laugh at the mistakes - don't let them intimidate you at all.

When you go back to practicing accurately, remember the feeling of freedom you had when you dropped your fear and judgment. Try to feel like that when you are then focusing on accurate playing. If you make a mistake, enjoy it and "allow" it as you did before. With this mentality you'll end up making less mistakes and build your courage and confidence. With time, you'll notice more freedom, more accuracy, more relaxed technique, bigger tone, and more joy.

When we do not fear and judge, we are free to be creative and happy. This is a major key to great playing (notice the word - "playing"). It may sound crazy to some, however it is based on the wise principle of "what you resist, persists". If you resist making mistakes (aka - try not to) you actually will continue to make them over and over again.

The key word is "allow". Allow yourself to be free. Music is free - be like music.

NYC - Feb 4, 2008