Wednesday, March 02, 2016

The Tuning Slide: Inner Game 2: Trust

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

The nerves are a problem on trumpet,
because when you mess up everyone can hear it.

Just remember most people are too polite
to say anything about it.

That should calm your nerves.

-- Wynton Marsalis

I have introduced the background of the Inner Game in a couple earlier posts. In the Inner Game of Music Barry Green adapted the original work of W. Timothy Gallwey. Basically Gallwey and Green describe two parts of who we are, Self 1 and Self 2. Simply put,
  • If it interferes with your potential, it is Self 1.
  • If it enhances your potential, it is Self 2.
The next part then is to learn and develop three fundamental “inner game” skills. Candace Brower on the Albuquerque Music Teacher’s blog writes:
Green advises us that if we want to reach our full potential as musicians, we need to learn three fundamental skills: (1) awareness, (2) will, and (3) trust. Awareness is about being fully aware of the sounds, sights, and feelings of playing while avoiding self-judgments that could distort our perceptions. Will is about setting goals, then using the feedback we get from being aware to reach our goals through a process of trial and error. Trust is about letting go of self-judgment and of the physical act of playing to Self 2 and trusting Self 2 to get it right.
Without specifically dealing with the Inner Game, I have spent quite a bit of time already on awareness (mindfulness, attention, etc.) and setting goals. So what’s this thing with trust? Green writes that this is
Not blind trust, but the trust that comes after hard work, and the trust that comes from knowing there is music inside you….

In order to achieve our ultimate goal and enter the state of relaxed concentration where we are one with the music, there is one more skill we need. We need to trust ourselves.
There are, according to Green, three major obstacles to trust:
  • Worries about your self-image,
  • The feeling that things are out of your control, and
  • Doubts and fears about your own ability.
These feed Self 1’s objections to our playing well. Any of these can creep in and interfere with our music. Let's look at each as Green talks about them.
  • Self-image
    "Music is a performing art," says Green. He then says the secret to getting beyond self-image is to give "yourself the character and emotions of the music. You become the music, not yourself." This is like being an actor playing a part. The goal of the actor is to express the character not their own personality. So it is with music. We come to accept our role as "interpreters of the composer's music."

    Okay- easier said than done, especially when we are playing a solo. Our image as a performer can be at stake, we think, if we flub it. If we keep aware of the fact that it is not about us, we are well along the way.

  • Out of control
    Self 1 wants to keep control and make sure everything is going the way it wants. Letting go of control is then the direction to go in our learning. How do we learn to "let go" to Self 2?

    That depends to a great extent on the awareness, goal-setting, and preparation work we have been doing. It is based on trusting ourselves. Why should we? Because we have had years of listening and playing; we have had years of physical training of our embouchure, breathing, fingering; and we have been storing all kinds of information in our nervous system to respond when needed. Every one of us has known that moment when we stop worrying and let go to the music. That is the moment when we are in "the groove" - and it works. That's trusting ourselves. We are not in control- and don't need to be- because Self 2 and the music are.

  • Doubting our abilities
    Hard to believe that a trumpet player will ever doubt his or her ability. That sure doesn't match our perceived self-image and personality. But we didn't start that self-assured about our ability nor do we always have it conquered. But really, what's the worst that could happen? Self 1 will be good at making a catastrophe out of it, but really, what is the worst that is most likely to happen? Chances are it won't be anywhere near as bad as good, old Self 1 thinks.

    What's the best that could happen? Probably a more likely prospect than the worst. Plus, unless there is a recruiter from the New York Philharmonic or the Canadian Brass sitting in the audience the best that could happen is most likely the warmth of having done a job well.
Many years ago my daughter and I were pondering our first ever roller coaster ride. She was 8 or 9 and I was in my early 40s. I had not ridden a coaster in decades; she never. We sat on a bench where we could watch the coaster we were considering. I counted the seconds to the top. I counted the seconds of the first drop. I timed the whole ride. We asked each other the questions about worst and best. Could we survive for those couple seconds it took to drop? Would I be way too nervous to bear the tension of the ride to the top? Would we get sick? (Probably not- and it wouldn't last long if we did.) Would we like it? (Probably- but if not, we just don't have to do it again.) We would be completely out of control. (But strapped in.)

We went on the ride.

And then got back in line to do it again. For the next hour. The worst didn't happen, but the best did. We had, in the end, only one real decision to make- did we trust the people who built, maintain, and operate the ride? Just like needing to trust my own ability to play.

Self-trust is the result of our practice and techniques we learn. That crazy run in Tchaikovsky's "Finale to Symphony #4" doesn't look quite as impossible when you realize it is just a variation on all those scales you have been doing for the past years. The solo in Holst's "Song Without Words" from Holst's "Second Suite" isn't quite as scary when you have listened to it for months and done some innovations on how it is constructed and you can see it's form in your mind.

Self-trust. Do you believe you can do it? Have you worked on being able to do it? Have you set goals, formal or informal to be ready to do it? Have you allowed you and the music to meld into a unique idea?

If so, you can do it.

If not, don't quit, just go back and work some more. But remember, sooner or later we will have to be ready. Do it. You know you can.

The player needs to be able to forget about himself. This is when real communication begins. For with the elimination of the self, he is able to reach the very core of the music, and is free to transmit it. 
-Kato Havas

[Footnote: Ms. Brower in the blog post cited above gives a very good counter argument about the seeming “bad guy” status that Green gives to Self 1. She focuses instead on Galleway’s original idea that the purpose of the inner game is to bring Self 1 and Self 2 into harmony with each other. (How’s that for a good musical idea?) I agree with Ms. Brower and will do some more on this and the insights from neurologists about the brain in a future post.]

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