Wednesday, June 01, 2016

The Tuning Slide: Inner Game 3 - Developing Harmony

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

You are only afraid if you are not in harmony with yourself.
― Hermann Hesse

I have written several times about the idea of The Inner Game of Music, the book in which Barry Green adapted the original work of W. Timothy Gallwey and tennis to music. 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.
Candace Brower on the Albuquerque Music Teacher’s blog writes about three fundamental skills for the "Inner Game": (1) awareness, (2) will, and (3) trust. A great deal of what I have covered over the past months has been focused on these ideas. With inspiration from what Ms. Brower has written as well as my own experiences and the increased knowledge of how the brain works, let me move to a new dimension of the inner game.

It would be easy to read the books and come to a logical conclusion as pointed out by Ms. Brower:
  • Self 1 is the bad guy, the enemy;
  • Self 2 is the good guy, the hero.
Which is too much of a black and white dichotomy for Brower and for me. All we have to do, it seems, is get rid of Self 1 and give Self 2 free reign. We will then flourish, bloom, become great. (Overstatement on purpose!) Brower asks the question:
...does Self 2 really have what it takes to learn the refined skills of playing a musical instrument or to perform a complex piece of music from memory? None of us is born with the innate ability to play a musical instrument, and in fact, it requires many years of training, and the development of very precise motor skills.
She goes on:
... I have found it helpful to recast the relationship between Self 1 and Self 2 in more positive terms that align it more closely both with Timothy Gallwey’s original conception and with what neuroscientists have since learned about the brain and nervous system. In The Inner Game of Tennis, Gallwey does not demonize Self 1, but rather encourages us to “improve the relationship” between Self 1 and Self 2. According to Gallwey, harmony [emphasis added] between Self 1 and Self 2 comes not when Self 1 disappears, but when Self 1 becomes quiet and focused, so that the “two selves are one.”
Without going into all the advances and insights in neuroscience that inform and affirm this let me simplify it very quickly.

Self 1 is seated in the thinking, decision-making part of the brain. It is hard at work doing its essential tasks when we are learning something. It is an essential part of the learning process. As we practice and repeat the new skills, the actions move deeper into the brain. We have heard people talk about "muscle memory", for example. This is when the less conscious and pre-conscious parts of the brain have taken over the activities. This is Self 2. When Self 1 begins to see that Self 2 knows what to do, Self 1 is free to learn the next thing. Hence we improve our skills, move on to more complex activities, etc.

Before putting this all together, let's go back again to Ms. Brower's thoughts:
Thus it appears that the “inner game” skills taught by Gallwey and Green—awareness, will, and trust—are skills to be learned by Self 1. It is Self 1 who must be aware and set goals, and who must learn to trust Self 2. If Self 1 cannot let go of self-judgment, driven by the need to win the approval of others, this can get in the way of performing the many other tasks that it needs to carry out.

In my own teaching, I encourage my students to think of Self 1 and Self 2, not as adversaries, but as collaborators working together in a spirit of cooperation. I help them sort out which tasks belong to Self 1 and which to Self 2, and help their two selves to work together to master the complex skills of playing a musical instrument.
How does this work, then. Here's an example:

Technique: Scales and Key Signatures
  • We learn and practice up and down the scales. 
  • We look at that key signature and use Self 1 to name what the flats and sharps are. 
  • We then play that scale. In doing that we are learning the relationships between the different notes through hearing and seeing, at least at the beginning, the notes on the page. 
  • We begin to learn consciously that this is the movement of our fingers, embouchure, air, etc. as we play this particular scale starting on whatever note we begin with.
Months and years later we are playing a piece written in that key. Self 1 pays attention, appropriately, to the key signature.  It tells Self 2, in essence, it's now in your hands. Experience has taught us that we know the key and how to play it. Self 2 takes over and does what is needed to play in that key.

Self 1 relaxes. However, it remains aware, mindful, ready to catch things like key changes, accidentals, particular rhythms, etc. Then Self 2 goofs. (We are, after all, human.) This is a new piece and as we were playing, Self 2 misses that F# or Eb of the key. Not a big deal. It is practice or rehearsal. So what do we do? Self 1 jumps back in and reminds us. We stop and circle that note. Self 1 is overriding the automatic mistake of Self 2. Self 2 is still in control. It is the driver. But Self 1 has become the navigator, as Brower describes it. The circle around the note becomes a navigation aid. Self 1 catches that and immediately sends the message through Self 2- play the sharp or flat.

The work of the brain and mind, Self 1 and Self 2, in tandem, each doing their appropriate tasks.

  • Collaboration is at work- just as between ourselves and the other musicians in whatever group we are participating with. Now, though the collaboration is with ourselves! The three skills of the "inner game" are being utilized effectively.
    • Awareness is at work- the mindfulness to what is happening around us in tone, style, etc.
    • Will is at work- Self 1 has done its job setting goals and guiding the process to get where it is today.
    • Trust is at work- or the collaboration wouldn't be happening. Self 1 knows Self 2 is competent. Fear is reduced allowing for harmony as the Hesse quote above notes.
  • Harmony is the result- music is being made.
Circling around then we have the same concerns we have always had as well as the same answers. Not to be too cliched about it but it does boil down to
  • practice and
  • how we practice.

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