Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Tuning Slide: 3.14- The Inner Game- Why It Works

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music
Practice like you've never won;
Perform like you've never lost.
-various sources

When Tim Gallwey started the “Inner Game” teachings and Barry Green applied them to music, we didn’t know a lot about the brain. People like Gallwey went a lot on intuition and personal experience. As a tennis player himself and later a practitioner of meditation, he developed the principles based on seeing results from his ideas.

In those years neuroscience was often done blind since it was hard to watch the brain at work. They really had no idea how the brain functioned. As science progressed with all kinds of ways of scanning the brain a revolution began. It should come as no surprise that many of the old, traditional ideas of how the brain works were disproved. But it also should come as no surprise that many ideas that people like Tim Gallwey developed were right on target, though in slightly different ways. Scientists began to see that the brain was far more complex than they had even imagined. They learned how the two hemispheres of the brain had more to do with each other than had been thought. And it is in that interplay between the two hemispheres that the secrets of the Inner Game and mindfulness meditation were beginning to be unlocked.

The results of all this research and technological advancements is far more than I can even begin to understand in depth, let alone share in this post. But in short, much of it has given some scientific, research-based support for what Gallwey and Green have worked on with the Inner Game.

For me, one of them is how balancing Self 1 and Self 2 can have such an impact. Let’s sum it up as I interpret it:
  • Self 1 is the logical, task-oriented, perfectionist who can be easily frustrated when things aren’t going right.
  • Self 1 kicks your butt when you make a mistake.
  • Self 1 is the one who tells me I am too old to become the type of trumpet player I have always wanted to be.
  • Self 1 will hook on to all kinds of things to keep me from succeeding in order to prove my incompetence.
It sounds like Self 1 is out to sabotage me, but it isn’t. Self 1 has some real advantages. Self 1 is the one who can figure out problems utilizing information. Self 1 is the one who will tell me why, for example, Arban’s basic exercises are so important to maintaining my skill. Self 1 will then tell me, time to push yourself, Barry. Try something a little more difficult. Then, as soon as I try, and don’t do it perfectly, Self 1 can say, “Well, I guess we shouldn’t have done that.”
  • Meanwhile Self 2 is standing in the background saying, “Hey, here I am. Yes, I can do that. Give me a chance.”
  • Why? Because Self 2 had been doing just that for years. Self 2 has taken the ideas and work and pushing of Self 1 and turned them into my ability to move from simple to more complex music. The simpler stuff has become “natural” and Self 1 just lets Self 2 go ahead with it.
  • Self 1 knows when I make a mistake. Self 2 says, “Yep. Let me correct it.”
There are many ways of describing this whole process. One of them we have often used is “Muscle Memory.” If I keep practicing that particularly difficult lick, it will become natural and I will intuitively remember it when I get to it. What neuroscience has discovered is that this “muscle memory” is, in reality, physical, in the brain- and real. As we develop our skills at the more complex tasks, the brain makes adjustments, shortcuts, to do them. The brain actually uses fewer neurons and less of our brain to do these complex tasks, leaving the brain more available for the things we haven’t learned yet.

In other words, our brains become more efficient at processing what we already know how to do, no matter how complicated. The brain has physically changed to do them. This is known as brain “plasticity”. The brain has the amazing ability to be continually changing throughout life, reorganizing itself, finding or making new pathways that are more efficient.

How do we utilize that efficiency more effectively? In how we practice. Deliberate practice, focus, awareness, mindfulness, listening, planning, openness to change, letting go. This will come up again and again as we think about and work toward greater skill. Deliberate practice says that the best way is not just to pick up the horn and play any old thing. It won’t get us to new levels of skill without being challenged.

In the last few weeks I have noticed a sloppiness setting in to some of my practice routine, especially with working on Clarke #1. I wasn’t hitting the notes as cleanly as I had been. My fingering dexterity had become uncertain. I was even missing the very basic chromatic scale we all come to know intuitively. So I changed my focus to be a little more deliberate. I decided to really listen to what I was doing. I slowed down the tempo of the exercise, paying attention to what I was doing.

Self 1 was in logical heaven. Not only was I working in ways that made the logical Self happy, Self 1 was loving it that I wasn’t doing as well as I had. “See. You are too old for this.” But Self 2 came to my rescue. Self 2 reminded me that I can do this. In fact, Self 2 was actually enjoying the fun of finding musicality in something as basic as chromatic scales.

Things are improving.

I went back and looked at the list of items from this year’s trumpet workshop and noticed three in particular, other than the ones on the Inner Game, that apply here.

• Hear it, study it, make it become natural
That’s really what we are about in all this. Using the brain’s plasticity to increase efficiency by making new circuits and pathways for action.

• If you panic you will die
Panic is Self 1 taking over and pulling the emergency brakes, bringing everything to a complete stop. It actually sabotages its own skills of investigation. Self 1 is basically lazy and doesn’t do well at thinking in new ways. It has to be pushed. Sometimes you have to tell it to stop so it can actually work with Self 2 at finding new ways.

• Just have fun! It will happen faster.
Let Self 2 have fun- and things will usually happen more effectively and in ways you may never have dreamed.

This is not just about music. All this applies to many other aspects of our lives. Remember that the Inner Game started out as a coaching method for tennis and has been turned into coaching for golf and business success as well. Learning how to utilize these skills with music will give you a step ahead in applying the same skills to whatever occupation or vocation or even hobby you pursue.

One of my “day jobs” for the past 25 years has been as an addictions counselor. In the disease of addiction the brain has been hijacked and its natural wiring has been short-circuited. Without brain plasticity my job would have been hopeless, recovery would have been impossible. Yet these advances in neuroscience have given me and the addiction treatment field new and exciting tools.

Much to my initial surprise the skills and tasks developed by Gallwey and Green in the Inner Game are at the heart of these tools. They also work in my career, my daily life, my relationships. We are all “pliable” in emotion, in attitude, and skill. We can build new wiring, shorten brain pathways for certain activities and therefore make them more efficient, use awareness and mindfulness to improve who we are and make life even more fun.

It’s an Inner Game and it’s worth playing.

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