Sunday, April 1, 2012

Overthinking, and putting the behavior on command

Here's a nice post on how to avoid overthinking. Basically, you can think about anything except what you're trying to do. It meshes nicely with what I've been working on, which is basically relaxation, following the Kenny Werner book I mentioned before and which I've slowly been reading. There's a lot of exercises and specifics that you're supposed to do. It's actually quite hard -- just play one note, but totally relaxed? And then accept that whatever nasty sound that comes out is the most beautiful thing that you've ever heard? That you're already a master, and the only reason you don't sound like it is maybe a lack of familiarity with the material? It's very strange, trying to adopt an attitude of loving acceptance towards my sound, rather than the analytical, critical attitude that comes naturally to me, and that seems inherent in all of my training. I think it may be slowly having an effect, though. Sometimes I can play things, and they can come out smooth, rather than the notey effect that normally characterizes just about anything I play. I think the issue is that if I'm thinking and struggling, trying to make the slur and the fingers precise, my air naturally forces the next note, resulting in a lump in the sound on every note. A Zen-like state of meditative relaxation, on the other hand, has the possibility for a smooth sound.

I found another effect, working one of the Werner exercises. Basically, in a state of total relaxation, do a free improvisation. Play anything, make any sound. And the goal of the practice is to love what comes out. Whatever it is. Very hard, to love every squawks, rough slurs, missed attacks, and weird pitch and tone color. After a bit, though, I got interested in those sounds. That's kind of interesting, that noise between those two notes. That squawk. Can I make that sound again? Hm, that note didn't speak, resulting in a breath of air in a tuned air column. Interesting sound. And by loving the sounds, or trying to, I was then drawn to trying to repeat them. And boy, that's not easy either. Apparently, without even trying, I'd succeeded in creating an interesting and hard to reproduce sound. I ended up playing with lots of attacks that didn't speak, or were on the edge of speaking; exactly how to move my fingers to squawk or not, playing with the sounds that I could make. This had a few interesting effects. One was learning a bit of acceptance: once I can accept that the sound is part of the tonal spectrum that I can make, I don't get so freaked when I make one. It's a bit of reprogramming, turning a mistake into a variation. The other is that I learn control over that aspect of the sound. It's a bit like the dog training technique, called putting the behavior on command. If the dog does something you consider undesirable, eg yipping at the neighbors all night, then invent a command for the behavior, tell your dog to do it when they are about to, let them do it, and reward them. Soon, you can have them do the behavior whenever you want. This is counterintuitive, since it's an undesired behavior. But actually, you've achieved communicating with the animal about the behavior, and given them the skill to control it. Often this is sufficient to reduce the behavior (yip all night? Not unless I get a treat!) or as a step to telling them not to. So, practicing squawking is a kind of putting a behavior on command.

Seems like a lot of thinking, in service of thinking less, and that all in service of "playing less notey", which has been a longstanding issue for me. Maybe it'll help, though.

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