Process, Learning, Music

When I first started taking private violin lessons way back when, my teacher, Mr. Nelson, had me read a book before I began: The Inner Game of Tennis.

“WTF? I am here for violin lessons, not tennis tips” I thought to myself.

However, I read the book and honestly, the ideas in the book have really changed my way of thinking. My brief summary will do no justice to this book; however, to give you a brief background, the book is basically about this:

In every human endeavor there are two arenas of engagement: the outer and the inner. The outer game is played on an external arena to overcome external obstacles to reach an external goal. The inner game takes place within the mind of the player and is played against such obstacles as fear, self-doubt, lapses in focus, and limiting concepts or assumptions. The inner game is played to overcome the self-imposed obstacles that prevent an individual or team from accessing their full potential.

So basically, it’s about the psychology of learning. And how we all have a ‘self 1’ and a ‘self 2’. Self 1 is the name that is given to the conscious ego-mind which likes the tell Self 2, you and your potential, how to hit the ball and play the game. (or how to play the music in my case…). According to the Inner Game theory, to achieve peak performance, the key is to resolve any lack of harmony between the two selves, as it is the contrary thinking of Self 1 which causes interference with the natural abilities of Self 2. This requires the learning of several inner skills, such as the art of letting go of self-judgements, letting Self 2 do the hitting, recognizing and trusting the natural learning process.

Pretty wild, right? For me this was a huge learning lesson because I realized how much my “self 1” was affecting my playing. I always caught myself thinking, ‘oh shoot, you are going to be flat on this note’ or, ‘wow, your intonation and pitch is really off today’. When the reality of playing an instrument is this: it’s all about muscle memory and hearing the sound you want to hear before playing it.

I remember in orchestra, we’d always do these exercises where we’d put down our instruments and Mr. Nelson would take out a ball and throw it to us and we’d have to catch without looking. He said: you should never miss the ball because you know how to catch a ball. You know how to anticipate where it is going to land based on the speed and distance for which it was thrown. It’s all very systematic actually. There’s no excuse for missing catching the ball because nothing changes the process. The only thing that changes is ‘self 1’ telling ‘self 2’ that you are going to miss the ball.

Pretty crazy how psychological success can be sometimes, right?

So that indirectly segues into the following videos. There are a few different ways to learn music. One is by ear – many young children use a method called the Suzuki method to learn an instrument, which is basically learning by playing by ear rather than reading music. My opinion is that this is used on many of the children who are started on instruments at a very young age, where their small motor / reading skills aren’t developed enough to read music. The other way to music is by reading the map, i.e. the music.  I personally don’t think one method is better than the other and personally think a balance between the two is ideal.

Now here’s the problem with learning w the first method: these musicians can’t read music. However, because they aren’t buried in the music and aren’t READING notes, they are rather HEARING the notes, which in my opinion is far more organic sounding. It’s like the different between learning Spanish from a book, rather than from a native speaker. The end result is that the spoke Spanish sounds WAY different. Well, it’s the same for musicians.

Here’s the problem w learning from the 2nd method: musicians are great at reading music, but tend to lack a musicality within their playing as their sound is very mechanical.

So this leads me to me. (= I would say I mainly learned to play (violin) with the second method. I did a bit of Suzuki; however, I mainly learned music from reading rather than hearing the music. So at this point in my life, I have a few goals in music. For violin, I am trying to put the music aside and learn more by ear, as I can read music well, but have found myself forgetting to learn by listening, which affects the end result. On piano…I’m doing the opposite. I can mess around on the piano without music; however, I really could use some practice with following the map and learning to just pick up any piece of piano music and going to town. (= I need to learn improv. too, but that’ll come in time.

So…it almost pains me to post the following videos because I am a perfectionist and clearly the songs I’m playing are nowhere near perfection. However, for me, I am all about process (moreso than end result)…I am a planner / strategist after all, so the creative process for me is more interesting than the final product. (=

Last year in Deb’s class, she assigned us to create something (ANYTHING – digital, movie, book, song, interpretive dance, puzzle, WHATEVER, didn’t matter!) that defined us. After much contemplation, I decided to make a book about how I learned process + strategy from music. I can honestly say that 95% of everything I’ve learned in life, it’s come from music…that’s pretty huge, so being able to explain that really helps me to explain my thought process.

5 thoughts on “Process, Learning, Music

  1. You play that keyboard like a champ. It deserves to be used like a cheap Yamaha after that long trip down here!

    Oh and also you perform beautifully :)

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