The Inner Game of Music

Green, Barry

Awareness. Now repeat the exercise, this time without trying to do it correctly. Begin to rap on the table again, at any speed. Listen to the cadence of your two hands. Don’t criticize, simply notice. Now pay attention to which hand sounds louder. Don’t try to change it, just allow your hands to adjust by themselves. Notice where there is tension in your arms, neck, wrists, or fingers. Where you notice any tension, see if you can let yourself be a little more flexible.

When you’re playing a difficult passage, ask yourself what can be simplified or unified. Put your concentration on this “easy” unifying or simplifying element (the grouping of notes, a set of fingerings, string crossings, or whatever). And trust Self 2 to “automatically” play the notes you are not focusing on directly.

Play or sing “Simple Gifts” again (p. 45). 1. Play it too soft, then too loud, and then the way you feel most comfortable. 2. Play it too fast, then too slow, and then the way you like. 3. Play it with a strong rhythmic emphasis, then romantically, then sadly, then formally, with a carefree spirit, aggressively, gingerly, and religiously. There is no one particular “right way” to play the piece. Experiment with a variety of different styles of expression, and then play it the way you feel best about.

1. Play or sing Bach’s Minuet in G, looking at every note as you play it. 2. Play it again, until you feel familiar with the piece and its markings. Now repeat the melody, this time letting your eyes run ahead to the next measure when you have reminded yourself of the notes and markings in the present one. 3. Now play the melody without music, using your inner sense of the music to guide you. 4. Play it again without music, this time using your visual imagination to sense what your fingers and body look like while you’re playing. 5. Now imagine that you are Bach himself, playing your minuet in a candlelit ballroom filled with noblemen in wigs and velvet coats and their ladies in ruffled gowns. Play the piece one last time, perhaps with your eyes closed, and watch the dancers…. How has your playing changed in the course of the exercise? How was your performance when you were studying the music note for note? When you were just glancing briefly at the music? When you left the musical cues behind and played without music? Most musicians find that the further they remove themselves from the image of the printed score, the more they can express that part of the music that comes from inside them.

I decided to set an experience goal for my performance. I, too, would make a point of “having fun.” Although it took some courage for me to let go of my fear and stop worrying that I would miss notes, I concentrated on my experience goal—to enjoy playing. It worked. I was caught up in the experience of making music, and my performance was well-received.

“Amateur” has come to mean “nonprofessional” or “unpaid.” But the word is derived from the French aimer (“to love”) and literally means someone who “loves” what they do. The true amateur, then, is someone whose attitude to music never loses sight of their experience goal.

the obstacles to our trusting tend to cluster in one of three areas. Which barriers most often come between you and your ability to trust? 1. Do you tend to have problems with your self-image? a. Are you concerned about the respect your peers feel for you? b. Are you concerned about what the audience will think of your playing? c. Are you worried you will be a failure? 2. Do you tend to doubt your control of the situation? a. Do you feel stuck with a “flat” or “rigid” interpretation? b. Are you unable to loosen up and play creatively? c. Are you uncomfortable taking risks in your performance? 3. Do you tend to doubt your abilities? a. Are you worried you just “don’t have it” musically? b. Do you suffer from performance anxiety? c. Are you doubtful of your capacity to perform under pressure?

Exercise: Reviewing the Worst and Best That Could Happen

Taking an inventory of all the things you have going for you can help to restore your trust and confidence.

The feeling of risk that comes with trusting and letting go can be a good sign. Over a period of time you may come to recognize it as a signal that you’re about to let go and let Self 2 take over.

Much of the excitement in playing live music comes from not knowing what will happen in each performance

I once asked my students to practice for an hour while having just as much fun as they could devise. They got up to all sorts of strange tricks, as you can imagine. Two oboe students exchanged their unique, custom-adjusted instruments and played duets together. A horn player practiced while walking among the trees. A clarinetist decided to play his music in a jazz style, improvising on every phrase. A pianist practiced while standing up. A cellist reversed his hands, and played left-handed for the first time. Another student improvised scales while listening to a baseball game, pacing his playing against the energy of the game the way cinema organists in the early days used to play along with the film: when the game was slow, so were his scales, and he burst into a flurry of activity when the game got hot.

play without a valve or finger.

Most Western music is based on a harmonic system of creating and resolving dissonance. Effectively, this means that the music gains much of its power from setting up musical tensions and stresses, and then resolving them.

Here are some other phrases that emphasize the students’ own awareness and experience, which you can gradually introduce in place of the “do this” phrases listed above: Be aware of … Listen for … How does it feel when you … Tell me the difference you notice between … What do you hear when you … Pay attention to the … Let’s see if … Notice the feeling you get when … The way to change a “do this” instruction into an awareness instruction is simply to rephrase it so that the focus of attention is on the student’s experience.

Sometimes you may feel it would be quicker and more effective simply to tell someone “do this” instead of asking them whether they can tell what’s missing.

Before you go to the concert, you may even want to get a copy of the program and then buy a record of the music you’ll be listening to (or borrow it from the library) so you can become familiar with it. Music you really “know” can be much more vibrant for you in a live performance than music you are hearing for the first time.

Jazz players acknowledge that they can improvise “faster” than they can play from the printed page; in other words, a player can create an improvisation in the moment that they would find it hard to play with equal speed, fluency, and musicality if it was somehow written down and set before them on the printed page.

Begin to combine notes at different tempos. Play intervals on the keyboard. Notice the feeling of the sounds created when you combine two or three notes.

As you play more intervals, with different note lengths, volume and sound quality, follow your impulses. Let the sense of music within you direct your playing. Do you notice any shaping of rhythm, melody, texture, or color emerging as you play?

As you play, keep in mind that 1. there’s no need to play fast. 2. it’s okay to use any part of your body (elbows, arms, hands, etc.) and that your hand position doesn’t have to be “correct.” 3. it’s okay if you play out of tune. 4. it’s best to perform these exercises in complete privacy. Keep your ideas short and simple. Refrain from judging the music you make as good or bad. You don’t have to like everything you play as long as you pay attention to your experience of playing. If you notice yourself “trying hard,” return to a simpler task.

The part of us that hums, whistles, improvises, and composes music is natural and unselfconscious, and it is the same natural and intuitive sense that the great performers tap into when they are playing music.