We’ve all heard plenty of expressions, axioms and words of wisdom regarding “being true to oneself”. As a solo performer, I am finding this to be extremely important.
A few months ago I took a fascinating course called PSYCH-K. No it’s not a breakfast cereal for mental patients, it’s a method to help change or replace subconscious beliefs. What a cool class it was.
I found many interesting and fascinating similarities to my studies and experiences of playing music in the class teachings. Particularly in regard to what musicians and athletes think of as “the inner game”.
The method used by PSYCH-K to test what your beliefs are is called “muscle testing”. While it may not seem totally scientific, the premise is that your subconscious does in fact, know the truth and that before your conscious mind can BS an answer – your muscles know tell the truth about what you feel deep down.
By muscle testing for a strong or weak response, you get an answer from your subconscious mind. I have shown this test process to many friends and they laugh in amazement when I do it on them and it tests accurately.
After showing the testing technique to us in class, they showed us to install new beliefs in our minds. After the “installation”, we then tested to see if these beliefs were true to our subconscious minds.
What strikes me is this similarity to playing music: if I play music that for some reason I don’t believe in, or question in some way – I play weak, just like a weak muscle test. I may be able to fool some of those around me, but I know internally, the sensation of playing “weak” vs playing “strong”. A variety of factors can make music feel weak or not right.
When you hear someone playing “strong” – it may not be loud and fast, but it is a through and through conviction and honesty. What happens then is that a vehicle for much greater communication is created. The musical communication that the player and audience experience together is one of total “integration”.
The notes become a vehicle for non verbal communication. The communication is beyond the notes of the music. The mind of the performer then connects in a positive, confident, loving way to the minds of the audience.
There are a couple of ways to achieve this. I give this advice to myself as much as to you, dear reader!
1) Play music that moves you, not what you think you should play to be “accepted”, or “cool” or part of some group or “clique” of people. (If you are getting paid to play music you don’t like at least search for the “good feeling place” in the music.) It must ring in you as “true”. I.E. You can’t fool anybody! Truth is apparent for all to see and hear.
2) Practice. The more you practice, the more your subconscious has the images, sensations and sounds of the performance. When you actually move into performance, you will be saying “yes” to the images and sensations and sounds as they come and they will feel “true”.
As well, you will undergo a process of weeding out fingerings and sounds that test weak and arrive at strength and truth.
3) Set list or not? Lately I have performed with no set list and simply trusted that whatever song should come next will reveal itself to me. That’s a question of personal preference.
If I have a song on a list, but have a feeling about the “truth” of what should happen in this moment, I’d rather go with the feeling. I can’t predict moments of inspiration and audience communication, and choosing the right tune is part of being in the moment.
4) Integrating the right and left hemispheres of the brain prior to the gig, and in each practice session. This is kind of a huge topic, but achieving a “whole brain state” is optimal and even required for performing. I am convinced that much of what my mentor Mike Longo taught me in regards to rhythm “activates” a whole brain state.
I try to teach musical techniques in classes to help students achieve this.
5) Some tunes just never feel “right”.
I have had tunes that I “think I should do” or styles I “think” I should play. I have even taken songs and practiced them every day for a year and found that because they were not registered as “the truth” in my mind, they just never seemed to work on a gut level.
A good point to bring up here is “who is the I that thinks this”. This could be the ever insistent ego in disguise! When you are immersed in music so there’s only music and no “you”….you are likely on the right track!
On the other hand, I have discovered music in an instant that rings of “the truth”. That music always feels good to play – and the focus is the music and only the music. And, the music that the audience likes and remembers is the music that feels like “the truth”. What a coincidence 🙂
What is true and right for another performer may not be true and right for you 🙂
A Recap….To Thine Own Self Be True
So – enjoy being true and honest with your music. Your audiences will appreciate it and your work will be play. Even if you can’t yet play a hard piece or arrangement you are working on…if you love it enough and it rings true to you, it will reveal itself to you in time!
Until next time, keep swingin!