How the mind gets in the way
Two different days. Same scenario. I am rehearsing for an upcoming gig I've been graciously invited to play with a singer/songwriter/guitarist and a bass player/percussionist/backup vocalist. None of us has ever played together before. We met at a jam session and our lead guy summoned us together to join him for his gig.
The difference between the two days? How wild my mind was the second time around. And how it prevented me from going “full out” with my expression. Interesting to notice. I’ve talked before about the freedom of the first take
, and how I’ve found that when I’m totally open, not trying to “get it right” or worried about “playing the wrong notes,” I usually create something very interesting and often artistic. The minute I start redoing, rehearsing, recreating, researching – in the sense of trying to “live up” to the quality of the previous takes or the original version of the song done by the “people who knew what they were doing” – I lose it. I start trying way too hard. I start thinking, second-guessing, and measuring. The sound becomes stiff and artificial.
I've played at six different jams in the past two weeks. I'm beginning to see that there is such a difference between playing from a place of pure listening
and ownership of everything coming out in the moment, versus needing to know
what you're doing. I used to play mainly from this latter place. I either "knew" a piece or didn't. I had the confidence that I could learn anything if I just practiced it enough
. But this confidence didn't make "on the fly" or improvisational sessions possible for me. These weren't fun because I was attached to the idea that if I just had more time to practice, I would know enough to be able to join in. In fact, I always felt slightly underpracticed. Not quite as good as I could be. My so-called confidence was something I held in private, something that was conditional
upon my having more time to prepare.
Aside from instilling an obsessive work ethic that served me well at things like getting into Harvard, getting through medical school, and impressing people who think that the more degrees you have the better person you are, I haven't found this constant feeling of slight inadequacy to be that useful. Continue reading "Learning to play again"