Jump to content

Brain Modes


Recommended Posts

When I play the Anglo concertina, I feel as if I have two distinct ways of thinking going on. Let’s call them Reading Mode and Free Mode. 

 

Reading Mode requires me to think analytically in symbols off a page. I see a static idealized representation of the music and try to play what I see, all the while, my ears tell me if I am playing correctly. Even playing with my eyes closed, I might well be in this analytic mode and thinking... “Gotta get ready for that tricky fingering” or... “Let’s try an Em instead of a G here” or something like that. Something that gets me out of my head and into the mechanics of performance.

 

Free play, on the other hand, leaves my mind able to only concentrate on listening and responding musically. I’m free to shut my eyes or look at wherever spot I want. I like to watch the dancers, my fellow musicians or the audience. Often though, my gaze is at some indistinct spot up there on the wall. It’s almost as if I were staring at moving pictures living inside the back of my head. Concertina players of all stripes share this “concertina gaze” and it’s a common condition. So what are we all looking at anyway?

 

To illustrate the question, here are two limericks I wrote awhile back. They both failed to win honors at the NESI poetry contest.

 

John Kirkpatrick’s sly banter is fun

In concert he told everyone

“While playing this hard tune

My mind exits the room

I’ll see you all soon when I’m done”

 

While playing concertina we stare

At nothing, blank walls or thin air

When starting to play

My mind slips away

I’m sure it’s here somewhere, but where?

 

In Reading Mode my goal is to play clearly and correctly. Good for a performance that will be lower risk with fewer possible mistakes. It feels like I’m playing a very nice bunch of notes. Free play takes risks and can end in failure or brilliance depending. It feels more like I’m singing.

 

It’s useful to consider these two modes separately. Somehow it seems to feel as if they are each activating different physical sections of my brain. Of course, actual play requires both modes to be in operation at the same time but I believe that I have learned to shift focus from one mode to the other as the need arises. 

 

By practicing this focus shifting effort consciously and deliberately... it’s hardly a surprise that I’ve gotten better at it. At this point my Reading and Free modes talk to each other with ease while I perform.

 

Comments?

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think you may be describing two ends of a continuum rather than absolutes, and that much playing is somewhere in between (for instance being careful with (or even reading) the melody on the right hand while letting the left hand “be the left hand” or switching back and forth between the two modes you describe depending upon how intricate a particular portion of a tune is (or how well you know it, or whether you just thought of a harmony you might want to try on the fly).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree that there is more than one mode of brain focus when playing. I like to have access to the dots initially to help learn a tune, or to remind me of the patterns within it when I come back to it later. This mode is definitely visual-centred.

 

However, once I've got a tune thoroughly into the fingers, I can 'hear' the tune in my head, and my fingers can follow that mental model. So this is Audio-centred, albeit imaginary audio. This frees up the parts of my brain that would be used for visual input, to be used to think about other aspects of the tune - volume dynamics, phrasing pauses, alternative sequences, occasional harmonies, so I play more 'musically' and less rigidly.

 

Regards,

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Somewhere along this spectrum is a "composition" mode which is more than just playing random notes and rhythms but also relaxing one's mind to deconstruct and reassemble familiar patterns.  For me, this is a very powerful learning mode.  Riffs created this way seem to easily "stick" in the mind.  Because your mind can anticipate and perform faster than you can play, this can be done "on the fly".  I guess this can be called "improvisation mode"....🙂 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I hope this is relevant to your Blog Jody. I can whistle on key to many tunes but it takes me a good long while to find the notes on my Anglo even if I play in a common Key say C or G .I have been playing since 2004 .I still often need written score to show me where to put my fingers ,I listen to the tune for lift .Is it just practice to here a note and then reproduce it on my instrument ? I would be grateful for any Advice. Thanks Bob 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

6 hours ago, Kelteglow said:

I can whistle on key to many tunes

Are you saying you can whistle a tune in the correct key without first hearing a reference note? That’s what’s called “perfect pitch,” and very few people have it (I don’t), although in some primitive cultures everybody seems to have it.

 

Apparently, Barack Obama has it: Al Green Obama

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is a very interesting topic as I have struggled with getting past what what Jody calls reading mode and into free mode. 

 

I am not sure if what i have to say is germane or just me rambling, but here goes.

 

I think of it more that I cannot get past using executive mode thinking/playing and into autonomous mode playing.  I can't seem to stop mentally articulating what I am doing - there is this voice running in my head telling me what to do, but the trouble is that it cannot speak fast enough for playing music.  I have had the same problem with learning Morse code (yes, I am that old) and touch typing and I even had the same problem learning to ride a bike when I was a little kid.  It is a good thing for reasoning things out (I have a Math/Computer Science background) but it is  a very bad thing for music or art or even advanced chess playing because it is just too slow as it tries to spell things out step by step all the time.

 

Modern AI computation uses neural networks to learn by example, they have no executive mode functions (as far as I know) so they are not really thinking machines but these neural networks are amazing at pattern recognition and synthesizing something new from learned patterns - whatever sort of pattern that might be - including music or art.  They are called neural networks because they are computer models of the networks of neurons in human and animal brains.  It seems to me reasonable that most of our 'thinking' is, or should be, using these human neural networks and I suspect that mine are being suppressed by this damn executive voice playing in my head.

 

I wish I could figure out how to turn off this voice but I have not found a way to do this.  I suspect that some drugs might do it, but I am not prepared to try that route.  Alcohol has some effect but then it also affects the neural networks too.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Try watching something lite but engaging on TV while you play say, "The Honeymooners", to distract the CEO.  Even if you can't manage a tune keep moving your fingers and hitting buttons It may take some time for your subconscious to break free....🙂

Edited by wunks
more info,
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 7/23/2022 at 9:02 PM, Don Taylor said:

I think of it more that I cannot get past using executive mode thinking/playing and into autonomous mode playing.  I can't seem to stop mentally articulating what I am doing - there is this voice running in my head telling me what to do, but the trouble is that it cannot speak fast enough for playing music.

 

[...]

 

I wish I could figure out how to turn off this voice but I have not found a way to do this.  I suspect that some drugs might do it, but I am not prepared to try that route.  Alcohol has some effect but then it also affects the neural networks too.

 

 

You might appreciate a book called "The Inner Game of Music". In some ways it is very much a "1980s self-help book" but its core concept is that performing well (in music, or sports, or anything really) is largely about getting your inner critic to shut up and take 5 while you're playing. Unfortunately, the book spends 200 pages beating that idea into the ground, but you might find some suggestions for helping to quiet this voice. Skim the first chapter, maybe!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

13 minutes ago, Jesse Smith said:

You might appreciate a book called "The Inner Game of Music".

Thanks for this tip.  I can get a Kindle edition for less than $10 so I will give that a go.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 7/22/2022 at 6:15 PM, Jody Kruskal said:

 

Free play, on the other hand, leaves my mind able to only concentrate on listening and responding musically. I’m free to shut my eyes or look at wherever spot I want. I like to watch the dancers, my fellow musicians or the audience. Often though, my gaze is at some indistinct spot up there on the wall. It’s almost as if I were staring at moving pictures living inside the back of my head. Concertina players of all stripes share this “concertina gaze” and it’s a common condition. So what are we all looking at anyway?

 

 

Dancers.

 

I've played for dancers most of my musical life.  I often feel hobbled when playing without dancers to watch; my vacant stare is probably me searching in vain for the visual cues dancers provide.  I do find that when I'm playing for people just sitting there, I do better if I visualize people dancing to what I'm playing.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Interesting way to break this down to describe the bifurcation in playing a concertina. My son is a working percussionist and I'd say he has a similar experience and then some if you add in his arms hands and feet all going at once. 

I want to take this one more step:

At a gig last month I was pretty tired and had pulled a muscle in my lower back. But once I settled in and started performing all pains and tiredness disappeared. I know it is because of a level of concentration but also an immersion into the musical persona one takes on when performing.

Regarding improvisation, well, if you hear the key changes and know your instrument, that side of your musical thought process kicks in and allows you to play what your hearing to the melody.

Just saying...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I believe that throughout any  creative process one is able to switch, indeed it is essential to slip into two modes; very much a described in this topic.

The conscious mode [ whereby everything is planned well ahead and analysed]

The intuitive mode; where automatic processes of the  mind come into play.

In a way we have maybe a paradox here of the brain versus mind scenario; is it one and the same, or perhaps two different processes completely?

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This has everything to do with how the brain is organised broadly into distinct loops, two of which are important here: cortico-cortical (the analytical, sequential, highest level one) and cortico-thalamic (the parallel computing one, and the one that does emotional, sensory and memory integration). In one of the provious threads on a similar topic, I wrote my experience from a medicated epileptic perspective. Each of the drugs I have been on in the last 30 years alter the balance of those loops and in turn, alters how I perceive and perform the music. Due to this, I have been on both ends of this spectrum all of you are describing in your posts. 

 

On one medication, I mostly have the analytical loop involved in processing music, like Don - on this drug, I can easily hear harmonic structure of a tune and I have pretty much perfect musical memory, but I cannot, for the love of me, continue seamlessly after a mistake or restart playing from the middle of a phrase. I also have any kind of emotional attachment to the music dimmed to minimum, sometimes to the level of complete absence, so my performance is quite mechanical.

 

On a different drug it’s the exact opposite - I’m deeply emotionally involved in both listening and playing, deeply expressive and spontaneous, I can skip over mistakes easily, but get succesively more angry after each one to the point when I must stop playing altogether after a few, and I don’t hear the structure.

 

On yet a different one, I can, to some extent, switch between those loops, or at least prepare the right conditions for the one I need at the moment to rise to the top. Tricks involve not only focus related methods, but also things like stretching my back, or avoid playing for few hours after a meal etc. As to mental ones, the most efective one is focussing… on the muscles on back of my neck and overall on the sensory input from the body. This stops the analytical loop in my brain from „keeping an eye” on exact finger movements and let’s me hear the music as if someone else was performing it. This has a drawback however - if I play a piece with long parts, I sometimes get stuck on what part is next if I drift too far into the feel of a tune.

 

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...