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THE MIND: CO-CREATOR OF MUSIC

“… All that we are is the result of our thoughts…”
– Buddha

Our mental potential

What is involved in a task as significant and profound as renewing our vision of music and our daily study of a musical instrument?

Many factors are involved, among them the importance of how we direct our mental potential in order to establish a new relationship with music and with ourselves. This is something that never ceases to amaze me from one day to the next, as the results that we can attain in using our minds in our daily practice are truly surprising. It is a question of recognizing the great treasure that we have in the human mind and helping it to bloom in every situation in our lives.

At this point perhaps you are wondering: “but what has my mental potential got to do with playing an instrument?” A lot! You play your instrument not only with your body but with your mind as well. Perhaps at first this concept may seem abstract and confusing. After all, how can I play an instrument with my mind? What does this idea mean exactly? The answers to these perfectly normal questions are discussed below.

There are various forms of thinking. One form is agitated, obsessive thinking, which instead of being a tool for improving your musical study becomes a great obstacle to the healthy, creative development of your ability. This type of thinking can even block you mentally. This will in some way affect your musical performance and also your physical condition. This is why it is essential to understand the reasons for this all too common situation among artists in order to find new directions that can lead you to a fully realized, tension-free musical performance.

There is another type of thinking, consisting of calm, caring thoughts, which lead us to perform wonderful actions. Once you discover this way of thinking, which will be discussed further in the following chapters, it will become your greatest ally in your process of establishing a new relationship with music and achieving a profound, natural, authentic and totally tension-free manner of playing your instrument.

Consider the following obvious example of the effect of obsessive thinking: imagine you have a concert in a few days. Merely thinking about it may in some cases make you feel nervous. Why? Why do our stomachs churn merely by thinking about a concert? Shouldn’t we be happy to share our musical art with an audience? This is, after all, one of the aims of music. Nevertheless, the nerves continue, affecting your daily study, making it the exact opposite of the enjoyment that you could be experiencing in your daily practice.

Obsessive thinking

So what causes these nerves? Is it caused by the prospect of performing a piece of music in front of an audience? It would seem so; the idea of playing before an audience is what causes us to feel tense and nervous, as deep in our hearts we have a huge fear of making mistakes, of being judged or feeling frustrated after completing our performance in public.

This idea, which has nothing at all to do with the essence of the art of sound, arises first of all in your mind. It totally affects your perspective of the concert and gives you a feeling of insecurity. The physical reality of the performance has not even arrived, and yet this mental terror is already projecting forward to the actual moment of the concert. In other words, you are anticipating the event mentally, but in a way that makes you feel physically blocked about it. This situation is caused by obsessive thinking, thinking that paralyzes us mentally, emotionally and physically. What you are doing in a case like this is constructing an image of the event that is distorted by negative thoughts. This construction is so powerful that it may indeed come to happen just as you had imagined it. But it is important to note that you yourself have created it in the first place with your own way of thinking. This would often happen to me with my teacher in Switzerland. The thought of playing in class made me wildly nervous. As a result, my practice at home became a veritable torture. Now I realize that I anticipated the situation with my way of thinking in those days. Obviously, my circumstances at the time were not at all beneficial to me; they influenced me dramatically.

In the world of music this is a common situation for students and professionals alike. The levels of nerves depend on the individual; they may be high or low. What is important is to analyze why such situations occur and seek alternatives that will help you to enjoy playing an instrument. Ultimately, what really matters in an artistic event is whether the power of the art truly flows between the performer and the audience. Once a different approach is discovered, a profound internal change will take place. In time, that change will become more and more evident, in a spectacular way, in ourselves and in our musical art. For me, this type of change is constant in my artistic and personal development. This is the beauty of music, that it helps us to grow day by day as human beings and as beings touched by the magic of the art.

Constructive thinking

So what would happen if you suddenly became aware that the problem described above is initially caused by a “mental” situation? What would you do about it? Would you continue with the same mental attitude, or would you start to transform your thinking into healthy, caring and creative thinking? Can you imagine a daily music practice free of mental tensions, filled instead with creativity and love? Can you imagine enjoying to the full the experience of playing in front of an audience? All this can happen if you allow yourself to discover your true mental potential and apply it when practising your musical instrument each day. If you do, you will start to apply thinking that is correct, profound and healthy. For example, instead of thinking that performing in public frightens you, try using your mental potential to transform that thought, which holds you back, into a beneficial thought like the following:

I FEEL VERY GOOD PLAYING IN EVERY CONCERT THAT I GIVE. I AM EXPRESSIVE AND I IMMERSE THE AUDIENCE IN THE MUSIC.

This simple, healthy and positive thought, repeated constantly, may even make your body feel a little more flexible and freer when playing both in your daily practice and at a musical event. Of course, this is only one part of the mental transformation, but it forms the basis for cultivating the change. Renewing your image and the image of the world around you will give you the strength necessary to explore this new approach to studying music. In this approach, your mind, emotions and body must form a single unit, resulting in a resounding transformation to the way you play your instrument.

The power of this new way of thinking applied to your daily practice will have wonderful effects. I recall that on one occasion one of my students, when he began to apply this approach, exclaimed with wonder: “it’s like magic!” And indeed, a well-aimed word can create such magic, which consists in nothing more than tapping the unlimited potential of your mind in all that you do. Moreover, behind this way of thinking lies the pure force of intention; the intention to feel yourself fully present in your work as an artist.

The effects of thoughts

Perhaps after reading the above, you might ask yourself: does my way of thinking really influence my daily practice? How important is it to maintain a certain way of thinking while practising? What does this have to do with my performance as a musician?

In fact, there has been extensive scientific research into the powerful influence that our way of thinking has on our physical system. It has been found that negative thoughts and tension release stress hormones in our bodies, causing physical exhaustion or fatigue. On the other hand, when our thoughts are creative and positive, the body produces chemical substances called endorphins and enkephalins, which foster physical and mental wellbeing.

With this in mind, one reason you should be careful with your thoughts when practising your instrument is because of the close relationship between your mind and your body, as you also play a musical instrument with “your instrument”, i.e., your physical being.

To better understand this concept, try the following exercise:

1. Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted
2. Have your musical instrument on hand
3. Choose a musical passage from a piece that you’re studying
4. Bring to your mind a stressful thought. For example, “I always mess up in this part of the passage; it’s too hard to play.” Repeat it several times.
5. Take your instrument and play the passage.
6. When you’re finished, stop and take note of how you felt physically and mentally while you were playing.
7. Now take three slow and deep breaths from your abdomen.
8. Bring to your mind a constructive thought; for example, “I know that I can play this passage very well and feel free while playing.” Repeat this sentence several times (or another constructive sentence of your choice that enhances your relationship with the piece chosen for this exercise).
9. Keep clear in your mind, like a mental map of sound, the direction of the music and the type of tone that you want to produce through this passage. Imagine yourself playing very well.
10. Take your instrument and play the same musical passage.
11. Once again, note your perception of this last part of the exercise; i.e., how you felt physically and mentally after playing the passage.

Did you note any difference between the two performances? How did your body and mind respond in the two different parts of the exercise? Was there any difference in the sound of the piece? Perhaps you noted only a minimal difference, or perhaps a huge one; this depends on each person. What is important here is to become aware of the power of your mind in relation to your playing.

You may have noticed in the first part of the exercise that your muscles became stiff and prevented you from feeling good while playing, while also hindering the natural flow of your creativity. Such thoughts might also have made you feel emotionally frozen which in some way might made your performance stilted. It is as if the mental tension had inhibited the real expression of your true voice. These kinds of limiting and frustrating sensations are all too common for musicians; they are sensations that distance us from our real mission as artists.

During the second part of the exercise, you might have felt more flexibility in your muscles while playing, which resulted in greater physical and mental well-being during your performance and a more natural and profound fluency of sound. Without a doubt your mental focus was better, and therefore the energy of your playing was more powerful compared to the first part of the exercise. What is most revealing is that the fear of making mistakes begins to vanish due to the simple fact that you are channelling your mental energy creatively rather than destructively. In employing your mental potential, all fear will begin to vanish from the image you have of yourself and of playing music.

With constant practice, guided by the elements of the second part of the exercise, you will further develop your mental potential in relation to your way of playing your musical instrument. Through this new mode of thinking, you can achieve a more genuine way of playing that is free of both physical and mental obstacles. This type of healthy thinking is called CONSCIOUS SELF-CORRECTION. In the second part of the book, I will explain this mode of thinking in detail, through specific exercises, to be applied effectively to daily practice.

It’s worth noting that in the two parts of the exercise there is a difference in your emotional state. In the first, you might have felt a sense of frustration or fear well up inside you. In the second, you perhaps sensed a feeling of security or well-being. Both emotions will affect your playing considerably, as the feeling that arises from your thinking is the one you will express when you are playing. It is already a big step forward to become conscious of this and to know that you have the capacity to decide how you want to play music and how you want to feel during a musical performance. Of course, you will also need an excellent music teacher or guide to help you develop an effective technique and an expressive musicality. It is basically a question of teamwork, as it is just as important to have the support of a good teacher as a creative and effective study method. However, the results of that study will depend greatly on you, as you will do most of your practising on your own. It is therefore important to recognize that, regardless of the guidance you receive, within you there also lies an excellent teacher. This idea is what will help you to transform your daily study from a routine into something truly creative and productive.

The thought-feeling-action relation

“…to each thought corresponds a feeling and to that feeling a particular action…”
– Rudolf Steiner, Theosophy

All of the above leads us to the conclusion that the first step in creating a new technical-musical foundation requires a change in our thoughts about the world of sound and about ourselves. In other words, every apparent problem must first be solved at the mental level, using a creative thought accompanied by a detailed image. To have a clear mental picture of how you want to play will give you a sense of confidence which will result in appropriate and natural physical actions in response to your mental goal. It is necessary to be patient, as dramatic results may not be evident right away. It takes time to exercise your mental muscle in this way. In time, the results will begin to manifest themselves fully and effectively.
It is important not only to start using creative thoughts in your daily study, but also to link this new vision of the world of sound with nature in order to remember where the essence of sound really comes from. If you are open to it, this essence will find a means of perfect expression in you.

It’s worth repeating here that the mind is where it all begins. It is thus only through a mental transformation that you can take the first step towards developing this profound, authentic, unhindered union, which has always existed between you and the world of sound.

To conclude this fascinating topic, I offer the following thought, by way of reiteration:

“… [Man] knows also that he will fulfill his duty as a human being only when he lets himself be guided by “correct thinking” in knowledge as well as in acts…” (Rudolf Steiner, Theosophy, Forgotten Books, 2008, p. 23).

What Steiner suggests here is that by investing our thinking with care, love and creativity, we can make our true potential as human beings blossom in all its splendour. This is why your mind is the co-creator of music as it finds in the human being its full expression – its perfection. It is therefore up to you to emanate it through your musical instrument as faithfully and expressively as possible. One way to achieve this result is to use your mental, emotional and physical capacities to the maximum and to bring them together in harmony at all times.

This post is also available in: Spanish

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