The other day in a cello lesson I saw the moment when a student’s eyes start to glaze over. Glazing is better than tearing, but I knew I had given the kid too much to think about at once. I pulled back and we talked about how there is so much multi-tasking going on in music; you have to count, often look at a conductor, follow your own part, listen to others to be together, all while doing independent movements with your right and left hands. This is far from easy.
A local brain specialist, Dr. Andreason, wrote a wonderful book on the artistic or creative mind, and through her studies she has noted that musicians actually have more grey matter because of how we multi-task constantly.
Fortunately, through years of practice most of the physical or artistic skills become second nature. We all need to focus on our weaknesses or tensions to become better players, but it is important to learn to scale back and hone in on one thing at a time. As a teacher I am there to point out student’s technical issues (along with their strengths!) and give them the tool box to fix them.
I’ve cried in lessons, even as an adult. There are days when you can’t put it all together, because you are either distracted by personal problems, you’re butt-tired, or you can’t find the right sensation to fix a technical problem and you feel put on the spot.
Back in the pool (yay, I’m back in the pool finally!) yesterday, I realized that sometimes I enjoy “mindless” swimming–just letting go and and feeling a sort of groove or rhythm. That’s usually about when I lose track of where I am in my laps, but it’s a lot better than feeling like I am sputtering and fighting the pool.
Usually I just push myself to relax and focus on one thing at a time, be it reaching my arms out further to get a better breath, or keeping an even kick. I’m not fast and I may never be, but I’d like to become “one” with that black line on the bottom of the pool.
Currently I’m part of a local production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Iolanthe.” Never heard of it? Join the masses. It’s funny, but loooong (2.5 hours). It’s an extremely easy part, which a violist friend of mine dubbed as “mind-numbing.” The other night as I was playing I lost count in a song that had four verses; we have to count and repeat each verse.
I would like to say I was focusing on the music, but I was really thinking about sushi and how I would like to be eating some right then.
I started thinking that counting in music is not that far off from counting laps. It needs to be in the back of your mind, and can become kind of hypnotic. On the good front, I am able to think about other things while playing cello because most of my artistic skills have become ingrained in muscle memory. I also did not mess up as I followed the singer by ear. For my beginning students, this might have been fatal and there would have been what we in the music profession call a “train wreck”.
Sometimes it is ok to let go, relax and just play. Or swim, bike and run. As long as there are not fatal consequences. Come together, trust your skills and enjoy the sushi afterwards!