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Topic: What to do with your brain while you play the piano  (Read 1157 times)

Offline brogers70

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Sorry, I couldn't think of a title that wouldn't invite a sarcastic reply, but this is the question...

What do you concentrate on when you play? My normal thing has been to think about whatever my teacher has told me about technique with respect to a given piece, arm movements, wrist relaxation, finger alignment, and all that, along with some thoughts about harmony and structure to help my memory. But recently I decided to try an experiment. I picked a couple of movements from the Bach French Suite #4 that I'm working on, the Allemande (100% tuned in with muscle memory) and the Courante ( not quite as solidly under the fingers, but pretty solid). Then I tried thinking five different ways while I played them each many times and (very subjectively) scored how I thought they came out.

The five alternative uses of the brain were

1. Think about technique, relaxation, and sensations in the body
2. Think about some visual image that evokes the affect of the piece
3. Think about listening carefully to hear individual lines, sequences, voice leading, imitation and the like
4. Think about nothing - or really do a TM style focus on the sensation of breathing without letting thoughts persist
5. Think about politics.

I'd expected that thinking about technical stuff would be better for the less familiar piece and thinking about listening carefully more helpful with the familiar one. But I found that just keeping a mental image that evoked the affect of the piece made for a better performance. Thinking about politics just irritated me. Trying to meditate by concentrating on breathing was difficult and not helpful at all. Listening carefully came in second best, but if I noticed something I'd not heard before it would sometimes startle me enough to throw me off.

Obviously, this is just one simple way of playing around with this, and the best approach could be different for different pieces and circumstances. Still, I wonder what other folks approach to this is. What to do with your brain while you play?

Offline visitor

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Re: What to do with your brain while you play the piano
Reply #1 on: May 02, 2018, 10:53:31 PM
i'm listening to sound i'm making and thinking ahead of how i want what's coming next to sound.

Offline bernadette60614

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Re: What to do with your brain while you play the piano
Reply #2 on: May 02, 2018, 11:32:11 PM
It depends upon where I am in the development of the piece.

In the early stages, I'm focusing on the right notes, fingering and rhythm with the goal of getting this as "nailed" as possible.

In the mid stages, more on expression and fluency.

In the final stages, pre-performance, in managing my nerves...so I'll practice with the windows open, record myself, ask my friends to listen to me.

Offline themeandvariation

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Re: What to do with your brain while you play the piano
Reply #3 on: May 03, 2018, 01:53:34 AM
a little diversion..
I'm reminded of when a reporter asked Heifetz just after performing a violin concerto, "What are you thinking about when you are performing such a work."

Reply: "What I'm going to eat for dinner."   ;)

Offline ted

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Re: What to do with your brain while you play the piano
Reply #4 on: May 03, 2018, 07:05:41 AM
The brain activity appears to differ depending on the sort of playing I am engaged in. With technical practice, on my silent Virgil Practice Clavier, I think very hard about my physical movements, make mental notes about what is working and what isn't, and constantly experiment with new haptic means. It took me many years to realise that how I perceive movements is very important, and does not necessarily correspond to how they look. So during technical practice I think about nothing save technique, which process is aided by the instrument being silent.

The situation with improvisation, at least for me, is tremendously complicated. I regard it as nothing less than an abstract mapping of my entire consciousness over seventy years including memories, dream content, arbitrary associations, visions, music itself and countless other things. It also contains abstract beauty and form perceived within the present moment. “Thinking” falls a long way short of what goes on, which is more akin to what Aldous Huxley termed “opening the doors of perception”, escaping the quotidian reducing valves of the mind and letting in “mind at large”. I do not think about physical technique at all during this activity.

With pieces I am least qualified to pass an opinion, as my repertoire is small and I do not perform. However, I do not just repeat the same movements and thoughts day in and day out. I am regularly thinking about possible new ways of playing a piece, even one I have played for many years. Sometimes it seems to me that at its best, performance of a piece should seek to produce the mental states of improvisation, but again, that is just my private fancy.
"Mistakes are the portals of discovery." - James Joyce

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