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What do you think about when you play? Virtual Instrument Plugins
Old 22nd March 2019
  #1
What do you think about when you play?

[intended as an open-ended discussion]

When you're starting out, there are a million things to occupy your conscious mind. But after you've played a while, your subconscious, motor control (muscle and movement control) systems can kind of take over and -- when you're in a comfortable zone in your playing -- you may find your thoughts wandering.

A lot of folks drill guitar or other instruments while they're watching TV. Sometimes I read the news while I'm playing.

But a lot of times, the mind wanders... I've found myself thinking of everything from mundane day to day chores to the big, eternal questions...


So, what do you think about -- in words or otherwise -- when you're playing?
Old 22nd March 2019
  #2
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Mikhael's Avatar
 

Getting through the song without @#$%ing up...
Old 22nd March 2019
  #3
Once when I was drilling on my nylon string guitar, trying to improve contrapuntal dexterity (long ways to go, baby), I found myself thinking about repetition and memory and how it could be, in some ways, analyzed in terms of resonant systems -- and that started me on a long flight of speculative thought relating to how resonant theory could be used as a specific kind of lens to view everything from the evolution of biological life to human cognitive and motor control systems...

I then tried to dictate my thoughts into my old phone (whose voice reco was a bit fraught at times) and then, wanting to share my musings with a couple of specific people, tried to clean and tighten up what had been a big, incoherent ramble... a bit, anyhow. It's still a poorly connected, poorly flowing ramble -- and it's 'hidden' on the website, itself -- but it might be good for a few giggles...

Consciousness, evolution, nature, and resonant systems… | TK Major
Old 22nd March 2019
  #4
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Old 22nd March 2019
  #5
re: Ms Loveless' video


Been a while since I heard a good list song... really fun vid!
Old 22nd March 2019
  #6
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mamm7215's Avatar
I think about how awesome I'd be at guitar if I just practiced more...
Old 22nd March 2019
  #7
Here for the gear
I'm an improvisational rock bassist - I sometimes find myself thinking about what I "should" be playing, and realize that I should just be listening to everyone - when I can actually do that is when I come up with the best stuff.
Old 23rd March 2019
  #8
Quote:
Originally Posted by hieronymous7 View Post
I'm an improvisational rock bassist - I sometimes find myself thinking about what I "should" be playing, and realize that I should just be listening to everyone - when I can actually do that is when I come up with the best stuff.
Oh, hell, yeah. As soon as my critical/editorial self starts trying to monkey around, the train goes off the rails. But letting it all just flow and happen does require one to keep fluid on his instrument and be able to stay in an evolving groove without having to 'think' too much.

It's interesting that in an area of interplay between the conscious brain and the more hidden motor system functions, your conscious brain learns stuff but then has to sort of 'teach' it to the motor system. And then, at least for me, the motor system needs to work with it until it's 'second nature'... at that point -- at least when things are rolling right -- you can sort of give the conscious mind a little more license to give guidance...

Or at least that's sort of a simplified version of my constantly evolving concept of how it works for me.


Now, the weird thing for me (as a guitarist who's become interested in solo improvisational counterpoint [don't get excited, I'm any much good at it, though I figure if I live another 30 or 40 years I might start getting there... unfortunately, I'm pushing 70. ]) is that, at this point, my motor system seems to have not just evolved its own understanding of things like fingerpicking and the interaction between right and left -- an understanding that is all but completely hidden from my conscious brain -- but its own apparent understanding seems actually deeper in some ways than my conscious mind's -- which is... interesting.

Last edited by theblue1; 23rd March 2019 at 03:58 AM..
Old 23rd March 2019
  #9
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RicTone's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by theblue1 View Post
So, what do you think about -- in words or otherwise -- when you're playing?
When I play a song, I become the song. I am the song. I don't think.

When I learn a song or remember a song, I think.
Old 23rd March 2019
  #10
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henryrobinett's Avatar
I try not to think. I work on knowing the song to the point where i can LOOK at the changes and rhythmic cells but not think about it. That’s when i play best. No criticism. When I mess up I just let it go by. But this requires you know you stuff very, very, very well. It’s like walking. You don’t think about walking. If you stumble you let it go and don’t worry about it. You probably won’t go into self doubt about your ability to walk. Same thing.
Old 23rd March 2019
  #11
Quote:
Originally Posted by RicTone View Post
When I play a song, I become the song. I am the song. I don't think.

When I learn a song or remember a song, I think.

Quote:
Originally Posted by henryrobinett View Post
I try not to think. I work on knowing the song to the point where i can LOOK at the changes and rhythmic cells but not think about it. That’s when i play best. No criticism. When I mess up I just let it go by. But this requires you know you stuff very, very, very well. It’s like walking. You don’t think about walking. If you stumble you let it go and don’t worry about it. You probably won’t go into self doubt about your ability to walk. Same thing.
As someone who was able to learn to play music only as an adult, that oneness with the music is something that's sometimes been elusive and which, in some regards, has taken a long time to develop. And a certain restlessness, maybe born of a sense of having to push to catch up, has at times caused my reach to exceed my grasp, as they say.

Interestingly, I think it was my increasing passion for fingerpicking that may have helped excite and inform a more intense and direct relationship with my primary instrument, the guitar.

It's forced me to push my harmonic understanding as I became more interested in incorporating melodic and harmonic elements in one part -- but it's also caused me to be far less pedestrian in my approach to rhythm -- and far more visceral, as well. Something about taking that flatpick out of my tightly clenched fingers seems to have set me free.
Old 23rd March 2019
  #12
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RicTone's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by theblue1 View Post
As someone who was able to learn to play music only as an adult, that oneness with the music is something that's sometimes been elusive and which, in some regards, has taken a long time to develop.
Reading your posts over the years you are very thoughtful and intense in a great way. Could it be in this instance you are too hard on yourself?

What happens if you play a song you know very well forwards and backwards, a song you can play in your sleep. And you play the song becoming the song. At that point it's not about playing the song, it's the song. It can be a simple song to play or a difficult song to play.
Old 23rd March 2019
  #13
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How much better I was when I was way younger lol
Old 23rd March 2019
  #14
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enorbet2's Avatar
I am a Zen Improv player. My best nights are when I disappear into the act and become the song. Listening to some recordings of my band the best sometimes include things I sometimes can't reproduce even after the fact having the example right in front of me. That state of mind is a major part of what keeps me playing.
Old 23rd March 2019
  #15
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bash's Avatar
 

That I should really do it more often.
Old 23rd March 2019
  #16
Quote:
Originally Posted by RicTone View Post
Reading your posts over the years you are very thoughtful and intense in a great way. Could it be in this instance you are too hard on yourself?

What happens if you play a song you know very well forwards and backwards, a song you can play in your sleep. And you play the song becoming the song. At that point it's not about playing the song, it's the song. It can be a simple song to play or a difficult song to play.
I may have given a slight misimpression... while there's no question I've faced challenges learning, there are times when, yeah, the muses sweep in (or however that works, probably not the place to get into a sidebar on paganism/brain function ) and I'm transported from (at least some of) my apparent limitations and things just flow... and, of course, those moments of musical grace have only gotten more interesting now that they're supported and informed by a greatly expanded technical and theoretical understanding -- not to mention greatly enhanced physical control. [But good to keep in mind that I was told twice as a kid by two different music educators I had 'absolutely no musical talent' -- so that 'great improvement' hardly moved me to the top of Olympus.]

But give me a good groove, and I can usually find the moment.


Quote:
Originally Posted by oceantracks View Post
How much better I was when I was way younger lol
Yeah... sometimes I hear a guitar part on an old recording from decades ago when I was musically kind of a fool and I think to myself, 'Was that me? How did I do that? Where did that come from?'

With regard to skill sets... damn them for requiring practice and maintenance!

About 15 years ago I realized I finally had enough chops that it was getting to be something of a real pain to maintain them all while still trying to push forward. (Not that I know all that much; more like limited capacity... )


Quote:
Originally Posted by enorbet2 View Post
I am a Zen Improv player. My best nights are when I disappear into the act and become the song. Listening to some recordings of my band the best sometimes include things I sometimes can't reproduce even after the fact having the example right in front of me. That state of mind is a major part of what keeps me playing.
I know what you mean, my best moments have tended to be when I was in the moment, the groove and not 'thinking' about my playing (at least not with my conscious forebrain) -- sometimes I feel almost like I'm at a distance, watching passively . (Which is not unlike the scenario that set me off on the speculative theorizing I mentioned above, though, of course, in that case, observing my playing actually pushed me into speculating on how it was happening... which kind of took me out of the moment... )

But, yeah, as I've often said (as a guy who leans to hard-headed scientific exploration and explanation), if the muses didn't exist... we'd have to invent them.

Something 'transcendent' happens at times when playing, not all the time, sometimes rarely -- but no one can tell me it's not something quite extraordinary, however it works.
Quote:
Originally Posted by bash View Post
That I should really do it more often.
Oh, yeah.

I've found that the more I know, the longer it takes me to warm up. Seems like it's taking a couple hours these days... Getting old, too, I guess.

Play while you're young.

And then play when you're old. It changes, challenges change, but, dang, I ain't gonna stop.
Old 23rd March 2019
  #17
I try not to think. When I start "thinking" I get into trouble - it distracts me from what I'm doing. Or what my hands and mouth are doing - when "me" gets into it it's a distraction.
Old 23rd March 2019
  #18
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kafka's Avatar
I'm not sure what I think. It's like a conversation with the music. I'm trying to be relevant. I'm just thinking the song.
Old 23rd March 2019
  #19
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Not thinking, just listening. When i stop listening the mind wanders and i suddenly realize i have no idea what i just played.
Old 24th March 2019
  #20
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I can sing two verses and choruses of a song completely lost in mundane thoughts. If I stay lost I would likely finish the song just fine yet the danger is to start thinking about the song again and then panic because I'm not sure where I am in the song. It can work sometimes too as I may start thing about the story and emotion of the song independently of the actual words and this helps me sing with emotion.

I'm a professional busker so its handy to be able to interact with the public/customers/patrons while still playing and singing the song and not drop a note or word. Sometimes its just squeezing in a "morning" or "thank you" as I play along. Sometimes its a case of continuing to play a verse while chatting with the person. I try not to stop if I can avoid it but sometimes you have to.

Sometimes I make myself concentrate on the song as a kind of meditation and to empty my mind of all other thoughts.
Old 25th March 2019
  #21
A long time ago, when I was first playing, I jammed a few times with an all-improv piano player and some horn players. (My clumsy guitar was a bad fit, but they were generous. Or at least charitable. )

This piano player was kind of a wild, wooly guy and he would often regale us with the stories that came to him from the music he and the rest of us were playing as we played it. Now, these stories were often kind of, let's say, mythic/heroic (it was the 70's) or lacking in plot or context ('the fast part was this guy running down Gaffey Street and being chased by these gangsters and then that chord change thing was like where he cut up 13th street and then ditched into this dark alley and...' -- you get the idea). At first I was a bit wide-eyed at the whole thing but after I thought about it, I figured it was pretty cool.
Old 25th March 2019
  #22
Gear Maniac
 

I've been playing for 30 years. At this point, the entire reason I pick up an instrument is so I can NOT think for a while. All of the thinking was done when I was learning how to play.
Old 25th March 2019
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by henryrobinett View Post
I try not to think.
Who was it, Laurie Anderson? or Jane Siberry? who had a song with the refrain

"Try to think of nothing
Try to think of nothing
Try to think of nothing
Try to think of nothing..."

Sometimes I'll force myself to start repeating that mantra, just to flush out all the extra-musical crap cluttering my focus when I'm playing.
Old 25th March 2019
  #24
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cavern's Avatar
 

I don't think anything, im listening to the other instruments and vocals.
Old 25th March 2019
  #25
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Mikhael's Avatar
 

If you're talking about while improvising, I'm not really *thinking* about anything. I'm listening and fitting the melodies in my head to the music. If I'm singing, that's a whole different thing; trying to remember lyrics, getting my voice to cooperate, keep the rhythm guitar going... I hate singing.
Old 25th March 2019
  #26
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12ax7's Avatar
 

Mr Rogers: Tell me some of the things you think about when you're playing - some of the images.

...Because of course when you were playing, I thought about things like sheep and things like that, little candies, fresh little candies, and things like that.

Do you think of those things too?


Bass Player: Oh, I basically think about my financial situation:

I count every like beat that I play when I play, and I figure how many notes I give in into the space you know ...


Mr Rogers: Uh huh. Sure.


Bass Player: ...Out into space - for how much I'm gettin paid...

...And I am workin' cheap!
[I].[I]
Old 25th March 2019
  #27
Gear Guru
I think about the next verse I have to sing, chord I'm playing...... Some of my best writing is putting a soccer game on and just noodling around. If I want to hear the audio I screw around on an unplugged electric.

Honestly if I think about the words I'm singing I get emotional if they're any good, and that doesn't help!.......In a solo just trying to pay attention to what I'm playing to and be in the moment.....
Old 26th March 2019
  #28
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kafka's Avatar
Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes,
That call me on and on across the universe,
Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box they
Tumble blindly as they make their way
Across the universe
Old 26th March 2019
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by theblue1 View Post
[intended as an open-ended discussion]

When you're starting out, there are a million things to occupy your conscious mind. But after you've played a while, your subconscious, motor control (muscle and movement control) systems can kind of take over and -- when you're in a comfortable zone in your playing -- you may find your thoughts wandering.

A lot of folks drill guitar or other instruments while they're watching TV. Sometimes I read the news while I'm playing.

But a lot of times, the mind wanders... I've found myself thinking of everything from mundane day to day chores to the big, eternal questions...


So, what do you think about -- in words or otherwise -- when you're playing?
Are they gonna feed us? Is the beer free? Is that girl looking at me?
Old 26th March 2019
  #30
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kennybro's Avatar
Interesting question. Never thought about it. Let me think...

I never really think about what I'm playing at the moment I play it. I don't think that's possible.

If it's a casual club situation and I know the songs backwards, I might be watching the dancers if they are entertaining. If I'm playing a lead, I'm evaluating what I did 5 seconds ago, determining if it was good or boring. If too many "borings" are occurring, I'll try to motivate fresh creativity. Sometimes I get into the zone if the band if hot, and I'll really connect to the conversation, but that's a luxury reserved for those rare gigs where the players are sharing synergy and generating a pocket moment. If the audience is also in the groove, that's magic, and I might go into a weird trance. Like a collective consciousness with the band and the crowd. Then suddenly, the song ends, and we're all back in the room, asking what's next.

I get called for a lot of pickup gigs, so occasionally if the band truly sucks, I'm thinking about how to hide my identity, because I don't want to be recognized in any Facebook posts. But I still do it because I'm in love the surprise of a great night with players I never before met. Had one last Saturday.

I have a few regular trios that lots of require energy and commitment to make it sound like a full band. If the drummer is basic, I need to play much busier. If the drummer is busy, I can relax a bit. If the bass player is busy, I'm thinking about how I want to throw something at him.

When I'm singing, so I'm focusing on selling the song emotionally, and guitar playing brain goes on total auto-pilot. I can play a whole song, and be just minimally aware of what I did with the guitar.

I have a few larger bands that are fully arranged and rehearsed. With these, I'm thinking ahead 5 or 10 seconds, to be sure I play the thing required when the time arrives, and that I do it well.

If someone calls Brown Eyed Girl, Mustang Sally or Wonderwall, and we do it, I'll be playing and singing, but thinking about what's on the TV if it's in my line of sight. Unless there are really good looking dancers. They win every time.
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