A Mental Game Ignites Physical Function

by | Sep 3, 2021

A Mental Game

So Much to Love

I genuinely love what I do. After all, they call it playing music, and I get to play every day!  Either with my students on whatever instrument they want to play in my beautiful studio or alone playing horn, piano, or maybe tuba, as I watch deer play from my window—the deer like the tuba. I’m the big moose. When playing music, I am playing a mental game that ignites the physical actions needed to perform the desired sounds.

I get many opportunities to perform with fantastic colleagues in St. Louis, including orchestras, chamber groups, brass or woodwind quintets, and even a brass trio. Since I’ve been here, I’ve given solo recitals, played and recorded with a rock band, and had jazz gigs alone and with friends. I enjoy playing and communicating musically in any style, and so many great musicians in this area cover a vast spectrum of musical genres. 

The Ah-Ha Moment

With all this music to enjoy playing, my favorite experience might be watching a student have their “Ah-Ha” moment. This is the moment when they first witness their sixth sense. It is when a student separates enough from the workings of the brain to observe, witness, and experience how much better they play or sing when they let go. When their body is working better without them doing anything but singing in their imagination, they see it enough to trust that if they stay in the “storytelling with sound” mode, then good sounds and the right notes will follow. It was so shocking for one student that he burst out laughing. I work hard to get the students to realize it is a beautiful and freeing moment. 

Out of The Head, Out of The Mind

Giddy with excitement, I heard students say, “It was like it wasn’t me” or “I was out of my head.” These students were experiencing the zone. Not only experiencing it but being aware when they were in it and that there was someone in there besides the thinker able to observe the thinking. They become aware of the inner musician. The subconscious musician is in all of us. That part of us looks to tap a foot, sing, or play the French horn. Who knows what kind of rhythmic and musical games our ancestors played, but I’m sure they were moved by vibrations and felt the rhythms in nature. 

Think like an Egyptian

The Egyptians imagined our human bodies to have six senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, taste, and thought. The thinking was just a sense used to solve problems. If you stop to think about what to do while being chased by a tiger, you will get caught, but your instinct or the inner survivor takes over and finds the most efficient way of getting you out of harm’s way. It works the same way when we play music. If I stop and ask a question, the phrase stops, and the music dies as surely as the victim of that tiger.

Cutting Out The Middleman

The thinker or middleman that slows down the musical motions and can even paralyze us with second guesses and doubts can be observed. This means it can also be ignored! When the student gets out of the way and lets go of the middleman, allowing the body to do its thing and just sing, their playing becomes free and easy. They become “the inner musician” and sing through whatever instrument they play. This moment can happen quickly, and once you say “Ah-Ha,” your idea of music performance changes. The way you prepare a piece or memorize one, the method and the idea of what to do while you’re playing, and the focus while performing for an audience all move to new levels of understanding. 

Experiencing Brings Belief and Relief

When I changed my way of teaching, I felt the need to share this with my former horn students, so I called them for one more lesson. I told them to sing what they would play with their voice, being aware of how they were thinking the sounds they were making when they were singing with their voice and then thinking the same way as they played the same thing on the horn.

Most thought I sounded like a lunatic. I was so excited to share this idea with them that I couldn’t blame them. They were friendly, but they didn’t believe me. Then, about three months later, I started to get some calls back. Students had tried to imagine they were singing while they played and realized there was something to this idea.

Ah-Ha!  Live Lessons 

This happens faster in a live lesson. We can sing and play together. Imitation and Imagination are the two most essential tools for learning music. I can help you experience the separation from the body and mind and help you play “out of your mind.” You will easily conquer that fast tempo or high note you are attempting with just one thought going on through your head. The thought of what you are trying to do, what you are playing, the product, nothing else. The thought of sound or the phrase you are making, the musical idea, sends the body into action with the most efficient method of performing the task at hand. There are no words, just clear signals to the muscles and systems needed to complete the music task. 

The Brain:  One Way On A Two-Way Street

Our human brain, though impressive, does have limitations. It can either give or receive information. It cannot do both at the same time. If you ask questions or respond to your senses, you are in receiving mode. If you tell a story, you are in giving mode.

When you tell me about what happened to you last Christmas, your facial expressions and hand or body motions are all working harmoniously to convey the message you are giving. You are not planning on what to say or how to move your arms to describe the new horn that Santa brought you. Your body is responding to clear signals from your brain about communicating the message or story you’re trying to convey. If you were interrupted with a question, you might lose your place, but you get back into storytelling mode and finish your message. If you stop and look at something, you are taking in sensory data, and your brain is no longer in the giving or storytelling mode. 

No Questions, Just Statements

For your body to get clear signals from the brain and perform all the tasks required to play a phrase on an instrument easily, you must stay in giving or storytelling mode. Once you think, ask a question, or decide something, your clear signals are interrupted, and the body finds less efficient ways to complete the task. Your phrase might get stale or choppy, or your pitch might drop. The quality of your tone might lessen, or you might stop playing, frozen in thought. Paralysis by analysis happens to musicians at all levels. One thought is all we need. We think of the music, the thought of the sound we are making. http://www.rogerrocco.net/2014/

Physical Acts from Musical Athletes

This is playing in the zone, playing out of your head, and when students tell me it was like it wasn’t them. I ask, “Who else is in there?”. It is you, and you’ve cut out the middleman, the thinker, and become the doer. “Just do it,” “Be the Ball,” and other catchy phrases from sports speak to an ability to eliminate thoughts of the body and think of the goal. We are musical athletes. What we do when we play music is a physical act. “Don’t think, just play!” is one of the mottos here.

We have no time for thinking. We’re busy doing one thing: singing!

A Cure for Performance Anxiety

This is a powerful method that can calm the musician with performance anxiety. It allows for easy, natural phrasing and develops the ability to play multiple instruments. The focused, calm mind allows the body to do its thing to the utmost. If you only have one thing to think about, just room for one thought, it is easy to remember what to focus on while playing. This is a very simple and calming idea. With only one thought, that of singing, you can’t focus on the audience and what they think about you. There’s no room to think about past failures or future worries. You only have room for storytelling. You can rely on this rock to conquer any performance anxiety you might experience. All you have to do is sing! http://www.rogerrocco.net/2013/

A Wonderful Servant, A Terrible Master

See the thinker and become aware of how to get your thoughts to work for you. A thinking mind is a great tool. The brain is more than that, though. It is the most complex of computers, keeping your heart beating and breathing all night while you’re asleep. It determines how much oxygen and sodium you need in your blood to keep your body functioning through any stressful physical task. Training can produce any musical idea you can imagine with the body. Learning to talk to the subconscious musician and give clear signals to the body about what we want is the path to a musical awareness that makes performance free and easy.

Imitation and Imagination

Listening to great musicians play is a massive part of developing your aural imagination. You will file these experiences deep in your subconscious and use your imagination to create your desired sounds. Knowing what’s possible can lead to achieving what’s thought to be impossible. This may lead to new heights never before accomplished on your instrument. You are a powerful creator, and music and vibration are rooted deep inside.

I’d love to witness you experience the Ah-Ha moment. Help you learn to play in the zone and explore your inner musician. Then, it will help you train your mind and body to sing with whatever instrument you have. Music is a lifetime of new challenges and experiences. It’s never too late to learn. Start your adventure today!

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