Don’t Think, Just Play

by | Sep 3, 2023

Happy Birthday

A Blogging Toddler

First things first! Please Join me in singing Happy Birthday to the Leenhorn Studios’ website. When this website launched two years ago, a new baby blogger was born. Today, this blogging toddler grows slowly with steady practice and is grateful for a place to organize and share these ideas. The lovely students who play with me provide the content, and you, faithful readers, help grow the desire to share that feeds and nourishes this young blogger. The ancient Egyptians believed that knowledge was gained through practice, and wisdom was gained with knowledge. With practice, I find knowledge and gain wisdom to share in the blogosphere. A pyramid of self-sustaining power keeps this blogger going. Our Egyptian ancestors are smiling.

Since birthdays usually come with presents, the folks at Never Gravity are helping me celebrate this year by providing a place on the website for music. They’ve added a Music Vault for me to fill with tools and arrangements made for students over the years. They’ve made this Vault safe and secure with a lock on the door and a guard always on duty. But that guard is me, and I threw away the key, so everything is free. Dan Gracey and the crew at Never Gravity have worked hard to get all the bells and whistles ringing and whistling. If you need a website, don’t think, call Dan. He’s your man!

Follow the Signs

Signs on the Wall

Music can transport us to different emotional landscapes, evoke memories, and transcend language barriers. Playing an instrument or singing can be a deeply immersive and transcendent experience, and one of the keys to truly great musical performances is not thinking while playing. “Don’t Think, Just Play” is the fourth sign covered in a blog. These four signs encompass the most important ideas I can show anyone who enters the studio to learn anything. If I’m stuck, I follow the signs and wriggle my way to freedom.

If you understand the signs, you know that following them is as “Simple and Easy” as you make it. You know that you are in charge of your attitude, and “Attitude is Everything,” so you can easily cultivate a fun-loving attitude where everything is “Simple and Easy.” When everything is easy, you can be “Fearless and Therefore Powerful,” trust your training, and play without thinking. Not thinking is our topic today, and “Don’t Think, Just Play” is the sign on display. Music doesn’t wait for us to think. It’s alive and lives in the moment. When habits of not thinking lead the way. We don’t think. We play.

Don't Think, Just Play

The First Rule

Admittedly, learning to “not” do something seems strange. The students who play music with me would agree that the number one rule in this studio with no rules is “Don’t think, Just play.” The irony of teaching students not to think is not lost on me, but our thinking process causes tension, slows physical actions, and stops the music.

Overthinking can be a musician’s worst enemy. If you’re preoccupied with hitting the right notes, following the sheet music precisely, or worrying about what the audience thinks, it’s easy to fall out of the flow of the music. Overthinking can lead to hesitation, anxiety, and a lack of emotional connection with the music you’re creating.

First Guess is Best

Everything stops while we double-check to ensure we’re correct. If we try to do something we already know how to do, we will only mess it up. Don’t try to do it. Just do it. Ninety-nine percent of the second guesses I witness move from the correct note to the incorrect one and back to the correct one after the beat has passed. The beat moves on with or without you. When we cut out the thinking middleman, our actions can flow with the music.

Music is a means of emotional expression, and when we overthink, we often lose the spontaneity and raw emotion that make music powerful. Instead of letting the music flow through us, we become mechanical and detached. Playing music without thinking requires practice and trust in oneself. When we let go of overthinking and immerse ourselves fully in the music, we can create truly magical and deeply moving performances.

Lost in Thought

This world is filled with distractions built to tickle the thinking process into action. Plenty of clever advertisers are being paid to get your attention, and their ads are everywhere. They are hard to miss. Before you know it, you’ve got a song in your head, and a pink elephant is dancing on a stage in your imagination. Is yours wearing a top hat like mine? Wait, are we lost in thought?

Getting lost in thought is easy. Maybe you have more than one voice talking up there. Are you talking with yourself, or is there someone else? If you are a witness to this conversation, perhaps there are three. In “Your Inner Musician,” we learned that we have three centers for neural communication in our bodies, and in “Your Inner Musician Two: Electric Boogaloo,” we learned about the seven energy centers. Our human instrument has so much going on that we could think about if we choose to, but before we start thinking without thinking, let’s explore the way we think.

Who’s Talking Now

Imagine the brain in your belly, one in your heart, and the busy body of a brain in your head all have voices. The gut says, “I want cake.” The brain chimes in, “No, it isn’t a healthy breakfast. We must be healthy.” The belly retorts, “But eggs and milk are in that cake, which sounds like breakfast to me.” The heart whispers, “Guys, we aren’t even hungry. Let’s skip lunch and check on our friend.” They all have different agendas that fit the personality you might attribute to each organ.

The neural communications traveling through our body are electrical signals that move through our nervous system. They can be measured and have a positive or negative polarity. These signals can activate feelings, physical actions, or more thoughts. How we interpret those signals is a personal experience. Sometimes, you think with your feelings; sometimes, you feel with your thoughts leading the way. Being honest with ourselves when we look into our thinking is challenging. If you can forget who you are for a few minutes and observe your thoughts without engaging more thoughts or emotions, you can benefit from the power of playing without thinking.

Watch with No Judgment

Observation is critical to understanding how your thinking process works. Like a scientist studying the workings of a woodland creature, look at your thinking process as if it had a mind of its own. If it is your first time thinking about your thinking, it can be unsettling to think of yourself as separate from the thinking. Those are your thoughts, and you’ve made them up. Our thinking can seem so personal.

Take a deep breath and relax. This should be fun. Remember you’re only observing and do not engage with any thoughts. Just let them move on. Laugh if a thought turns angry and smile if there’s a sad one. These are just thoughts, and you’re just watching them. Learning to take yourself less seriously is an important lesson to practice for getting to know yourself better. With truth and nonjudgmental love leading your way, you will learn more than just who you are underneath all that personality. You will learn to love yourself truly.

Personality Safely Outside

Leave Your Baggage at the Door

You can observe your thoughts, which should reassure you that you are separate from them. If you struggle with this idea, pack everything up for safekeeping. First, we take all your likes and dislikes. Maybe you like Brussels sprouts or ice cream, but not together; that’s too strange. Well, maybe once for the experience. I wonder if I like it best with chocolate or vanilla. There I go, thinking again. Whatever your mood, now you don’t like or dislike anything, and everything has its purpose. You don’t judge.

Next, take your name and pack it up. Everything you identify with as yourself goes in the suitcase. Let’s throw in your parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, teachers, and friends. Let’s add anything you like to do, watch, or think about, and everything you think makes up your personality. Now that these items are all safely packed away, leave that bag at the door and enter.

Personality in a Bag

A Staycation From Yourself

Come on in, take a seat by the pool, and relax. Everything you know is safely locked up, and you are free of yourself. There is no need to worry about losing your identity because nobody is trying to steal it, and if you lose the person you are trying to be, it wasn’t you anyway, so don’t fret. When you know who you are, being yourself seems effortless.

Take this opportunity to be nobody and everybody all at once, or at least just the scientist without any personality. When the thoughts that float by seem like they’ve come from someone else, you are ready to look objectively at the thinking inside the body. When you’re ready to explore your Thinker and get your suitcase back, come back for Chapter Two, The Return.

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