The Musical Mind & A Man With Two Brains

by | May 14, 2023

The Musical Mind Leads A Cerebral Duet

My eyes can’t look inside my head to see what’s going on, but I think I can observe more than one brain in there, and with the observer, that’s three. Watching the musicians who play for me daily confirms my observation of my mental experiences when I make music. We seem to experience a logical mind and a musical one as we play or sing. Or, to put it another way, one mind that works when we play music and one that doesn’t.

Asking questions, looking for problems to solve, and watching out for impending danger like that accidental or that approaching 32nd-note passage, the second-guessing logical mind slows everything down while, at the same time, the shy musical mind longs to stay in the flow of the music and sing. When the musical mind knows what we want it to sing, it sings it. Still, the logical mind flashes a shadow of a question or a hair of doubt, and the music gets interrupted. This battle is visible in musicians at every level. Ignoring the logical mind and allowing the musical mind to do its thing gets easier with practice. When the musical mind leads the cerebral duet, the energy in the music drives our body into action, and we move with the flow of the music.

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

Let’s imagine our human experience as a ride in a car, but we are not the driver. We must tell the driver where to go. So we hop in the back and promptly fall asleep. The car has pedals, a steering wheel, windows, mirrors and turn signals, the AC, the radio, and that driver. You’ve got four tires on the ground, an engine somewhere with pistons and valves, a whole electrical system, and a computer. There are so many parts to get working together, and we sit asleep. The driver is unsure where to go and is moved mainly through sensory impulses from the exterior environment. So what do we do?

WE WAKE UP! Wake up and give clear instructions to the driver. Give that driver something to focus on. Speak in a language without words or images, only sounds. The sounds you’d like the body to make. Sing from your heart and not from your head. The driver and the whole car will sing with you. “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” “Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house.” Sing with carefree joy, and you’ll find your inner musician.

Looking Back at The Same Question

Humans have been trying to figure out what’s happening inside our heads ever since we can remember, and we’ve invented some remarkable analogies explaining things. Are we stuck in Plato’s cave, seeing the shadows of external reality instead of walking out of the cave and finding out what’s real? Or deciding we are real because we can think, like Descartes?

Ideas of how, what, and why we think fascinate our minds. Fantastic sci-fi stories have put old brains in new bodies or transferred consciousness to mechanical ones. Steve Martin’s attempts at brain transplant surgery with his screw-top method in the 1978 comedy “The Man with Two Brains” may foreshadow a new method on the verge of being invented. Ya never know. These exciting science fiction stories seem to work their way into science fact eventually, but who needs a story? Reality is fascinating enough when you exit the cave.

By Budge, E. A. Wallis (Ernest Alfred Wallis), Sir, 1857-1934; King, L. W. (Leonard William), 1869-1919 – A guide to the Babylonian and Assyrian Antiquities, Published 1908, Public Domain

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

The first car may have been the chariot, used as a metaphor to describe the human condition for thousands of years, shown above in a cylinder seal created between the 6thC BC-5thC BC. This metaphor, first used in the Katha Upanishad, is thought to have inspired similar descriptions in the Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammapada, and Plato’s Phaedrus. It describes the relationship between the senses, the mind, the intellect, and the self or soul.

The chariot of the Katha Upanishad has five horses pulling it, with reins tied in their mouths. The charioteer controls the reins, and a passenger sits at the back. The problem with the chariot is that the passenger traveling is asleep. Due to his absence of awareness, the intellect isn’t guided correctly, which leads to the improper handling of reins, and the five horses take complete control. The Chariot is the body, ready to carry us to our destination. The five horses represent the five senses. (Touch, Sight, Sound, Smell, and Taste) The reins are the link from the senses to the body or the mind. The characters are the Charioteer, the Thinker, and the Passenger, representing the self, soul, or my inner musician.

Driving My Music Making Chariot

When the music takes over, and my mind, body, and emotions work harmoniously to play, it feels like heaven. Understanding your human condition is a personal and inner understanding. My idea is that my musical mind, or inner musician, is linked with my subconscious mind because it works best when my conscious mind doesn’t disrupt it. If I can let conscious thoughts pass like clouds or stay faint like a voice in the background that I hardly notice, then I will remain in the flow of the music and play well. But, if I can get the conscious mind to sing what I’m playing in the moment just ahead of what I’m consciously experiencing outside, then the powerful flow of the music takes over my body, and with this inner game, I play out of my mind.

In an orchestra concert, I win when I’ve settled into a relaxed focus, locked in the rhythm and sound of my internal environment. My external environment does not matter much here because the sounds I’m making inside haven’t happened out there yet. My ears are behind the musical process, so I must anticipate future sounds. That’s right! I hear the future!!! When in the flow, the path is clear. I’m a peaceful warrior on top of the beat and driving with the musical motion. Playfully singing, without worrying about the past or future, I am free to sing. This type of focus slows the flow of thoughts, and I can flow with the music. I often feel the section is right with me, feeling the flow. I’m carefree, and missed notes don’t matter, so they are infrequent and don’t hinder the phrase.

Plato’s Chariot

Plato’s chariot metaphor in “Phaedrus” has only three parts. The charioteer represents the rational part; a noble horse represents the desire for the greater good, and a base horse represents the appetite for sensual pleasure and earthly possessions. These two horses are opposites, and the charioteer must control both horses for a harmonious journey toward the truth. Reading Phaedrus, you can see that the human condition hasn’t changed much; it’s just our environment.

The noble-spirited horse has the energy to get things done, and the base horse wants to eat, drink, and be merry. The spirited horse wants to help others, and the base horse wants to help itself. When you drop a sock on the floor, your base horse might tell you to leave it there; someone else will get it, and you don’t need socks today anyway, but maybe, today, you listen to your noble horse, and voila, now you’re wearing socks and are ready for whatever the day may bring.

The Thinker and The Doer

In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle distinguished between two types of virtues: intellectual virtues and moral virtues. Intellectual virtues like wisdom and understanding are qualities developed through rational thinking and contemplation. Moral virtues, such as courage and generosity, are developed through practice and habituation. Let’s hope these are not lost arts and everybody keeps practicing.

According to Aristotle, the highest virtue is practical wisdom, which is the ability to make good decisions based on a thorough understanding of the situation. Practical wisdom requires intellectual virtue (thinking) and moral virtue (doing) and is essential for living a good and fulfilling life. So, we will need both horses working together for our chariot to soar. Having two opposing forces like yin and yang, predator and prey, or upper management and labor, working together in perfect harmony may sound unlikely, but it always happens in nature. It’s the human car that serpentines back and forth in an unnatural fashion when we are asleep.

Which Horse Pulls Your Reins

The idea of the “thinker” and the “doer” has been a recurring theme in literature and popular culture. In “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale, the author argues that successful people are thinkers and doers. According to Peale, positive thinking can help people develop the confidence and motivation to take action and achieve their goals. In “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey, the author argues that successful people are proactive and take responsibility for their lives. Covey suggests that people should develop a “win-win” mentality that allows them to collaborate and achieve mutual goals.

In “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, the author emphasizes the importance of strategic thinking and planning. According to Sun Tzu, successful military leaders can anticipate their opponent’s moves and make strategic decisions that give them an advantage on the battlefield. In “The Odd Couple,” the thinker and the doer are portrayed as opposing personalities. Felix and Oscar represent the thinker and the doer, respectively. Felix is a neat and organized thinker who plans everything, while Oscar is a messy and impulsive doer who jumps into action without thinking. Maybe some people are thinkers, and others are doers, but likely, we are all both at times. We are what we choose to be, and we can choose. Never forget.

Connect the Opposites To Play Piano

Imagine you are trying to get these two opposites to work together to play an instrument. The relationship between the right and left hands and the brain in piano playing is a complex and fascinating topic studied extensively by neuroscience and music psychology researchers. Playing the piano involves the simultaneous coordination of both hands, which requires the brain to communicate effectively with both sides of the body. The brain’s right hemisphere controls the left side of the body, including the left hand, while the left hemisphere controls the right side, including the right hand. Therefore, when playing the piano, the brain’s left hemisphere primarily controls the right hand, and the right hemisphere controls the left hand.

I have re-read that last bit three times to make sure it makes sense. If it doesn’t make sense, you might be on the right track for your hands to work together on the piano. “Don’t think, just play.” is our motto in the studio, so don’t get too hung up on knowing your right from your left. It will happen automatically. Musicians who play the piano regularly have a larger corpus callosum, the bundle of nerve fibers connecting the brain’s two hemispheres. During piano playing, constant communication between the two sides of the brain can lead to changes in brain structure and function. Pianists can develop a high level of fine motor control in their hands. The cerebellum is highly active during piano playing, particularly among experienced pianists. So practice, and your brain will grow!

A Two-Brained Maestro

To play music, we coordinate multiple cognitive processes. Becoming aware of how you think while playing begins a personal and inner journey filled with rewards. The ability to slow, if not stop, your thinking process, even in stressful situations, will significantly improve your musical performance. It can also help your patience in rush hour traffic or during those moments just before you play.

The whole chariot soars when your inner musician conducts the cerebral duet. The second-guessing middleman stops overthinking, and the musical mind doesn’t get carried away. Mind, body, and spirit ride the wave of sounds together, and the song in your head that plays loud and clear must come out. Your audience will feel your authentic performance with your heart, mind, and soul singing together, playing in the zone, and experiencing a state of flow where you are fully absorbed in the music and feel a sense of effortless control. You don’t need to know how it happens. Just enjoy the ride.

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