Turning the Conscious Brain off….

Turning the Conscious Brain off….

I was teaching myself a tune this evening by playing along with a slowed-down mpeg, and after a couple of hours, I had most of it worked out in my fingers.

But something interesting I found was that while I had to think about what I was doing for the first half to make sure I didn’t miss a note here and there, I found that during the second half I played a lot better if I "tuned out" and thought about nothing at all; as if my fingers knew what they didn’t and the brain didn’t, and the fingers would much prefer if the brain went away, thank you very much! πŸ™‚

I do know that once I have learnt a tune to the extent that I don’t need to think about it, I can happily zone out and just enjoy the music - perhaps with this tune I’m only half way there.

Does this happen to anyone else? Or maybe I just think too much! πŸ™‚

Morgana πŸ™‚

Re: Turning the Conscious Brain off….

Hi Morgana,

I think it happens to lots of people, from reading this thread. I’m convinced the best playing comes from what you’ve just done - learning something so that you don’t have to think about the mechanics.

Then you enjoy what you’re playing on a different level.

I think there’s another stage, where something else happens - almost sometimes like you’re observing yourself playing and are really eager to know "how it’s going to go next". This is an amazing experience when it happens but for me it’s only ever happened like that once!!!

I’d be fascinated to know if there’s a psychological explanation. Does the music become a sort of "noise" effect (a bit like sometimes where you can hear coherent sounds in stuff like rain, or see pictures in random things like flames in a fire) where the brain can interpret / imprint its own patterns - thus becomes communication at a really deep level?

Re: Turning the Conscious Brain off….

that might be muscular memory,Morgana,or it could be something else.
i read somewhere that the brain does like to recognise and make patterns so it might also be what Mark says.
where’s the psychologists when you need them!

Re: Turning the Conscious Brain off….

Isn’t there something about the "automatic" brain functions being separate from the "thinking" ? We see kids with autism ( who are often described as "Thinking in pictures" ) who can do amazing things spontaneously/automatically, but can’t at all when you ask them to or when the situation suggests.Don’t know, I’m just a teacher.
I see a lot of people thinking too hard -kinda of like trying to think while you’re banging your head up against a wall. But once I started to be able to play tunes automatically, I have the problem of suddenly "waking up" and needing to be able to think it out too- so I practice both ways. Hopefully I’ll get to the out of body thing
soon. Jennifer

Re: Turning the Conscious Brain off….

We’re lucky that we can do this. It enables us to play and drink at the same time. (Though most of the time you just _think_ you’re playing better when you drink because that’s what you’d like to believe.)
Good playing requires concentration during practice, of course, but who’s to say we can’t enjoy the benefits of that at sessions?

Knowing tunes well is such a pleasure. Once you don’t have to think about the order of the notes, you can plan your ornamentation in advance. You can listen to other people play without distracting yourself by your own playing. You can balance yourself with the other musicians. There’s a lot of freedom in knowing tunes well.
The music is so deep that tunes never need to become mechanical. Your fingers—or your brain—can always come up with something new to try.

Posted by .

Re: Turning the Conscious Brain off….

It’s like shagging.

You might be having the physical time of your life but mentally your thinking about where you left the keys to the shed,



You remember all of a sudden. In the hall.


Re: Turning the Conscious Brain off….


Re: Turning the Conscious Brain off….

I’m generally more concerned with trying to turn my brain on πŸ™‚

Re: Turning the Conscious Brain off….

Happily, I never bothered to put a lock on my shed. I never realised the contribution this would make to my love life!
But seriously.. as a former student of cognitive science I read that the learning process goes through these stages:
unconcious incompetence - you’re unable to perform the skill you’re trying to acquire and are not aware of how to go about it; concious incompetence - you’re unable to perform the skill but you’re aware of what it it is you need to do;
concious competence you’re able to perform the skill but only with concious effort (this is the practising stage when frequent mistakes are made)
unconcious competence - your’e able to perform the skill without any concious effort.
Anyone who’s learned to drive will recognise these stages and marvel the brain’s ability to perform so many things concurrently with apparent ease.
It is quite marvellous to be playing The Bucks of Oranmore whilst thinking about where you left the keys to the shed but there appears to be a stage beyond this where your mind is focused on the music rather than the performance of it. This is what Mark is referring to. I’ll never forget the first time it happened to me. I was in a pub one Sunday lunchtime many years ago enjoying the playing of Danny Meehan. During the break Danny asked me if I would like to play a few tunes on the whistle. As this meant playing on a stage into a mike, I wasn’t too keen but my friends coerced me. As I began a set of reels the crowd were noisily chatting away so I closed my eyes and tried to shut out the noise. After a while I began to get really into the rhythm and was listening to the music and really enjoying it. It was as if I was outside myself just listening to the music. I eventually became aware of a lack of background noise and opened my eyes to see that everyone at the bar had turned round to face the stage and had stopped talking. The spell was broken but I realised that I had been totally immersed in the music for a brief few minutes and that this was the level I had to aim for in future.

Re: Turning the Conscious Brain off….

Consciousness is a wonderful thing but slow. It would be impossible to play a tune thinking about every note, so we have unconscious systems that we train using consciousness. As pointed out above this applies to any complex motor skill.
It’s a wonderful feeling as you learn a tune when the machinery takes over the nuts and bolts leaving consciousness to concentrate on tweaking the emotional content of the tune.
In the ultimate state of playing we become the tune, and all our being is focused in the imminent moment.
This is great experience on your own but for me is multiplied many times by the process transcending the individual, at a really good session.
Alas, in the modern western world these states are hard to come by for most people, and I think this makes are communities venerable to the pernicious over-individualism that is rotting our collective culture.

Stepping down from the soap box


Re: Turning the Conscious Brain off….

Great thread! Yes, there are many "stages" to playing. Once a tune is learned, then it must be played. While playing for contests, I found it useful (ie: more musical, better results, ie: prizes) to think of my current girlfriend, or play to a pretty listener. This gets the emotion into the tune, espec slow tunes.

Generally, I notice several compartments (rooms) in my brain, each of which monitors an aspect of my playing - LH, RH, intonation, string/hair, etc. I say, I notice them while playing, because I do not consciously set them up to function, they are just there. So when I play, I am aware of how things are going overall, and can modify something when necessary.

A few years ago while I was playing (Bach) my consciousness lifted above my body and head, to a fuzzy awareness wherein I could not hear me playing or feel my body playing, just joy, but I was playing, because I continued when I came back down. Neat. Odd. No conjectures.

The more I play, the closer the music comes to me. Now the music is so large that I am inside the music. This is a physical/visual perception. I thus can alter minute aspects of playing because the music is so big that the callibration is minute (eg: vibrations, not half-steps).

The key is to always be aware of what you are doing, and what is created. While learning, while playing. Requires mental effort, wch, as stated above, becomes automatic with use.

"You don’t remember music, you anticipate music." Kato Havas You must aim all of yrsf toward the sound you intend, with overage toward the next sound, etc.

Talking about it might not make sense. Keep doing it.

In 1976 I won the Craftsbury (Vermont, USA) Fiddlers Contest because I could shut out all but the music. It was pouring rain, so hard you couldn’t see 30 feet from the stage. 3000 people were pressed against the stage to get closer to see. The tarp (ceiling) looked like swiss cheese, with the largest hole over the fiddler’s mic. Others were cursing the rain, trying to protect their bowhair, etc. I shut my eyes, and everything disappeared, so I played perfectly (Red-Haired Boy = Little Beggarman, in A). When I stopped I opened my eyes, and all the rain and great noise of the rain and the shouting crowd, guitarplayer, fiddlers, rushed back in - quite a shock. My grandfather’s fiddle got 2 large cracks, and I got first prize.

It’s quite a journey. - vlnplyr