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Allocation of self during play
#2290128 06/15/14 02:59 PM
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It is tempting to interpret the topic as a question concerning what one thinks during play, but there is something more emergent; what one feels, or what one experiences during play.

I like to refer to this phenomenon as the "sensation of play", which can be thought of as the allocation of executive resources and how this allocation leads to subjective experiences that may have some recursive properties.

What does it feel like for you to play? Where are you allocating yourself, and to what degree is this allocation made relative to the other areas that you give focus?

I find three buckets that I poor myself into most during play. There are others, but these I can identify with the most ease:
- The direct kinesthetic sensations from the keyboard and their relation to the sounds that they produce.
- The musical intent that I wish to output.
- The planning and caching of these "meta instructions" before it comes time for their execution (this is actually something I've found remarkable and is worth a topic of its own at some point.)

Often, you can watch a pianist (master or not), and see that they have practiced to great lengths to execute their skill at an elite level, and this is fine, but sometimes (less often) you'll see someone who clearly has some higher-order understanding or mastery of play that is less contingent on relentless practice (though may have been acquired via hours spent in the past). This seems to be a discreet, that is "non-continuous", thing that is accessed by a certain organizing of the brain or the information it acquires in the learning process; this may imply that cognitive structure plays an important role in selecting these privileged few.



"A good intention but fixed and resolute - bent on high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at every moment; and even obstacles and opposition will but make us 'like the fabled specter-ships,' which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind."
R. W. Emerson
Re: Allocation of self during play
Atrys #2290129 06/15/14 03:08 PM
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I must add that I experience some form of visual patterns and strings and shapes and things during play and during listening, but they are more intense during play. In all cases they seem to be a reduction of the music into a different fashion of information. This is a difficult thing to articulate, but I may add more later.

Perhaps another thing worth mentioning is that I realize more and more the keyboard taking the form of some kind of responsive "mesh" instead of keys. The mesh can plucked and prodded and pulled in different ways, each leading to different sounds; another thing I find difficult to write about.


"A good intention but fixed and resolute - bent on high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at every moment; and even obstacles and opposition will but make us 'like the fabled specter-ships,' which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind."
R. W. Emerson
Re: Allocation of self during play
Atrys #2290184 06/15/14 05:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Atrys
Often, you can watch a pianist (master or not), and see that they have practiced to great lengths to execute their skill at an elite level, and this is fine, but sometimes (less often) you'll see someone who clearly has some higher-order understanding or mastery of play that is less contingent on relentless practice (though may have been acquired via hours spent in the past). This seems to be a discreet, that is "non-continuous", thing that is accessed by a certain organizing of the brain or the information it acquires in the learning process; this may imply that cognitive structure plays an important role in selecting these privileged few.

Atrys, the first part of your post pretty much captures where my mind is when I play. What seems to occur is a direct connection between my heart, my ears and my hands. Unfortunately, I'm still at a stage where I have to think about every nuance, struggle with all the technical challenges. and really try to pull it off. I've yet to reach the point of becoming one with the music.

In your paragraph that I have quoted, I think you are referring to something called "flow". This is when the mechanics of playing have been mastered long ago and the music and heart/intellect of the musician become one. I believe the requirements for this are musical maturity, hard work, deep understanding of the composer and his music plus pure talent.

I've been privileged to hear and see this happen. The pianist was playing Liszt's Totentanz with orchestra. The audience was stunned and giddy from the intensity of the experience. When the pianist took his bows, you could see the far away look in his eyes, as if he was sleep walking. He was so consumed by the music, he was unable to socialize or even speak during the intermission. It took him quite a while to return to Earth. His wife told me he was in "the flow" and needed time to return to reality. It wasn't until the end of the second part of the concert that he came out an met with the audience. Then, as is his custom, he deflected complements from himself and redirected them to Liszt's music.


Best regards,

Deborah
Re: Allocation of self during play
gooddog #2290271 06/16/14 12:41 AM
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Originally Posted by gooddog

I think you are referring to something called "flow".

This might be the case, which would imply that "flow" is only achieved at higher levels.

It's worth a mention that I believe one can experience Flow subjectively, such that this Flow is not perceived by others. If others cannot perceive this Flow, then the phenomenon of external mastery (via observer) isn't sensed.

This says to me that Flow does not imply mastery, but even then, the dichotomy I've created in the OP allows for n > 1 types of mastery, which may be false.

Perhaps this function is not discreet, but is, in fact, continuous: "natural" mastery and "practiced" mastery are smoothed functions (gradient?)

This isn't to say that the pianist in your story didn't possess this "natural" mastery. In fact, your anecdote says he likely did. Did you notice anything non-rigid and fluid in his arms and hands?


"A good intention but fixed and resolute - bent on high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at every moment; and even obstacles and opposition will but make us 'like the fabled specter-ships,' which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind."
R. W. Emerson
Re: Allocation of self during play
Atrys #2290280 06/16/14 01:08 AM
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Originally Posted by Atrys
I must add that I experience some form of visual patterns and strings and shapes and things during play and during listening, but they are more intense during play. In all cases they seem to be a reduction of the music into a different fashion of information. This is a difficult thing to articulate, but I may add more later.

You don't visualize a straight forward keyboard/fingers etc.?

Re: Allocation of self during play
chopin_r_us #2290291 06/16/14 01:30 AM
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Originally Posted by chopin_r_us
You don't visualize a straight forward keyboard/fingers etc.?

Not once! It's just visual shapes and things, almost fractal-like. They move and shift and evolve with whatever the music is or with whatever I'm playing. I think it's so difficult to describe because it's not literal visual patterns, it's more like a "sensation of visual experience".

To add, this is not voluntary, it's just something I've noticed. When I try to "visualize" myself playing the conventional sense of the word, I can "visualize" anything I'd like, as any other person is capable of, but these sensations of patterns comes up when I listen to or play music (not when I visualize myself playing in my head).

Hopefully that makes more sense laugh


"A good intention but fixed and resolute - bent on high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at every moment; and even obstacles and opposition will but make us 'like the fabled specter-ships,' which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind."
R. W. Emerson
Re: Allocation of self during play
Atrys #2290292 06/16/14 01:32 AM
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Are you playing by ear/improvising? or from sheet/memory?

Re: Allocation of self during play
chopin_r_us #2290297 06/16/14 01:39 AM
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Originally Posted by chopin_r_us
Are you playing by ear/improvising? or from sheet/memory?

Both, and it happens in both/all cases. For instance, K545 has a very unique visual signature in just the thinking of it, and so does the Op 9 no 2, and everything else I've heard or memorized. Not only do they have unique visual signatures that come up in thinking about them, but they have unique, visual, evolving experiences too (during play or listening).

During improv, the same thing happens but it's more like "traversing" the visual structure instead of only "experiencing" it. Picking and choosing different "paths" or shapes or whatever else is part of the improv; it's kind of like the inversion of what I experience during play of a memorized piece.


"A good intention but fixed and resolute - bent on high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at every moment; and even obstacles and opposition will but make us 'like the fabled specter-ships,' which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind."
R. W. Emerson
Re: Allocation of self during play
Atrys #2290317 06/16/14 03:09 AM
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Improving musically for me means to hear progressively larger amounts of music at a time - in one breath, you might say.

At first, I can hear one note, study it, hear its beginning, middle and end;
Then, I can hear two notes, one after the other;
Then, I hear a whole measure at at time (which is actually quite advanced;)
Then, whole phrases: four bars at a time.

The more musical material I can connect together in my ear the better the flow, because, then, the execution is less of a technical struggle and more of an inevitability.

In a wonderful masterclass I attended, they studied the Chopin 4th ballade. The teacher was talking about the very opening, those repeated notes (are they G's?), and was suggesting that they must sound as if they come 'from somewhere.' Then he said, 'In fact, they are already going on, even as we speak.'

He was not telling the student 'how to play those notes,' per se, but rather describing what state in which to be in order to achieve the what we are here calling 'flow.'

The hearing comes before the notes, and thereby one hears a larger amount of musical time as one event, instead of several.

In the end, the kind of time to which the ear learns how to listen is, to which we refer in analysis, 'harmonic rhythm.'

Last edited by Parks; 06/16/14 03:12 AM.

Michael

"Genius is nothing more than an extraordinary capacity for patience."
Leonardo da Vinci
Re: Allocation of self during play
Parks #2290350 06/16/14 05:45 AM
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Originally Posted by Parks

In a wonderful masterclass I attended, they studied the Chopin 4th ballade. The teacher was talking about the very opening, those repeated notes (are they G's?), and was suggesting that they must sound as if they come 'from somewhere.' Then he said, 'In fact, they are already going on, even as we speak.'

He was not telling the student 'how to play those notes,' per se, but rather describing what state in which to be in order to achieve the what we are here calling 'flow.'

And it is the same for composing. Processes can vary - my belief though is that each composer whose work endures was attuned to receive and compose a particular pre-existent music to which each of us also has been attuned to inwardly resonate with in varying degrees even if we aren't direct receivers because our minds and senses don't observe or adequately respond to what flows in the ether. Music would be incomplete without any one of these composers just as the universe would be incomplete without any one of its atoms. There is a creative order to the passage of historical eras and other factors such as instrumentation which enter the cultural stage. It is all preordained and destined, and in the infinite universe all of it will achieve material expression.

Re: Allocation of self during play
Atrys #2290442 06/16/14 09:56 AM
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Originally Posted by Atrys
Originally Posted by gooddog

I think you are referring to something called "flow".

This might be the case, which would imply that "flow" is only achieved at higher levels.

It's worth a mention that I believe one can experience Flow subjectively, such that this Flow is not perceived by others. If others cannot perceive this Flow, then the phenomenon of external mastery (via observer) isn't sensed.

This says to me that Flow does not imply mastery, but even then, the dichotomy I've created in the OP allows for n > 1 types of mastery, which may be false.

Perhaps this function is not discreet, but is, in fact, continuous: "natural" mastery and "practiced" mastery are smoothed functions (gradient?)

This isn't to say that the pianist in your story didn't possess this "natural" mastery. In fact, your anecdote says he likely did.
Here's the Wikipedia definition of flow: "Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, this positive psychology concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields."
Quote
Did you notice anything non-rigid and fluid in his arms and hands?
I'm not sure what you are getting at here. All I can say is that he, the piano and the orchestra became one with the music and this unity emotionally captivated the audience. When they finished, there was a breathless moment of stunned silence before the applause began to roar.


Best regards,

Deborah
Re: Allocation of self during play
gooddog #2290517 06/16/14 12:47 PM
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Originally Posted by gooddog

I'm not sure what you are getting at here. All I can say is that he, the piano and the orchestra became one with the music and this unity emotionally captivated the audience.

Ah, we may be speaking about different things laugh

Apprehension by grace of music is a familiar thing; I suppose I'm referring not to this transcendence, but instead to the spacial mastery of the keyboard and its playing.

Every pianist has a "technique", but I've seen only few with this higher-order command of their ability. This may be a product of relentless practice, but I'm submitting that this may not be the case, and that cognitive structure and other innate characteristics play the leading roles.


"A good intention but fixed and resolute - bent on high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at every moment; and even obstacles and opposition will but make us 'like the fabled specter-ships,' which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind."
R. W. Emerson
Re: Allocation of self during play
Atrys #2290547 06/16/14 01:35 PM
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What plays a 'leading role' is understanding the art of music. Many things contribute to that, and I think life experience, both particular and general, is a big part of that. Does that fall under the umbrella of what you call 'cognitive structure'? Or, are you saying cognitive structure is something that doesn't change in one's life?


Michael

"Genius is nothing more than an extraordinary capacity for patience."
Leonardo da Vinci
Re: Allocation of self during play
Parks #2290645 06/16/14 05:17 PM
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Originally Posted by Parks

In a wonderful masterclass I attended, they studied the Chopin 4th ballade. The teacher was talking about the very opening, those repeated notes (are they G's?), and was suggesting that they must sound as if they come 'from somewhere.' Then he said, 'In fact, they are already going on, even as we speak.'


Very cool! In a lesson with my current teacher, he said essentially the same thing about those notes. I wonder whether that's a description that has become part of the communal pedagogical wisdom on this piece, or if they both thought of the same analogy.

Re: Allocation of self during play
Atrys #2290651 06/16/14 05:30 PM
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Is your teacher Leon Fleisher?


Michael

"Genius is nothing more than an extraordinary capacity for patience."
Leonardo da Vinci
Re: Allocation of self during play
MarkH #2290675 06/16/14 06:23 PM
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It's not just the 4th ballade. This seems to be a recurring theme in Chopin. I've heard the same said about Op.25 No.1 in a masterclass. I also feel this applies to the theme after thee agitato in 1st ballade. The 2nd ballade also opens in a similar way, if not quite as elusive. I think it's just the improviser in Chopin. I can almost imagine him just sitting down and playing some simple figure or gesture and them out of nowhere comes the most interesting ideas.


Starting around 26:50 the Op.41 Mazurka's are talked about, and there are some comments that talk about "similar" ideas.

Last edited by MikeN; 06/16/14 06:24 PM.
Re: Allocation of self during play
Atrys #2290749 06/16/14 08:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Atrys
What does it feel like for you to play? Where are you allocating yourself, and to what degree is this allocation made relative to the other areas that you give focus?
It's quite different depending on my level of ease in playing a piece. If I am just learning the piece, I give more weight to the kinesthetic sensations (as you so eloquently put) and how different approaches to the keyboard produce different sounds.

If I am more comfortable in playing the piece, my fingers will generally know where to go and I try to intuitively make my fingers bring out the music that I'm hearing ahead (in my head) while playing, so I pay less conscious attention to my fingers and sensations. I try and give complete attention to the music. I try and immerse myself completely in it and try not to be distracted by any external sound (there is a lot of background noise when I practice).

Quote
I must add that I experience some form of visual patterns and strings and shapes and things during play and during listening, but they are more intense during play. In all cases they seem to be a reduction of the music into a different fashion of information. This is a difficult thing to articulate, but I may add more later.
Once I do manage to immerse myself, I occasionally do have a visual experience similar to yours, but, as you said, it isn't easy to articulate. It's somewhat like a wave expanding and contracting for me. However, this doesn't happen very often and I'm usually paying complete attention to the music. It's generally the center of my focus and quite often, I don't even hear my name being called out around me.

Re: Allocation of self during play
MarkH #2290765 06/16/14 09:46 PM
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Originally Posted by MarkH
Originally Posted by Parks

In a wonderful masterclass I attended, they studied the Chopin 4th ballade. The teacher was talking about the very opening, those repeated notes (are they G's?), and was suggesting that they must sound as if they come 'from somewhere.' Then he said, 'In fact, they are already going on, even as we speak.'


Very cool! In a lesson with my current teacher, he said essentially the same thing about those notes. I wonder whether that's a description that has become part of the communal pedagogical wisdom on this piece, or if they both thought of the same analogy.


I think so...a pianist friend of mine also says that is more or less the way a teacher described it, and for him, it stuck as "the way" to think of it. I'm more of the "well, that's one way to think of it" school.





Re: Allocation of self during play
noobpianist90 #2291085 06/17/14 02:17 PM
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Originally Posted by noobpianist90

Once I do manage to immerse myself, I occasionally do have a visual experience similar to yours, but, as you said, it isn't easy to articulate. It's somewhat like a wave expanding and contracting for me. However, this doesn't happen very often and I'm usually paying complete attention to the music. It's generally the center of my focus and quite often, I don't even hear my name being called out around me.

My last teacher would describe to me her lasting sensations after certain recitals as some kind of "elevated" state; of course, there is nothing "mystical" about this. It's just a state of the brain. Her description of these things implied the experience being near-orgasmic. I wouldn't be surprised if, for a reason unknown to me, these recitals carried her brain closer to the eroticism of sexual encounters; it certainly seemed this way.

How do your sensations change if you close your eyes whilst playing? Is your executive function allocated elsewhere?


"A good intention but fixed and resolute - bent on high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at every moment; and even obstacles and opposition will but make us 'like the fabled specter-ships,' which sail the fastest in the very teeth of the wind."
R. W. Emerson
Re: Allocation of self during play
Atrys #2291129 06/17/14 03:28 PM
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Your teacher sounds hot!


Michael

"Genius is nothing more than an extraordinary capacity for patience."
Leonardo da Vinci
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