Preparing the Mind

Level: Beginner to Intermediate

Philip Toshio Sudo

I try to be prepared for the moment, through understanding and being warmed up, knowing all about chords and scales, so I don't even have to think and I can get right to what it is I want to say. --Pat Metheny

The best way to make decisions about playing in the moment is to have already made them. That is, do your thinking ahead of time. Think before the time comes to act, think before the time comes to speak, think before the time comes play a note. Then, when the moment arrives, do not think. Just play.

Some athletes prepare themselves by visualizing what they want to do, creating a mental movie of themselves in perfect action. Golfers picture the perfect swing, pole vaulters imagine the perfect jump, figure skaters run through the perfect routine. Musicians who perform a set piece of music can also visualize themselves playing the perfect song. The sharper and more detailed your mind's movie, the more likely your hands will reproduce it.

Players of improvised music can't visualize what they are going to play, because by definition they don't know where the moment will take them. But they can prepare strategies for dealing with the unexpected. The black belt player's thinking is the same as that of a fielder in baseball. Before every pitch, a good fielder analyzes the game situation and says, "If the ball is hit to me over here, I will make this play. If the ball is hit to me in over there, I will make that play." There are countless plays that could develop. When the ball is hit, there is no time to think--training and mental preparation must take over.

So it is with playing music in the moment. With the proper mental attitude and training, what you play should come out as natural as the call of a bird in the wild. There is no thought, not even so much as a word in your head-only the song of the heart. The instant that discrimination and calculation enter the mind, the truth of the moment is lost. To play the truth, you must have the correct attitude previously. When you look for it during the moment, you will still be looking for it when the moment has passed.



From Zen Guitar, pp. 110-111.


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