question #8

"What do you
think about when
you are playing?"

- Glenn Browning
in Denver, Colorado

When I'm playing (performing), I try not to think about anything. I try to just clear my mind and let go. This is often a lot easier said than done, especially if I'm in an irritable mood.

When I'm practicing, I think about everything: melody, harmony, rhythm, phrasing. I think about fingering and efficient finger placement. I think about staying relaxed while remaining in control. I think about the sounds I'm making by listening very carefully.

Of course, I don't think about all these things at the same time. Thoughts can only be selective.

While it is possible to do more than one thing at a time, it is impossible to think or focus on more than one thing at a time. For example, it's possible to walk and read a book at the same time, but it's impossible to focus on both at the same time. The focus for each is different and is constantly changing, so at any given moment in time either reading or walking has to become automatic. To focus on where we're walking, we have to stop reading. To focus on what we're reading, we have to assume we aren't going to walk off a cliff or into a speeding commuter. Even though it's way more subtle, this same natural law applies at all times when playing or practicing a guitar.

This is in fact the fundamental paradox of playing any kind of fingerstyle guitar. We really can't do it well without some sort of analytical thinking when we practice: guided repetitions, assigning names and concepts to sounds for effective recall, stopping and starting to fix troubled spots, etc... However, continually reinforcing this "habit of thinking" when we practice can become a real hindrance when we want to perform, which is done best when we stop thinking and just let the creativity flow through us.

So when I practice, I think about music theory, technique, expression and trying to remain as comfortable as possible. When I perform, I try not to think about anything. And to minimize the "thinking contradictions" between practicing and playing, I practice performing... I practice not thinking.