I had previously spoke about the necessity of recording yourself if you want to be all that you can be as a musician. It was all true enough, but there is more to the story. I feel I should give you a bit more guidance in going about meeting the demands of doing this, and they are considerable. I have myself been ruminating on the subject, as I am in the process of much recording right now, including a new CD of all original work.
I have always seen the process of playing, whether alone, performing, or recording, as the great goal, the great teacher, and the great crucible. It is in actual playing that we enter the "holy of holies", just as for the music listener, it is in listening that they have the transcendent experience that it seems only music gives.
But players are even more special than listeners. To actually be the source of the music, to actually be responsible for calling it forth and giving it birth, is a most delicious experience. I am not sure of all the reasons, but I am sure that not only do I feel that way, but many millions of people do (not that I have heard from all of them, but I do get stories from enough representatives of the playing population to know that great numbers of people are intensely drawn to being the instrument that plays the instrument).
To play music gives you an opportunity listeners don't have. We have the opportunity to become the music in a way listeners cannot. By virtue of the relationship to music that we have chosen, pursued, and earned, we have access to a dimension of involvement simply not available unless one were actually willing the music into existence, and giving it physical manifestation with their physical selves. Of course, we also get to give the music a vital part of our own selfhood, the stamp of our own individual personality (at least, if the involvement is intense enough, and is what it should be).
The only thing I can compare it to is the difference between being the mother of a child, and someone who just knows that child, and perhaps, enjoys that child. There is simply a feeling that the mother can have (and hopefully, does), that anyone else cannot. When the music is the product or your own thought, and your own emotion, and comes out of your own body, that is when we unify the two opposite aspects of our personhood: the animal and the angel, the physical self and the spiritual self which is its source.
When we play, we are birthing every note. Like having a child, or raising a child, it requires great energy, and is a great responsibility. We can do it well, or we can be irresponsible. We can be there, or not be there, we can have great desire and will for each note to exist and be there, or we can be thinking of something else when we play. We can be greatly involved with the sound and the satisfaction of our desire for the sound, or we can be somewhere else, thinking of something else, or feeling something else.
There is a great confrontation that takes place when we play. That confrontation is intensified when we record ourselves, and intensified even further when we perform. It is a humbling confrontation between us and our real selves, between who we think we are, and who we really are. It is also a potentially instructive and illuminating confrontation between what we think we are doing, and what we are really doing, and between what we think we want, and what we really want.
I read a number of comments in the forum recently, related to achieving the proper relationship to the act of playing, and the proper relationship to the whole idea of playing the guitar as well. These are matters of fundamental importance, and I am glad our community has people who recognize that importance.
One person writes,
"Being simply "aware" of the present moment while doing anything sounds simple, but is not. While playing the guitar, I am now aware of my mind rushing into at least 10 million (when I last counted) directions - I am thinking about the song, whether I am playing it right or not, feelings of dejection and frustration because what I am playing is not what the song sounds like on the CD or in my memory, fantasies of playing the solo at twice the speed just to hear my friends say, "whoa, that was some solo" etc etc etc. And don't laugh -I will also admit to mulling over some work-related issues and thinking about dinner while practicing.
No wonder I am unable to pay attention to the details."
Ah yes, the confrontation with our real selves! What is this person really doing? Well, we can see they are not playing! And what does this person really want? Not the notes, that is clear. This person wants validation, adulation, and someone to do the housework!
Now, don't think I am putting this person down, I am just telling it like it is. They are merely confronting what most of us will confront, especially if we are rather new to it all. I myself have battled all that, and far more. I am as neurotic as anyone else. Probably, the tendency will always be there, to weakly fall prey to the vagaries and vanities of the self, the "ego", instead of serving the great God Of Music, who is depending on us to bring into being that true and great voice that speaks to all mankind.
The secret of transcending this inherent and incorrigible tendency of the mind is not to somehow defeat it. It is to not do battle in the first place. And the only way we will reach the place where these things do not arise, and no battle is required, is when we become incredibly sensitive to what is really going on; sensitive to what music really is, the Divine Doorway. We players are the ones who open that door, so everyone can enter. You either recognize and accept that responsibility, you either recognize the reasons for doing so, and the joy of doing so, or you don't.
When we know this, when we really know it, we will act like we know it. And that means we will be capable of the great sacrifice when practicing and playing, the sacrifice of our "self-concerns". We will know that the magic does not happen unless we release those concerns, and we release them by merely placing our attention where it should be: on the music and the making of the music.
I will tell you this: when you hear the music that makes YOU feel that magic, it is not being played by someone who is "somewhere else", or who is doing "something else". It is being played by someone who is investing every particle of themselves into every note, the totality of their physical, mental, and emotional selves.
This is Perfect Intention. It is an exalted state that every player should seek, even from the beginning. The more you give yourself to it, the more it reveals itself to you. You will know it when you find it, and you will know it when you don't. Carlos Santana has said "it is never good unless it makes me cry". That is one example of someone recognizing when it happens, and when it doesn't.
We must confront our mediocre selves, not to condemn ourselves or make ourselves feel bad, rather, to get to know ourselves, and accept ourselves, and become more than we are. We must embrace our mediocre (undeveloped) self, put our arm around it like a wise and good older brother or sister, or perhaps mother or father, and simply educate and enlighten. We must understand that these indulgences of the mind and ego are in reality preventing us from having a much higher joy than receiving approval from other people, or being able to say "gee, I'm a great guitar player". Big deal, that and twenty cents will get you nothing!
The mind has correctly been likened to a team of powerful but wild horses. The mind has great energy, and it is the nature of mind to expend that energy in an uncontrolled manner. The power of the mind must be controlled and focused, there must be a master holding the reins and giving the horses direction. That master is called the Will. The Will is another word for Intention. The Will is "what we desire to come into being, and have committed ourselves to". It is the force of that desire that gives us the power to bring our will, our desire, into being. When we play with Perfect Intention, we pour all of ourselves into every note; we don't invest any part of ourselves somewhere else, or in something else.
When our involvement reaches this white hot level of intensity, we will be in our state of Perfect Intention. Every note is touched with love, which is the desire to "be with". We should never settle for anything less. If a part of ourselves is not there, we must find out where it is, and put it in the service of the music. "We", meaning our attention, is always somewhere. Not being with the music is a decision we make, on some level of ourselves. We are just not aware of that level. We must become aware of that "level of volition" within ourselves where that decision is being made, and make a different decision.
I don't think there has ever been a more perfect example of Perfect Intention than Beethoven, that most supreme of supreme artists. As far as music was concerned, Beethoven lived constantly in a state of perfect intention. Beethoven would go so deeply through the Divine Doorway that there was not a trace of any part of him that was not given to the music. Of course, what he found on the other side, and brought back, has been considered by so many people to be the greatest and most profound music ever written (okay, I'm one of those people!). To hear Beethoven improvise was an experience that no one lucky enough to have ever forgot. When an idea possessed him he lost all awareness of anything or anyone outside himself, as he gave himself in total surrender to the music.
Beethoven was a teacher too, teaching piano. I always found it interesting and instructive that when teaching, he never got upset at random mistakes a student might make, if they were due to technical problems or lack of development. However, if they were due to not paying attention, well, that was another matter! When he saw that the students mind was wandering, he could become violent! Now, why do you think that is? It is for the same reason the Christian would get upset at irreverence toward Christ, or the Muslim to Allah or Muhammad, the Jew to Moses or the Torah (you get the point).
Beethoven, more than anyone else, knew the power and beauty of music, because if totally possessed him. And so, he had the highest reverence for it. He was sickened by the insanity of the world, and felt privileged to have access to a higher reality. He accepted his responsibility to bring others to that reality, and so looked for and demanded the proper attitude of respect from others that would lead them to receive what he had received. Probably, he felt this was the greatest thing he could teach.
Everyone has a native capacity for focusing the mind, which is how we describe the process of taking control of the reins of the horses, thereby becoming able to use the power of the mind. Everyone can become stronger in their power to focus. The best way to become stronger is to understand why you must do so. There is no growth without this ability, especially growth as a guitarist.
After understanding the importance of focus, and seeking after Perfect Intention, we must understand what to look for, what to focus on. We have discussed what NOT to focus on, the self and its concerns. I have described much of what TO focus on in my essay on "Memorizing". There are 3 areas of concern when we practice, 3 areas of awareness we must cultivate: the sound of the music itself, the physical feeling of the creation of each note, and the mental conception of each note composing the music. When we play, all of this is tied together by the intensity of our desire for the music itself, for each note.
Pepe Romero, that supreme master of our instrument, has given one of the best descriptions of the state of Perfect Intention for the guitarist. He describes the inner experience we should be having when we practice as a "triangle". Of the two bottom points of the triangle are the separate awareness of each side of the body, each hand/arm, left and right, before its creation of the note. The top of the triangle is the "desire for the note" that acts as an igniting spark, giving life and direction to the body as it proceeds to create the note, and fulfill the desire for the note.
Pepe tells us: "Divide your energy equally between the three points exclusively, not allowing any other thought to enter your mind. Then, the desire for the sound will serve as electricity to illuminate the center of the triangle, which will become a perfect circumference from where the materialized sound appears." This is Perfect Intention in the act of practicing. If that is what we are doing, there really isn't anything left over to be meditating on "gee, how do I look" or "I wonder what they think of me?"
I recommend using the conception of Pepe's triangle in your practice, especially at the bottom of your practice, your most intense no tempo practice. As you play every note, from the beginning of its conception in the mind, to the emotional desire to hear the note, to the hearing of it in the inner ear, to the thinking of the note itself, its name (and for readers, its look on the page of music), to conscious knowledge of each finger to be used, to the awareness of the body as it commences to create the note, to the hearing of the actual note played, that is the intensity of the Perfect Intention of a master musician.
I find in playing (as opposed to practicing), it is most useful to me to keep my attention on two things simultaneously, my breath, and my desire for the notes. While playing, I am "aerating and intending", breathing and inwardly desiring and conceiving the music (which is a mental AND emotional action). As soon as we leave the state of Perfect Intention we will notice that our breath has become disturbed or constricted, and we have begun to lose our mental/emotional connection to the music. We have stopped wanting it, and so it has stopped appearing. Bodily tensions will follow.
When playing, Pepe counsels us to "withdraw your consciousness from your body and place it in the crown of your head, view your hands as though they were those of another player; allow your tactual memory to guide your fingers with confidence over the fretboard and strings and balance the sound that comes out of the guitar with that which you hear in your head."
It should also be understood that there is a level of Perfect Intention where the music is "heard in silence", and "intended in silence". It is like speaking. When we speak, we do not necessarily know the words we will utter beforehand, but if we are strongly enough focused on the essence of the meaning we wish to convey, the words appear magically by themselves. If we are perfectly focused, the perfect words appear. We can conceive and intend the music in this silent manner as well. The meaning behind all sound proceeds, ultimately and essentially, from silence, just as the meaning behind the words exists in silence first.
One additional thought of great value to keep in mind when playing comes from Celedonio Romero, Pepe's father and lifelong teacher. He believed that every note we play travels and vibrates through the universe eternally. Now, THAT ought to make us a little bit careful about what we do when we touch a guitar!
Now, how do you compare to this incredibly high standard. Probably, like me, when I first had these insights presented to me, you are saying "what are you, out of your mind! First of all, I don't think it is possible to focus so intensely on all of that (at least for me), and second, who says you really have to do that to play well. I mean, is everybody doing that?"
Yes, to whatever degree, some more and some less, but anyone who is any good is doing this, in the way appropriate for them and the style they play. Pepe is a classical player, and classical guitar is the least forgiving, and probably most demanding style. Improvising musicians know that to play with Perfect Intention certainly involves hearing the music first, that is why all the greats sing what they play (classical players do this too, except not when they perform, unless you are Glenn Gould, who can always be heard pleasantly humming along with the Bach fugue he is playing!). The classical player makes sure he or she can sing all the parts being played, this means the music has been properly internalized (bass lines usually receive less Intention than melodies). Singing the music while playing unifies the mind, emotions, and body in Perfect Intention.
Music is conceived with the mind and the emotions, and is delivered to the body through and with the breath. The music should be breathed in before being given birth, and singing makes sure this happens.
In the state of Perfect Intention, we are certainly in our Alone Place, but that doesn't mean we can't let others in if we choose, as we do when we perform for others. It is just like Frank Sinatra used to say "this is my world, your just livin' in it". We can let others in, and of course should, but as creators of the music, from our point of view, they are guests in our world. We are making the show happen, and we make it the way we want it. It is our dream, and we should be free to dream our own, beautiful dream, not a neurotic nightmare!
Yes, it is the nature of music to want to be shared. It is like humor. What is the first thing you do when you hear a great joke? You want to tell it to somebody of course. There is an energy inherent in the joke, and it wants to be circulated and communicated. To do so intensifies the energy. It is the nature of the thing (humor) itself, and why the thing is a part of the human creation and experience. Music is like that, we just need to get out of the way sometimes!
Perfect Intention requires Perfect Attention. Attention is Presence. Paradoxically, when our Attention is perfect, "we" disappear. This state of total absorption in which the "self" is lost, has been known to all great musicians from Beethoven to Bird. Perhaps Li Po, the great Chinese poet, described it best, when he said:
I gaze at the mountain
Until only the mountain remains
Let us play with Perfect Intention, listening to the music, until only the music remains.
To learn more about Jamey's book, "The Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar", visit www.guitarprinciples.com