The Role of Self Reflection in Musical Phrasing

Musicians are not your typical introverts. On stage they can come alive and the inner exhibitionist can be released. However, the process of learning an instrument is effectively an introspective process as each musician must incorporate a particular learning process into their own lexicon. It is widely understood that learning an instrument (even the drums) is possibly the only way to increase and maintain greater intelligence. Brain training exercises and self-help guides may give you a temporary boost but the effects can often decline after a certain period of time without continued practice. Further more the process of learning an instrument has been proved to help people with conditions such as dyslexia and ADHD etc which would suggest that this particular process can and does reveal measured improvements in other areas of the brain including those responsible for language and emotional regulation.

With this information lurking at the back of my mind, I came upon an article about how reading the literary classics can actually give the brain a boost. Briefly, the news item reported the findings of Professor Philip Davis at the University of Liverpool. It detailed how reading the complex English language as appears in classical texts, stimulates the right and left hemispheres of the readers brain for significantly longer periods than simplified versions of the same text. This finding is attributed to the mental effort involved in un-ravelling the meanings within the text. My question is, could this be something that musicians also do in the general course of their learning and performance?

To read the article click here and to read a more in-depth report from the Reader Organisation click here

To begin to answer the question above I return to my earlier assertion that the process of learning an instrument is an introspective process. I add to this a personal perspective given that I was initially drawn to drumming as a way of coping with dyslexia. I have found that the process of learning and playing the drums became a safe haven where I could develop my musical phrasing without the fear of failure that I associated with reading, writing, maths, memory tasks etc. To this day, I believe that my dyslexic mind thrives when I engage in playing and composing music.

Here is a video of Gary Chaffee improvising on the drum set. You can see how he has achieved a very natural approach to rhythmic and melodic phrasing.

I have also always had a fondness for reading challenging literature. This is something I assumed was a form of rebellion against the way people can perceive dyslexia as a difficulty rather than a gift. However, since reading the aforementioned article I have changed my mind. I think that perhaps the thing I like most about reading a well written and often challenging book, is the escapism and moments of deep thought associated with it. This in turn is akin to the freedom I found in learning the drums.

Dr Davis’ findings suggest that this deep thought and stimulation of the imagination experienced whilst reading complex text is triggered by the moments where the right and left brain are stimulated to an extent where the more instinctive processes of the deep mind are brought into the mix.

Perhaps my own brain processes information in a similar way when I play the drums. And this could be the same for other musicians also. This would allow us to feed off of the non verbal / musical patterns we create through the sphere of knowledge and imagination which, in turn allows us to understand the narrative of our lives better. Something that many musicians may or may not agree with or could even take for granted?

If you would like to comment on these ideas please feel free to contact me.

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