How might our encounters with the world shape our playing? What if, by being mindful of our encounters within the world of music, and with the everyday world at large, we could find interesting nuances to exploit in our development as musicians?
Mindfulness has become a respected technique in the world of cognitive psychology. It is a meditative approach to psychological self-care and is derived from Buddhist teachings. This ancient philosophy has been applied through research to become a proven scientific system designed to enhance well-being and self-awareness. It involves paying attention on purpose to the present moment and approaching your own psyche with curiosity and kindness. Rather than trying to battle with your conscience to see the world how you want to see it, a mindful approach advocates seeing and accepting the world and your emotive response to it as it actually is.
So, through regular practice of mindfulness, involving meditation and a more sympathetic approach to everyday life, we could achieve the following…
The ability to select where we want our attention to be and maintaining this attention / focus through the practice of just ‘being’
Learn how to reduce self-judgement and self-persecution
Consistent recognition of how things really are for us emotionally and physically at any given moment in time and an ability to foster a warm acceptance of this as opposed to attempting to drown out any ‘interference’ that might impact on our everyday sense of self.
Mistakes Are for the Making of Moments…
From the perspective of the drummer / musician, mindfulness could mean not putting too heavy a focus on “getting it right” during the processes of learning, practice, and/or performance. Rather than promoting this attitude of perfectionism it may be more healthy to accept our limitations, in light of the enhanced awareness of our emotional and physical states and the conditions in which we find ourselves at any given moment.
It is my view that with a certain attitude drumming can be a very peaceful and immersive experience. The focus of attention can shift from what we are physically doing to another level of concentration which is perhaps close to a meditative state. In fact, there are many parallels between mindfulness and drumming when the activity is treated as an experience rather than a discipline. With this view in mind, the parallels become apparent and also very useful.
Like drumming, mindfulness is a life long practice. It involves seeing ‘failure’ as an integral part of the learning process. Every time we make a mistake, mess up, or have difficulty with something, we have in fact the opportunity to acknowledge a moment where we have stepped out of automatic pilot and find ourselves in a stark instant of reality (a good thing!). We should in fact congratulate ourselves for having found ourselves truly in the present moment and take time to acknowledge where we are; it is a very useful moment when we are fully able to see the problem and solution both at once in the clear light of day. This sort of sentience can lead us to discover lots of new things we didn’t know we where capable of; an awareness of our mistakes can lead us down new creative avenues, helping us to learn faster, create stronger associations with the coordination required, and boost our dopamine and serotonin levels in the process. All from an acknowledgement of the moment.
Learning to drum in the moment…
Any type of musical performance is ripe for experimenting with this concept. Solo practice is also a great opportunity to explore how your experience of life can influence your playing.
Think of a venue that you have regularly played in. Every time you visit the venue you strengthen your awareness of the place. What goes on there before and after the doors open, the staff, sound engineer, what kind of food and drink you might expect to consume that day if anything at all. Also, the place might bring up memories and emotions for you. Do you associate it with being nervous, angry, excited, elated, etc? What is the best experience you ever had there and what is the worst? What was different about the place and the way you felt that made your gig what it was?
Although asking yourself these questions won’t directly affect your playing, it might strengthen your awareness of the sort of conditions conducive to a good experience. This will be different for everyone and we can attempt to improve our experiences and therefore our playing by being aware of this. This is not to be confused with the creation of rituals or superstitions.
While you are drumming with your band or ensemble try considering what each piece means to you at the same time as playing it. Perhaps it has a certain tone or energy which triggers your own personal associations. You might associate with things that were happening to you when it was written or when you first learned it? It might be that in thinking of these things you promote a subtle change to the sort of dynamics or phrasing that under-pin your performance. Although subtle, perhaps your awareness of these emotive triggers allows you the ability to express your part in the piece better. You will already be doing this on some level but this sort of self-awareness can be an added bonus and amplify your playing in a positive way.
It is very likely that only you will notice the subtle changes to your playing here but over time it will enrich your experience and your style will develop accordingly.
Perhaps while travelling to a gig or rehearsal you might want to take some time to become aware of your breathing and any physical sensations in your body. Let your mind examine in a curious way, any aches and stresses; if your mind wanders at any point, at the moment of realisation, you can simply guide it back to a fuller awareness of your body. Try to gently breath and relax while also being aware of what you can see around you and what you can hear.
This mindful approach to your everyday life will put you in a more relaxed state and hopefully will carry through to your playing. This is especially useful as being relaxed while you play the drums is one of the hardest techniques to achieve consistently. If your body is relaxed, then your mind can relax, and since this is where the performance really comes from it makes sense to put as little in between your imagination and your physical performance as possible.
Ben Martin / BGM Rhythms for Drummers Journal December 2013.