This entry seems to require a little bit of setup to give it useful context, because I gotta say, even to me now, it sounds a little abstract.
It seems useful to mention that the purpose of recounting all of these entries is, hopefully, to share the many perspectives that I found inspiring during my college experience. If it is useful, please take the ideas and run, if not, that’s alright too.
At the time of the original writing, I was quite immersed in actively training for an academic benchmark. I was desperately trying to cross the infinite gulf that I perceived within myself around my musical ability (or perhaps inability). I’ve said it many times, and I’ll say it again with the intention of encouragement: for me, I felt severely handicapped and out of place in a professional and academic setting. It seemed to take me 4x as much effort than my peers to achieve a baseline sense of stability. Now I recognize that this may, in part, have been a drama that existed simply in my own head, but it seemed to me that I just wasn’t as developed as my contemporaries.
This sense of lack within myself at during college now appears to me to have been a gift. It instilled a deep drive to tame the wild beast of music, cultivated a sense of deep discipline, and helped me forge my own process of growth and understanding in the limitless universe of music.
All of this is to say, at the time of this original entry, I was in the thick of it, struggling to swim on a daily basis, attempting to absorb and integrate as many useful perspectives as I possibly could. As quickly as I could.
Among the many techniques and approaches to practicing that I encountered, one of them (perhaps inevitably) was the technique of visualization.
Around the same time as I was first writing this, I was becoming supremely interested in my own mind, how it functioned, the way that it perceived, and the nature of this perception. I found myself leaning into a variety of meditation practices, primarily focused on the Zen Buddhist technique centered around breath and known as Zazen. Alongside of this more formalized training, I found my curiosity wandering towards the imaginative power of my mind.
Isn’t interesting how vivid our dreams can be? We can intimately feel moments that are generated completely inside of our own minds. Sensations, smells, emotions, the tug of gravity, the dampness of rain, the freedom of floating – the whole bandwidth of human perception (and perhaps more) becomes available to experience every night as we lie dreaming in bed.
“What the hell is that?” I wondered, more than once about my dreams. More frequently still, I began to and continue to wonder if there may be some way to access our capacity to dream while we are awake. Our minds are quite powerful. What if we could harness our innate capacity more fully?
This entire train of thought lead me to contemplate what qualities of mind seemed to characterize our capacity to dream; the presence of deeply detailed imagery and the way that these images shifted appeared as one of the biggest and most obvious observations for me. Naturally, I began to wonder if I might be able to harness the imaginative capacity afforded to me in dreams while I was awake. I began to practice visualizing.
The following entry documents my own scientific method, my approach as I first began to consciously cultivate the powerful imaginative potential that I sensed within myself. I’ll apologize in advanced, because it starts out PRETTY strangely, but if I have your attention, I’ll unpack some of my thinking, develop it a bit (hopefully in a way that makes the information useful), and offer some other resources to check out if you are interested in this imaginative human capacity.
Original Entry: Visualizations
Music as the interacting cosmos; planets, stars, gravity, suns, moons, orbits, rotations, revolutions, space-time, cosmic debris, atmospheres, gasses, life, dissolution.
Observations on Initial Visualizations:
There are many elements to tie together in visualizing; when attempting a run of the Solar scale exercise, I noticed these tendencies in my mind:
- I want to rush!!
- I’m easily distracted!!
- I get lost easily!!
These are habits of an untrained mind.
Rushing: is ridiculous. Where am I in such a hurry to get to? This is my own mind for God Sake. I’ve got endless time!! Nothing lies in the future to rush towards except infinite permutations of patterns. Chill.
Distraction: It’s rough to use my mind in this novel way. I am so accustomed to my body fumbling to train my wandering mind that when I enter my space, there is mental leakage to account for. A vent exists in my mind that ethereal distraction may pass through while I focus.
Lost: Orienting with staff lines, ink, fingerings, picking, feeling, image of fretboard, and sound – this is a whole lot of information to maintain all at once when imagining. With simple exercises I can begin juggling these elements and introducing new variables. Start with three crucial elements: fretboard, sound, and fingerings.
(I’ve been spending too much time on dry cut exercises. Ryan mentioned he spends about 90% of practice time jamming on tunes)
Reflections and Observations:
So what is even happening here?
That’s a fine question.
“Music as the interacting cosmos; planets, stars, gravity, suns, moons, orbits, rotations, revolutions, space-time, cosmic debris, atmospheres, gasses, life, dissolution.”
That’s a little abstract, huh?
Looking back at my writing, then more deeply into the intention that motivated me, I can see that I was contemplating the nature of the universe and considering how the celestial movements of the cosmos related directly to the universe of sound before me on the fretboard.
In a way, I was asking myself “How can I see the fundamental motions of the universe inside of my music?” I was trying to draw parallels from my cursory understanding of celestial bodies and their natural movements and apply that same motion to my guitar.
And it still seems kind of neat to me.
Observations on Initial Visualizations:
It looks like I took a break to practice some sort of visualizing technique, (which I conveniently omitted), the documented some observations on my experiences.
I’d like to point out that I was practicing some sort of scale exercises on the Miles Davis tune “Solar,” which may have inspired some of the cosmic imagery that we saw up front. If you haven’t heard the tune, check it out. It’s damn good. I like this version:
I was likely playing some scales that corresponded to the changes of the tune, practicing shifting my scales with the harmony and staying in a common position on the guitar. I’m not going to go into details about that now, but may at some later point.
Then came my observations:
- Getting Lost
I’ll say, when I did this visualization technique, I’m pretty sure I crawled into bed, covered up, then tried real hard to imagine. I think what most likely happened is I got real sleepy and didn’t know exactly the best way to practice imaginatively, so I floundered around trying to recreate the fretboard, the sound of the chord changes, the feeling of my fingers, the way it all looked, and countless other details that I couldn’t keep straight.
This experiment was pretty much a flop.
So how do we practice imaginatively?
Well for one, if you want to practice with visualizations, I would recommend not laying down in a dark room and closing your eyes on your bed or a comfy couch, because that has NEVER worked well for me in any sustainable way.
Two, playing a musical instrument instrument involves a lot of complex detail; if you are interested in starting some sort of visualization practice, I would encourage you to start with some manageable details. For me, in this experiment, my takeaway revolved around simplifying my approach to include only three details: The fretboard, the corresponding sound, and the fingering.
Performance psychologist and Julliard alumni Noa Kageyama offers a ton of great advice over at his website: The Bulletproof Musician. He offers a 7-point modal for visualization practice called the PETTLEP modal. This approach was developed by two British scientists who based their technique on research rooted in sports psychology, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience.
In a whirlwind summary, this PETTLEP approach uses seven guiding points to help frame your visualization practice, including:
- P – Physical
- E – Environment
- T – Task
- T – Timing
- L – Learning
- E – Emotion
- P – Perspective
Noa does a brilliant job at outlining these different points, so I won’t go into the details of this particular method, but again, if you are interested and looking for a roadmap to begin visualizing, I would highly recommend you start at his website here.
Thanks Mr. Kageyama for being such a boss and providing so much inspiration.
In fact, Noa talks about visualization a lot on his website, if you are interested you can look around and check out the awesome resources he has available. Another article he has talks about the benefits possible when we focus on the timing aspect of visual practice.
It seems that practicing visualization at several speeds – slow, real-time, and fast – had a massive benefit in a study that tracked an athlete’s baseball bat swing.
The full article is located here.
I swear that the bulletproof musician is NOT sponsoring this post at all. They just do good work over there. I’ll uphold one final article from Mr. Kageyama here – “How to get good at mental imagery.” This article is interesting, because he directly address the problem of mental fuzziness when trying to visualize. Like, how the heck do we work with this if we can’t imagine it.
I especially like this article, because here, Noa talks about building a visualization practice up in layers, likening the process to that of building a house from the foundation up.
Again, I won’t go super deeply into the details because he does a fine job over at his website, but the general idea involves creating a mental image, self-rating the vividness of the image, and then adding a new level of detail and trying again.
The last resource that I’ll uphold is a nice book that I’ve used for some research papers and practice (though I could stand to read through the whole book now that the pressure of school is gone) – Psycho Cybernetics – which deeply explores our internal self image and explores methods of re-framing and empowering us to effectively wield our minds with our ability to imagine.
If I’m being honest, I haven’t had an active visualizing practice in quite some time, but in recounting this entry and scouring the internet, I’ve found my curiosity piqued. I’m especially interested in the information within the third article I mentioned “How to get good at mental imagery.” Maybe I’ll practice a some this week and check in over the next few weeks.
Do any of you use a visualization practice of any kind in your art? If so I’d love to hear about your experiences. I hope everyone is staying well and sane.
(I’ve been listening to this song now while I’ve written the bulk of this article, thought I’d share it here)
Love and Bows