What do you think about while you're playing?

Posted by: ChopinLives81

What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 03:41 PM

I'm curious to find out what goes through everyone's heads as you play a piece. I want to be clear though on something. There are two kinds of thoughts that go on simultaneously :

1)subconscious perceptive thoughts: these are the thoughts are are between memory and 2nd nature. Like the dynamics or the tone that you know you have to give, but don't really need to pay detailed attention to.

2)Conscious active thoughts: These are the things we say and hear in our heads. Like if you're playing something and you get a cramp and say to yourself "damn that hurts, gotta try and keep it together though...i wonder if anyone noticed?"

So I'm curious about the 2nd type of thoughts. The active ones. I'm sort of between just being blank to playing portions of the piece I'm playing, but in my head. Anyone else?
Posted by: Polyphonist

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 03:44 PM

"Don't screw up! Don't screw up! Don't screw up! Don't screw up!" grin
Posted by: Roland The Beagle

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 03:46 PM

If I'm in control of the technique, I'm awash with powerful emotions that threaten to overwhelm me and derail the technique. That's why to be really expressive the piece had better be totally locked in my hands for a performance. Of course, if I'm playing for enjoyment, I take as much time as I need to be as expressive as I wish.

Otherwise, I'm balancing consciously adding as much interest as I can while managing the difficult areas of the piece, leading to a somewhat unsatisfying performance.
Posted by: ChopinLives81

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 03:51 PM

Originally Posted By: Polyphonist
"Don't screw up! Don't screw up! Don't screw up! Don't screw up!" grin


So did you screw up?
Posted by: Polyphonist

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 03:52 PM

Originally Posted By: ChopinLives81
Originally Posted By: Polyphonist
"Don't screw up! Don't screw up! Don't screw up! Don't screw up!" grin

So did you screw up?

That information is restricted.
Posted by: gooddog

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 03:59 PM

Originally Posted By: Polyphonist
"Don't screw up! Don't screw up! Don't screw up! Don't screw up!" grin
Besides that laugh , once I've learned the notes, my thoughts are fully focused on what I am playing and what I am about to play in terms of emotions, phrasing, articulation, rubato and dynamics. I've got a "story" to tell and there is so much to focus on, I don't seem to have room in my head for random thoughts. I can focus like this for a long time provided I am alone and the house is quiet. On the rare occasions when I use a practice room, (summer piano camp), I can go like this for hours.

(Unfortunately, most of my practice time takes place right in the middle of my home with dogs barking, doorbells ringing, husbands needing attention, phones jingling, oven timers beeping, washing machines finishing their cycle, sons coming in the door, etc. Then I lose focus, throw up my hands in frustration and find something else to do for a while.)
Posted by: Pathbreaker

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 04:26 PM

There's not a lot of room in there. I hear mostly just the melody, maybe slightly ahead of time, and sense the tempo or rhythm..again as a staggered concept. Anything additional must be a mental cue, such as "don't forget to make this section sing/brood etc."

It's better to feel than to think, I think.
Posted by: Derulux

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 04:30 PM

Originally Posted By: Polyphonist
"Don't screw up! Don't screw up! Don't screw up! Don't screw up!" grin

I would add to the end of this:

"#$(*%#&@()#$#*$#(*#$ ..... Don't screw up again! Don't screw up again! Don't..."

laugh
Posted by: bennevis

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 04:31 PM

It's different depending on whether I'm playing at home for myself, or whether I'm playing for an audience or making a recording.

If I'm 'performing' for myself, I'll experiment with all sorts of tone color and voicing, and even tempi and dynamic variations, to see what ideas I can come up with.

If I'm playing for an audience, the spontaneity (but not experimentation) is spiced with a dash of adrenaline: I go for maximum impact to give a real 'performance' that will (hopefully) draw the audience in. Therefore, I'll be thinking positive thoughts, like how lovely the melody and/or harmony is, or how interesting the figuration. Fast pieces or sections will likely be slightly faster and more 'dangerous'; slow pieces might be slower and more consciously expressive. Wrong notes have long ago stopped bothering me grin - and in any case, I don't play for critics or do any more exams - which helps my playing, as negative thoughts rarely enter my head. (I play for an audience only because I want to, and enjoy it - which also means that I only play what I want to play).

The worst thing that can happen when I'm performing is to bore the audience......
Posted by: Atrys

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 04:32 PM

Originally Posted By: Polyphonist
"Don't screw up! Don't screw up! Don't screw up! Don't screw up!" grin

laugh Mine's more like "wow that sounded bad, wow that sounded bad, wow that sounded bad"
Posted by: Nikolas

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 04:39 PM

Am I the only one going "This is going GREAT! Take that previous performer/competitor/pianist".

Am I also insane like that? grin
Posted by: Derulux

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 05:11 PM

Originally Posted By: Nikolas
Am I the only one going "This is going GREAT! Take that previous performer/competitor/pianist".

Am I also insane like that? grin

If I am competing, I have a very strong/positive mindset. I've always believed that, if you're going to compete, you have to believe you can win. If you enter a competition you don't think you can win, you've wasted your time (and possibly your money).

I'm highly competitive by nature, but if I'm just playing in general, my mindset is very different.
Posted by: Hrodulf

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 05:12 PM

I try to think of note values and chords.
Posted by: MikeN

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 06:08 PM

I'm feel I'm constantly fighting the adrenaline and the shaking of my hand. Otherwise I typical find my thoughts completely unmemorable with the exception of when I'm counting a passage. This Friday I had a very disconcerting moment where I looked up from the piano(something I almost never do) and I saw my teacher had just sort of appeared on that sided of the hall( I didn't hear him come in.). That surprise really threw my concentration. laugh
Posted by: ChopinLives81

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 06:14 PM

Originally Posted By: MikeN
I'm feel I'm constantly fighting the adrenaline and the shaking of my hand. Otherwise I typical find my thoughts completely unmemorable with the exception of when I'm counting a passage. This Friday I had a very disconcerting moment where I looked up from the piano(something I almost never do) and I saw my teacher had just sort of appeared on that sided of the hall( I didn't hear him come in.). That surprise really threw my concentration. laugh


You know something, I get that too sometimes. I almost feel like it warrants a separate thread, but I sometimes get uncontrollable shaky hands too. The problem is that it's never consistent. Sometimes I play for a group of people or a friend of mind and i'm perfectly fine. Other times I'll play for another friend and my hands are ready to shake themselves loose from the wrists. I still can't pinpoint why it happens in some situations and not in others. Even in the most casual and laid back situations in my own home, it comes and goes...
Posted by: MichaelJamesMN

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 06:22 PM

I don't "think" as I play...I "feel" when I play. If I allow myself to disengage from "feeling" into active thought, my mind quickly starts with the dialogue "don't screw up, don't screw up...", as Polyphonist referred to (and cracked me up!) or "Oh no, where am I?" or in the case of playing for others, "What are they thinking?" All of which are simply noise and detract from my playing.

Like Deborah said, I, too, am able to completely immerse/submerge myself into my music as long as there aren't any distractions. Since I live with four animals, I may get distracted occasionally, but not very often. Without looking at a clock, I can easily play for hours without noticing the passage of time.

The worst for me, however, is if I host or play in a recital and there is talking among the attendees. I get angry and stop playing altogether. I've learned who to invite, so that hasn't happened in a long time.
Posted by: MikeN

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 06:31 PM

Originally Posted By: ChopinLives81
Originally Posted By: MikeN
I'm feel I'm constantly fighting the adrenaline and the shaking of my hand. Otherwise I typical find my thoughts completely unmemorable with the exception of when I'm counting a passage. This Friday I had a very disconcerting moment where I looked up from the piano(something I almost never do) and I saw my teacher had just sort of appeared on that sided of the hall( I didn't hear him come in.). That surprise really threw my concentration. laugh


You know something, I get that too sometimes. I almost feel like it warrants a separate thread, but I sometimes get uncontrollable shaky hands too. The problem is that it's never consistent. Sometimes I play for a group of people or a friend of mind and i'm perfectly fine. Other times I'll play for another friend and my hands are ready to shake themselves loose from the wrists. I still can't pinpoint why it happens in some situations and not in others. Even in the most casual and laid back situations in my own home, it comes and goes...

Unfortunately, for me it's quite a regular occurrence. God forbid I'm playing light passage work at a speedy tempo.
Posted by: phantomFive

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 06:43 PM

If I find there is some section where I'm having trouble paying attention to the music, I change the way I'm playing it so it's more interesting.

If I can't pay attention, being the one playing it, then how can the audience pay attention!
Posted by: Pathbreaker

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 06:48 PM

Isn't it disturbing when you realize you haven't even been paying attention? Sometimes I realize I'm thinking about a shopping list or something that happened at work... help
Posted by: ChopinLives81

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 07:31 PM

Originally Posted By: Pathbreaker
Isn't it disturbing when you realize you haven't even been paying attention? Sometimes I realize I'm thinking about a shopping list or something that happened at work... help


5 pages into Chopin's 4th ballade..."damn I forgot to add a dozen eggs to the list, and my friend is already getting the ingredients for that cake we gotta make....oh well, at least this Bach fugue is sounding pretty goo....oooh damn..."
Posted by: Ted

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 07:42 PM

With my improvisation there is often an initial period of conscious thought serving as a starting mechanism, but once fully under way I am more of a listener and spectator. If associations, emotions and images occur I allow them free rein. However, any such thoughts are usually both personal and mundane, decidedly undramatic, lacking sense to anyone else and are very rarely attached to the recording during later hearings. In short, I just let my mind run free.
Posted by: gooddog

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 07:53 PM

Originally Posted By: MichaelJamesMN
The worst for me, however, is if I host or play in a recital and there is talking among the attendees. I get angry and stop playing altogether.
This brings to mind a quote from Alan Walker's wonderful biography of Liszt, volume 1:

"He himself (Liszt) occasionally went out of his way to make an enemy of powerful aristocrats if he thought that his dignity as an artist had suffered. Into this category falls his chilling reply to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, who arrived late and then started talking during one of Liszt's recitals. When Nicholas inquired the cause of the hushed silence, Liszt, replied, 'Music herself should be silent when Nicholas speaks.' This public rebuke may well have cost Liszt a medal It was....the first time that "music herself" had answered back."

Later on the page it says that Liszt grew to detest the Tsar.
Posted by: BruceD

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 08:03 PM

Originally Posted By: gooddog
[...] husbands needing attention, [...]


Er ... um ... Deborah; how many do you have - at the moment? smile
Posted by: MichaelJamesMN

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 08:08 PM

I completely understand Liszt's reaction. Funny (or sad) for me is that my mother is my WORST listener. She cannot keep her mouth shut to save her ever-lovin' soul! Unlike my father, who is the most attentive and interested listener I could ever hope for.

So how do I invite my father and ask my mother to stay home? LOL
Posted by: Music Me

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 08:10 PM

I also feel when I play. It is an unplugging for me from "thinking". I lose all sense of time. The only inkling I have of time is when my butt starts to go numb from sitting so long. Then, I'll look at the clock and realize that 1 1/2 to 2 plus hours has gone by.

Playing is sacred to me; whether for myself or in public. I go to that special place that music, the piano, playing, takes me to.

Thank God for it. Don't know where I would be without it.
Posted by: ChopinAddict

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 08:30 PM

Add me to those who feel and lose all sense of time when they play.
Posted by: ChopinLives81

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 08:32 PM

Originally Posted By: Music Me
I also feel when I play. It is an unplugging for me from "thinking". I lose all sense of time. The only inkling I have of time is when my butt starts to go numb from sitting so long. Then, I'll look at the clock and realize that 1 1/2 to 2 plus hours has gone by.

Playing is sacred to me; whether for myself or in public. I go to that special place that music, the piano, playing, takes me to.

Thank God for it. Don't know where I would be without it.


For the first 2 1/2 years of me playing I was standing up the whole whole time. I had a keyboard and it was up on a high work bench in my room with no room underneath to sit. So I had to learn, practice and play everything standing up all the time. My butt going numb was never an issue, but my feet..oh my feet...
Posted by: gooddog

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 09:38 PM

Originally Posted By: BruceD
Originally Posted By: gooddog
[...] husbands needing attention, [...]


Er ... um ... Deborah; how many do you have - at the moment? smile

Oops.
Posted by: jdw

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 10:16 PM

I feel I'm way better off without conscious thought during a performance. If it's not "don't screw up ... etc." it's, "gee, that went pretty well, it's going to be fin.....oops, what was that?"
Posted by: Nikolas

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/02/14 11:45 PM

Originally Posted By: BruceD
Originally Posted By: gooddog
[...] husbands needing attention, [...]


Er ... um ... Deborah; how many do you have - at the moment? smile
My guess is that Deborah is living in the negative world of a harem! grin
Posted by: noobpianist90

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/03/14 04:38 AM

I try and listen ahead, and try and listen in my mind's ear (so to speak) what I'm about to play after what I'm playing now. I feel this helps me bring out the sound the way I want to.

This is what I try to do, however, I lose steam midway and random thoughts drift in like what I had for breakfast or something interesting that happened to me lately. I try as hard as possible to not let these random thoughts intrude, and I have a varying level of success. I have better success concentrating on the music when I play late nights or early mornings when there is silence around me.
Posted by: Damon

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/03/14 09:04 AM

I listen for the story in the music.
Posted by: chopinoholic

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/03/14 09:08 AM

It depends with me on the state of mind I'm in. If I had a busy day I tend to wonder of during playing and immediately screw up. Even if it is the most easy piece.
And when I'm able to keep my mind focussed, then I can play for hours. When playing focussed, I'm really into the piece. Then the feeling part comes by itself. Sometimes, more or less unannounced, the chills go down my spine when I'm in the "zone". This happens especially in the f minor ballade after the second introduction theme up to the preparation of the coda. It really messes with my head. I guess this piece, especially these 4 pages of music, does that to people. smile cry mad
Posted by: hreichgott

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/03/14 03:27 PM

Well, my experience is a lot less profound than many of these.

I take a more "tinkering" approach while practicing. I'm always trying to fix a note over here, or tweak a crescendo over there, or try the voicing a few different ways over in that spot, or figure out what in the heck is going on with finger 4 in those two measures. Even when I'm playing through a piece, I'm thinking about whatever issues I was just working on in practice.

When performing, things are larger-scale, and I'm more focused on how to communicate the overall qualities of the music, and usually mentally singing along (it's an old Suzuki habit plus it keeps distracting thoughts away). The tinkering part of the brain is still accessible just in case something goes wrong and has to be fixed with a quick improv.

While I've never been carried away with emotion or had any of those magical experiences while playing, I always feel a great love for and deep connection to the music, and a desire to share my heart and the composer's heart with whoever happens to be listening.

I suppose practicing is like putting together a complicated piece of furniture with someone I deeply love. And performing is like serving that person a delicious meal on the piece of furniture we built.
Posted by: beet31425

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/03/14 03:42 PM

Originally Posted By: hreichgott
I suppose practicing is like putting together a complicated piece of furniture with someone I deeply love. And performing is like serving that person a delicious meal on the piece of furniture we built.


That's... that's one of the nicest things I've ever read here. blush
Posted by: chopinoholic

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/03/14 04:25 PM

Thank you Heather for that wonderful explaination of how you experience the music you play and practice. I agree with beet31425, that last sentence will help me enjoy and love practicing a lot more! It will stick with me. Thanks.
Omg I'm getting sentimental blush
Posted by: hreichgott

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/03/14 09:21 PM

Aww. And here I thought I was the dull one smile
Posted by: Cinnamonbear

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/03/14 09:33 PM

Originally Posted By: hreichgott
Aww. And here I thought I was the dull one smile

No. Not dull. Change one letter. "Full." As in, "of meaning."

In answer to the OP--I do not think... I am listening too hard to think. Like Damon, I am listening for the story. If not the story, then, to the spirit. As a music notation reader, I am looking *through* the notes to the other side of the page, into the spirit of the sound of the strings that are hit by hammers. Into frequency. Into resonance. With meaning.
Posted by: dolce sfogato

Re: What do you think about while you're playing? - 03/06/14 04:31 PM

During practice: 'this has to be better, that has to be better, I am a lousy pianist, let's go for a walk, why am I not a lawyer, etc'.
During concert: 'I have to go to the loo, what drinks will thee be afterwards, if I play this correctly I earn myself a double whisky, what's the shopping for tomorrow, where shall we go on holiday, ...indecent stuff..., etc.'