Think 10 Times, Play Once

by Jamie Andreas

As with any lengthy production, during the preparation of my book "The Deeper I Go, the Deeper It Gets", there were a number of out-takes. In the interests of space, some essays had to get the axe! They contain valuable insights for musicians nonetheless. Here is one:

Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was one of the greatest pianists in history, in fact, according to Martin Bookspan, writing in 101 Great Pieces of Music and their Composers, "if we are to believe the testimony of those who heard him play, Liszt may well have been the greatest pianist who ever lived." He was an incredible musician, who could play and re-arrange for piano an entire Beethoven symphony at sight. He worked constantly to promote the work of other great musicians of his day, including Wagner, Chopin, and Schumman. He was such an incredible pianist that people thought he must have made a deal with the Devil, that being the only way they could explain his virtuosity. In fact, he was really the first Rock Star, being constantly worshipped by people as celebrities are today, and the first of the new breed of musician to make their living by touring, and getting all the babes he wanted.

"Think 10 Times, Play Once"....Franz Liszt

When someone like this says anything, I listen very closely. I have thought about this statement over the years, and it has led me, by itself, to probably half of everything I have realized about playing an instrument.
This statement, which basically points to the supremacy of the mental aspect of playing, is the basis of the first Principle of Correct Practice:

"Your aware thinking mind is your primary practice tool."

If you, as a practicing musician, keep this thought constantly in mind, and deepen your understanding of it, I think you too will see it lead to many powerful awareness's. I wish I had a nickel for every time I discovered the answer to a problem in playing, after years of having that problem, just by finally deciding to really sit down and THINK about it. I mean, examine it from every angle, re-think it again and again. Then play, with full awareness, observe the results, and think again.

But understand this: you have to have an idea of what THINKING is. And I don't assume everyone does, since I am constantly observing people's lack of doing it.

I was talking with a student once who complained that he thought too much, it was bad for him. Upon questioning him, I realized that what he really meant was that he worried too much. He thought worrying was thinking! Wrong. Worry is a mental activity that uses the imagination, coupled with negative emotions, to pretend to deal with reality. It is actually a way of avoiding life, and is a weakness that makes us weaker.

Thinking on the other hand, is a dynamic process, characterized by a positive emotional state, a sense of curiosity and the excitement of discovery. It uses knowledge already gained, and creatively combines it with other knowledge, and intuition, to create even more knowledge. Examine yourself. Is this what you do when you practice, or do you just "worry". As in, "damn, I still can't play this. Well, let me try it the same way yet again, for the one zillionth time."

Don't! Stop. Think. Observe. Think. Then have the fingers perform a well thought out action. Was it better? Why?
Worry repeats the past, and creates more of it. Thinking creates a new future. For guitarists, that means, "I am creating an improved ability to do these notes".

Thinking, of course, involves awareness, which is why we must know what the fingers are doing, and why we get the results we do. Often people have no idea what their fingers are really doing, so thinking is actually not possible, because they don't yet have anything to think about!

There are so many levels that this statement of Liszt's can be interpreted on. I can't touch on them all here, but I do want to mention its relevance to what is called Mental Practice.

Mental Practice means going through the music in your mind, away from the instrument. You internally visualize everything about playing it. You mentally see the fingers doing it, feel them do it. Hear the music. Some advanced players do most of their practicing this way. It can be as , or more, effective than actual practice.

For more insight into this, read a book called "Psycho-Cybernetics", by Maxwell Maltz, a classic. In it, he explains the basis of Mental Practice, which is the fact that the nervous system cannot tell the difference between a vividly imagined experience, and an "actual one". He tells of an experiment where basketball players were divided into two groups. One practiced foul shots every day for an hour, the other laid down and imagined they were doing fouls shots (successfully, of course). At the end of the experiment, the second group showed as much or more improvement as the first.

Convinced? One last thing. Henry Ford said "thinking is the hardest thing there is, that's why so few people do it." I won't kid you. You will resist it. Notice that.

Now put your thinking caps on!

Copyright 2005 Jamie Andreas.

The Deeper I Go, The Deeper It Gets
Meditations on Life and Guitar

By Jamie Andreas

Five years in the writing, this book is the most
unique and profound work on the guitar, on being an
artist, and being a person, that you are likely to find.

Limited Edition Hardcover
Full Color Dust Jacket, 220 pgs.
Numbered and Signed. 25 Essays.
On sale! Only $29.95.

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