IMPROVISING  MUSIC  INTENTIONALLY

Learn to Improvise the Way You Learned to Talk

 

by Keith Hill © Manchester 2005

 

I enjoy hearing improvisations much more than hearing literature. My attitude is that I can hear literature any time I want by turning on my stereo system and inserting a CD. Why should I go to hear literature in concert except to hear a new player or to hear some literature I have never before heard? When I hear improvisation, I know I am hearing music that has never been heard before that moment and may never be heard again. An important question arises: am I alone in this way of thinking, or am I just one of many, some of whom, perhaps, are unable to articulate their feelings? If I am not alone, then improvisation may be an answer to reinvigorating concert audiences. Of one thing I am very sure: prior to the twentieth century, most concerts were part literature and part improvisation. To some extent, this tradition lives on in the popular music culture today. Do they know something we don't?

I am the first to grant that what one hears in improvisations is usually not the highest quality of music. For that one must hear the literature. But this makes no difference in how I feel about hearing improvisation. I always prefer to hear a mediocre improvisation to a well-heeled performance of a piece of great literature that I have heard many times before, just as I am always more interested in eating food prepared by a good cook who improvises with each meal than eating the same meal repeatedly, no matter how delicious. Eating the occasional blunder is a small price to pay for the opportunity to eat those supremely delicious meals that only the improvising cook produces.

Just as performance practice has improved greatly over the last twenty years, I expect that should improvising in public become the rule, twenty years hence the quality of improvisations will be astonishing -- far better than we might now imagine. The point is this: practice of anything makes it perfect. The more that performers improvise in public, the better they will become and the higher the quality of their work will be. I can only guess that the reason harpsichordists do not improvise in public is that they are afraid of the comparisons people are bound to make. Comparing infant efforts in improvisation to mature literature performances will happen, but only by those of little kindness and less vision. Audiences will love it. If performers will trust this they may be able to overcome their timidity about improvising in public.

The question then is this: how does one begin? The answer: begin wherever you like. You begin with whatever style, idiom, method of approach, or device is most comfortable for you. There are as many styles of improvisation as there are people who improvise. It is much like learning to talk all over again. However, there are several distinct schools or approaches to solving the problem of where to begin. Each approach has both advantages and disadvantages.

 

The Schools of Improvisation

 

There is the "noodling" school. Players from this school sit and noodle around on the keyboard making this sound and that, without any specific aim. As they noodle around, they discover interesting ways of doing things which they remember and add to their collection of things that work. Noodling is a "seat of the pants" approach. 

Noodling is an important way to begin learning to improvise--often the only way to learn. It is a way of looking for ideas. In my opinion, noodling is best done only in private. Yet one often hears noodling when one hears improvisation. This is because noodling is what you must do when you run out of ideas.

Then there is the procedural school. Here, players learn a set of rules which, like a road map, tell them what to play with each note in a given melody. Learning from figured bass is improvisation by procedure. One gradually builds up a facility at harmonizing bass and treble lines after having done it often enough. This school forms improvisers who have solid harmonic foundations to their improvisations but are largely tied to a printed or supplied line of music. When this approach is coupled with the noodling approach very good things can result--better than when each school is practiced separately.

Thirdly, the "lick" school. Players from this school memorize "licks" or passages from the literature. They have fun improvising by stringing the different passages together in various combinations forming a stream of unrelated but fun-to-listen-to passages. This creates an enormously impressive effect for anyone who is unfamiliar with early music. The licks can be sequences, figurations, scales, or even whole bravura sections of a piece of music. Licks are great for cultivating facility at filling up time. Those who learn by the lick method are well on their way to success at improvising. But the very facility cultivated with this method often leads to barrenness of ideas.

Next, the cliche school. These players learn the stylistic cliches of the period and style they are studying. Cliches differ from lick in that cliches are not passage work or figurations, what I call licks, cliches are short musical ideas that convey a strong feeling of affect. For instance, the appogiatura is a cliche. Each style has a characteristic cadence which is a cliche. Cliches usually form the foundation for licks and similar passage work. As with the lick method, cliche improvisers form their ideas based on a series of cliches, which they string one after the other. The cliche approach is not as impressive as the lick approach but has the advantage of sounding more deliberate and moving. Cliche improvisation usually sounds the most convincing in terms of style and content; by the same token it sounds the most original and authentic.

The "snatch" school improvisers, like those of the lick school, memorize whole snatches of pieces and cast them out in a variety of ways, creating the effect of a new piece using other composers' ideas. Because they needn't concern themselves with the ideas they use, these improvisers often cultivate a high level of skill at development. The main drawback of this approach is that overreliance on other people's ideas produces personal musical sterility. To develop a fertile mind, you must force yourself to generate your own musical ideas and materials. Improvising predicated on the memory tends to induce musical mimicry rather than invention.

Sixth, the modern or "self-expression" school. These improvisers play anything they feel like playing without any obvious point of reference. To the listener, ideas seem to come and go without any special connection. Although the improviser may have something specific to convey, the music appears to wander aimlessly. The results can be astonishing if the improviser happens to be inspired that day; more often the results are tedious. This manner of improvising is different from the noodling school mainly because it uses an atonal language--it is hard to tell if one is noodling when hearing music improvised in an atonal language.

Last is the "divisions" school. This school was the most popular in the earlier periods. Simpson and Quantz were advocates of the divisions school. Basically, this approach involves adding notes between the existing notes of a given line of music. The tradition of melisma or embellishment is very old. Although it is not in common practice today in the field of classical or serious music, it is alive and thriving in the popular music of today. Blues, Soul, and Jazz, as well as other genres of popular music are all based on this school of improvisation.

There are other schools than those I have listed, but these seven methods are the more obvious ones around today.

I use none of these as my own approach. Although I use and borrow aspects from all of them, my own method is one which works best for me. It is designed to overcome my own set of personal performing problems. The most important of these problems is a basic lack of adequate technique for moving my fingers in a controlled way. Because of poor reading and memorizing abilities, I make little use of the lick and snatch approaches. This is not to say that I wouldn't like to do so; only that I am not a competent enough player to do those things well--now.

When I began improvising I used the noodling method. I quickly tired of that approach because I managed to bore myself by going nowhere in my improvisations. This is a danger of the noodling method.

What I finally devised I call an "intentional" method. This method differs from all other methods in that it requires only one active ingredient -- the mind. With virtually no skill at the keyboard one can learn to improvise with this method. The reason is simple. There are only four rules to follow.

 

Rule one: Never play what you do not first intend in your mind to play.

 

In other words, you must first hear a note in your head, and intend or need to have that note before you ever play it. The purpose of this rule is to instill from the beginning the habit of thinking music before playing it. When you let your fingers do the walking, mindlessness is sure to result. Because inventing music requires you to think music, you must train yourself from the outset to think music before playing it. This will guarantee your ability to invent music at a later time, when you have acquired sufficient technical facility to be able to execute what you invent. The rule is simple. If you don't first hear it inside, don't play it.

 

Rule two: Never play more than you can actually control. 

 

If you can't control more than one line of music, don't play more than one line. When you can control one line and intend every note before you play it then go to two lines. And so on. 

 

Often we are tempted to play in four parts before we can intend anything. The reason for this is simple: four part harmony is very gratifying to play. The problem is that, without intent, it leads nowhere. If you follow this little rule, your ability to control what you are doing will advance much more quickly than otherwise. It is called pacing. As with any exercise you need to pace yourself in order to build up stamina. That is the reason behind this rule.

 

Rule three: Strive to break rules one and two as often as possible. 

 

In other words, push yourself past your intentional and control comfort levels all the time. If you only do what you can do easily, you can not grow. Therefore, be willing to take risks in order to learn faster and acquire more skill. To follow the exercise metaphor further, no pain no gain.

 

Rule four: Mistakes do not exist in improvisation. 

 

When you say something you didn't intend to say, it can be a stroke of inspiration, a Freudian slip, or something which might be termed awkward. Mistakes, on the other hand, are possible only when playing the intentions of someone else. At the time you are improvising, you are the only one who knows what you are going to say. How is it possible to make a mistake? Searching for just the right expression or just the right gesture is a behavior which everyone expects as normal in human conversation, and so it should be in improvisation.

 

You may ask why I state as a rule that mistakes do not exist in improvisation. If it were just a nice thought and not a rule, then you might fall into the trap of fear that paralyzes most players who might enjoy improvising, but fail to make anything out of it. Having it as a rule, acknowledges mistakes as an essential ingredient in the creative process. The word for this is serendipity.

With these four rules, anyone who puts his/her mind to it can learn to improvise. 

There is a fifth rule which is just as important as the first four but can cause the most problems for those who wish to improvise.

 

Rule five: As soon as possible, take every opportunity to improvise in front of others.

 

You cannot build your confidence by talking to yourself. Confidence comes from learning to manage yourself in the presence of others. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. The easier it becomes, the more what you intend works. This is a cycle that you enter. If you intend to say something and you don't say it, you exist apart from the cycle. If you intend to say something and you say it in public, others begin to hold you accountable for what you say. If what you say interests others you can proceed to elaborate on what you said. If others take issue with what you said you can explain yourself further. If you cannot explain yourself further you excuse yourself to think about it further before trying again to explain. The more you use the opportunities to discuss your ideas, the better you will become at explaining them. The better you are at explaining them, the more others will want to hear what you have to say. And so on. 

It is, however, best to choose as a time to improvise in front of others a moment when only those who enjoy encouraging your development are listening. You can hurt yourself by choosing the wrong time. So be careful.

 

Remember what Bach said: "Anyone who works as hard [as I] can do the same" and

"Everything must be possible".

 

 

Continue Improvising

Learn to Improvise the Way You Learned to Talk

 

by Keith Hill © Nashville 2016

 

To master improvisation, it is important to have a strong foundation in the basics. This is as true for improvising using language as it is for music. The assumption that you can side step the basics in any art leads to a dead end or a barrenness of idea. Building a fertile groundwork for musical thinking means that at some point you need to build the habits and confidence of experience that can only be acquired by such a basis. The beauty of the basics is that practically anyone can learn them. They are even more easily learned by an experienced practicing musician. Because of this I find it odd that more musicians don't improvise. What I share with you is how I solved the problem of learning to improvise. Although other solutions to the problem might work as well. To begin, establish the following habits and ways of thinking needed to secure those habits. They will lead to convincing results.

 

1. Begin by improvising only one line of music.

 

There are 3 reasons for beginning with one line. 

First, learning to intend music means learning to “talk” music. Learning to talk music is best accomplished by keeping the three elements of music: melody, harmony and rhythm all under intentional control. This is most easily accomplished with one simple line. However, don't be fooled by the mistaken notion that what appears simple is simple. Creating a complete musical experience with one line is extremely challenging. The best models for the study of music that involves one line are the suites and partitas of Bach for solo violin, cello and flute and the solo instrumental works of Telemann and Biber. Being restricted to a grand total of one note at a time forces you to be resourceful to invent music that is both interesting and meaningful. 

The advantage of starting with one line is that it offers few real challenges to your technical ability. This gives you full freedom to develop intentional accuracy, speed, and memory. As you become more accurate in playing the note that you intend, gradually increase your speed until you can play what you intend at any speed suitable for the ideas you have in mind. Also, as you gain facility in these two skills, you can begin to memorize the ideas you have, that are especially interesting, for use later during the improvisation. Memorizing your own music as it happens lets you keep the formal construction of your “oration” more succinct.

Second, the process of learning to talk music is the same as learning to talk in a language. As such, learning to talk music needs to be systematically approached in the exactly same manner as a baby learns to speak. First, a child learns to make the sounds. This is called babbling. Next comes combining sounds, followed by making sound combinations in short series, and ending by making sound combinations in prolonged series. During this process, the infant is learning which sounds elicit what responses. From this, meaning is deduced. The entire process of learning to communicate begins with crying and ends with complete sentences. The important point to remember is that the sounds generated are uttered to express intention. Meaning is obscured when the sounds fail to accurately communicate the intention.

Learning to improvise by the intentional method needs to follow this process because it cultivates expression of intent and along with it discrimination and taste for what works and communicates best. Without intention and taste behind it, little in music is interesting because meaning is missing. If you sidestep learning to intend one line of music, be aware that the most important aspect of babbling--that of making enormous quantities of errors, fearlessly, is what you give up. Should you run into difficulties because of expressive infertility later on, you need only to return to this stage again and start over to build it right. 

Whenever I get a new idea about how to improve my improvising, I automatically return to this stage in order to incorporate the idea without a struggle. After starting over more than seven times, I have gotten used to starting over and have come to enjoy the cleanliness and speed of learning that results from it.

Three, music is so complicated that to attempt mastery of its complexities all at once is an unreasonable goal. The desire to begin at a complex level comes from the preconception that one should be able to improvise “pieces” which in turn comes from a culture of only playing pre- composed pieces. Playing notated music and improvising are two different skills. Performing from scores supposedly develops the skill of interpreting and communicating the composers' intentions. Whereas improvising develops your skill as both a composer and an interpreter of your own intentions. It is common in today's culture to think that just being able to play a Bach Fugue or a Chopin Etude accurately is a sign of musical sophistication--a somewhat naive delusion. At best, it is a sign of technical sophistication not musical. In my judgment, a person is musically sophisticated when he or she can extemporaneously invent a fugue or etude of a quality equivalent to the works of Bach or Chopin. But, the notion that improvisation is somehow supposed to compete with thoroughly worked out compositions persists.

In the past, great improvisers probably began improvising before they could even read music. Learning to read music came naturally as a young musician found that more could be learned about improvising and composing by being able to read music. Learning pieces was a stepping stone to composing. In the realm of language, it takes years to master the art of oratory so that an improvised delivery assumes the natural quality of a carefully crafted argument. Why should things be different in music? Being able to improvise music so that it sounds like a prepared piece is a laudable GOAL. Nevertheless, this goal should never be allowed to cloud our judgment about developing mastery of the basics.

So, begin learning to improvise with one line of music and stick with it until you have mastered it. Build more and more complexity into that line until no more can be made of it. Then go to two. Have it as your aim to make one line of music at least as interesting as Bach.

 

2. Express what you intend not merely what occurs to you.

 

The purpose of the intentional method is to develop musical intention. Although doing what occurs to you may be how you end up improvising, from the beginning it is essential to learn to play what you have in your mind to play. Mastering this early will give you the skill and power to realize more complex ideas later on. The principle behind this instruction is that your musical intuition can only provide you with inspiration based on the kind, quality, and character of the foundation you build for it. A foundation that is shallow, weak, and poorly formed will support almost nothing. It is to your advantage to build as deep, as strong, and as beautifully constructed a foundation as you possibly can. This translates into: train yourself to turn your musical thought into sound as accurately as possible. Never mind that your initial thoughts might seem boring. They should be. Strive for accuracy first, speed second, and memory third.

Bear in mind, however, that intending does not always mean having specific sounds in mind. Sometimes you may intend aesthetic principles. Intending aesthetic principles means deciding to use aesthetic principles (Principles of Contrast, Proportion, Harmony, Intensity etc.) to govern what you will do next. For instance, beginning with four notes rising, you might intend to contrast them with motion downwards, playing anything that comes to mind that moves downwards. Or you may begin with four notes rising and create a proportional “tail” that complements the effect of the four rising notes. The principles of contrast and proportion guide the general flow of thought but do not determine the exact outcome. 

Whatever you can imagine as an intention should be experimented with. Intend an Affect; like sorrow, or joy, or majesty. Intend an Effect; like the sounds of war, or wind blowing, or water rushing, or a hummingbird flying. Intend a condition; like limping, or being followed, or nervousness. Intend a state of mind; like wondering, or listening, or intending. Intend ornaments on a set of notes. And so on. The more varied your repertoire the more variety your improvisations will have. If you ask others to give you suggestions, you are drawing on them for ideas but you are also getting them to act as correspondents in the improvisation. When others give you an idea, they will then be able to determine if you played something that expressed that particular intention. If you play something which you thought expressed caressing, and your audience thought it was nonsense that you were expressing, you need to figure out what you were doing wrong that caused them to “read” nonsense instead of caressing. 

 

3. Don't try to be creative or original and don't worry about being mediocre.

 

There are two major problems that afflict artistic people in the twentieth century. First is the desire to be creative and original. And second is the mediocrity that happens in the attempt to be creative and original. These two afflictions cause mostly unintelligible and uninteresting results in the music and art of the twentieth century. Both of these maladies stem from fear.

Fear #1: The fear of not being creative or original is the most easily dispatched. If you understand that no two musical backgrounds are identical, you would realize that everyone is original by definition. So don't bother trying to be creative or original--let it occur naturally. True creativity arises from attending to the needs of your materials and your situation. It never comes from forcing. Therefore, imitate freely the best models of music making. Understand that no matter how hard you may try, you can never perfectly imitate another person's music. Your improvisations may suggest the sound of some composer or other (which should come as a great compliment to you). Eventually, you will sound like yourself even if you are using another person's “language”. So don't get “hung up” on being original. Mozart never worried about being original. He took his language from others. What makes Mozart “Mozart” is that he used the language more effectively than anyone else during his time. Originality isn't worth diddlysquat if it isn't more meaningful and relevant. It is better to be competent using someone else's style of expression than to be incompetent and mediocre using some irrelevant language that is entirely original.

Fear #2: The fear of doing something and have it judged as mediocre or incompetent. If this fear afflicted children while they were busy learning to talk, language would soon die out. The process of learning is based on making errors, noticing, and eventually eliminating them. Errors are important stepping stones to success. No one can avoid them. Learn to notice and eliminate them as quickly as possible. Whatever is judged to be mediocre or incompetent is usually loaded with errors that weren't noticed and eliminated. Anyone who strives to become more and more sensitive to what doesn't work, to what isn't interesting, to what fails to communicate clearly, to what irritates, to what doesn't vivify, to whatever needs refinement, to what effects are being produced, to what wants to be developed, et cetera, can, in time, learn to produce work of great competence. 

The biggest hurdle to overcoming these fears is the ego. Your feelings will be easily hurt if you make the mistake of identifying with your errors. Once you identify with your behavior, any criticism usually results in feeling hurt or angry on your part. The alternative is to treat an error as an error--not a crime or an unforgivable sin. Then compliment anyone who points out your errors as being an astute judge. People who are swift learners, learn quickly because they focus on correcting errors instead of taking criticisms personally. Ultimately, the antidote is wanting errors to happen so that you can objectively and systematically eliminate them. 

 

4. Choose a style which feels the most comfortable for you.

 

Selecting a style to begin improvising in is like choosing a recipe book to begin learning how to cook. French, Country, Amish, Italian, German, Chinese, and Hungarian are all different styles of cooking. Everyone who cooks in those individual styles will do things slightly differently. The style merely mirrors the values and ingredients used by cooks who work in the style. Styles in music are much the same. Choose one which most mirrors your own values and tastes and learn to improvise using it.

The late twentieth century is a time of unparalleled freedom of choice. Whatever style you choose for yourself will be a post modern style. The characteristic of the post modern style is that it is wholly synthetic--borrowed from all other styles. This freedom is also a bane because it squelches meaning and encourages nonsense. The reason for this is that whatever sounds disjointed, chaotic, and arbitrary is easily perceived as irrelevant meaningless nonsense. Avoiding the threat of irrelevance requires some discipline in your selection of style. The more structured, flowing, and integrated your style is the better your chances of expressing something that listeners will find worth hearing.

 

5. Purposely establish modest goals for yourself at the outset.

 

Don't bite off more than you can chew. Insist on having a realistic goal for each practice session. For instance, at the beginning, a good goal is to merely be able to keep going. Another goal is to figure out what creates interest. Yet another is to introduce only one aesthetic principle into your music and learn how to incorporate it successfully. Having a goal for each practice session makes the work you do during the session much more focused and purposeful.

 

6. Do not hesitate to use printed music to help you get started. 

 

This could be a popular tune or a church hymn or a chorale melody or a page of music from one of your favorite composers. I prefer to use tunes from the commercials from the '60's and '70's, nursery rhymes, chorale melodies, and random selections from Bach's music. Bach himself was accustomed to using someone else's music to help his musical juices flow.

 

7. View improvising as a series of personal challenges not as a daunting obstacle.

 

When you challenge yourself, there are no losers, only winners, because every tiny bit of knowledge that you gain or every tiny bit of interesting music you produce makes you a winner. You lose only when you give up because your expectations for how you ought to be doing squelch your intuitive self. I call this “shoulding” all over yourself. Improvisation needs to be fun to be worth doing. Unrealistic expectations just dowse the fires of enthusiasm for doing it at all.

Once you have started improvising regularly, and you learn to control your intentions, start to expand your vocabulary of things to say. Enlarging your repertoire of things you can intend and execute is the basis on which this will grow. You will, naturally, be restricted in this endeavor by the spiritual content of what you normally spend your time contemplating. If you spend your time normally absorbed in mundanities, what you have to say will likely express mundanity. If you like to think about frivolities, your music will probably be playful. If you think about questions like: what are the salient features in a stirring piece of music that make it have the property of being stirring? or How is it possible to make what I am doing more interesting? and so on, your improvisations will probably come out sounding more stirring and interesting.

What follows are questions that might help you curb your tendency to do more than you can actually control. 

 

1. How can I use this idea?

 

Every idea has it's best form, it's best rhythm, it's best instrumentation, it's best structure, it's most complementary ideas, it's best use. Learning to become sensitive to the possibilities of what an idea has to offer is what becoming a mature improviser means. Ideas that are complicated have the most restricted possibilities. Therefore, stick with ideas that are as simple and straightforward as they can be. Keep your materials as spare as possible so that you have the possibility to ask the next question.

 

2. What can I do maximize this idea?

 

The principle of integrity is the key to making the most of any idea. Once you have something in mind for your improvisation, it is important to hold to it until the end. This will make your improvisation sound more like a written out piece of music.

To create integrity in music, start with a simple idea and break it up into its component parts. Then manipulate those parts in every way possible until you get tired or you run out of possibilities. Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, the first movement, is a classic study in maximization of an idea through integration. Do not be afraid to repeat an idea as long as you show the idea in some new light or as yet unexpressed way. Listeners can easily tolerate repetitions of an idea that are in some way varied. They have real problems following a constant stream of new ideas. The simpler an idea is the easier it is for those listening to follow all that you do to it.

 

3. How can I make what I am doing more interesting?

 

This is perhaps the most encompassing question of all concerning improvisation. Answering it would probably fill twenty or more columns. It will suffice for now to say that making your improvisation interesting depends entirely on how easy it is for the audience to follow what you are doing. It is a stressful experience for a listener to endure more than a few moments of music that sounds jumbled, obtuse, and willful. Such music jerks the listeners around and eventually alienates them. Being interesting begins with being predictable. But more than a few moments of going nowhere also frustrates the listener. Creating interest means having a balance between music that is easy to understand and music that demands more attention of the listener. There is no fixed formula for what the best expression of a musical idea is.

Investigate this question yourself by listening to what in music interests you. The more clear you are about why certain music fails to hold your interest, the more interesting your own music will become. The more precise you are at isolating the factors in a piece of music that make it constantly interesting to you, the more compelling your own music will become. In this way, studying improvisation is really just a study of yourself and your attention, and a process of understanding how and why your interest was preserved or lost. 

 

Improvising Music Intentionally continued

 

By Keith Hill © Nashville 2016

 

Improvising from the Soul

 

Ultimately, the aim of learning to improvise is to figure out a way to engage your Soul in the business of making your music for you.  The Soul has nothing to do with religion and has everything to do with reality.  What do I mean by this?  Isn’t anything relating to the Soul involve what you believe?  No.  Here is where the two forms of thought processing need to be understood.  The most common form of thought processing is called believing.  The much less common form of thought processing is called knowing.  Religion is based entirely on believing.  However, the problem with believing is that you can believe anything you like…there are no limits on what a person believes.  Truth need not be a factor where believing is concerned.  Knowing on the other hand is based entirely on what is real and true.  This is why people on the whole tend to avoid knowing—its much easier to believe than to know.

How does this relate to improvising?  The answer is simple.  The Soul canonly be engaged by knowing.  Therefore it is important when learning to improvise to remain as grounded as possible in reality and avoid indulging in speculation and hope based on a belief in magic.  Pinning your hopes for improvement in improvisation on talent is hope based on a belief in magic or talent.

Bearing this in mind, the following suggestions are what I have learned that works well to encourage or engage your Soul into the act of improvising music.

·   The trick to engaging your Soul, in whatever it is that you are doing, is to understand that only when what you are doing pushes your intellect or conscious mind beyond its limit, of competently controlling everything, does your Soul feel like it can be involved with what you are doing without the interference from your mind.  So if you are improvising only within the limits of what you can consciously and more importantly feel competent to control, your soul will not interfere or become involved in whatever it is that you are doing.

·   The most interesting means of forcing out the mind and replacing it with your soul is to put your mind into overload.  It is pretty well understood that even the most competent minds are capable of managing about 6 things in such close order succession that it seems like it is managing those 6 things simultaneously.  Likewise the mind/memory is normally capable of remembering 7 things with some ease.  In music when you are playing, your mind is managing what notes you are playing-1, the key you are playing in – 2, the harmonies you are playing – 3, keeping the meter consistent and regular – 4, following the melody that has been provided – 5, deciding what expressions to use to make what you are doing more musical – 6, andlooking ahead in the score to know what is coming up soon and preparing to play it.  

The function of practice, it is too often assumed is to study the pieces you are playing so you know before hand the key, the harmonies, the meter, and memorizing what happens in the music so you can place those matters on autopilot, so to speak.  By learning the score and knowing and memorizing how the music proceeds you can then practice things like fingering, where to breathe, and make expressive decisions to further reduce all the things that your mind needs to pay attention to during a performance.  This all has the unfortunate effect of reducing the elements of music to which your mind need pay attention during a performance. 

Bereft of things to pay attention to during the performance of the music your mind is eager to look for other things to do to keep itself occupied while you are busy being on autopilot.  The unfortunate consequence of this method of practice is threefold.  One, the unsuspecting musician, when on autopilot, is rarely aware of when his or her mind has wandered off into fantasyland.  Two, this cultivation of thoughtlessness so rigorously rehearsed in the practice room ends up being the modus operandi during the concert.  The unfortunate consequence of this manner of managing music making and the mind is that the audience can tell that no attention is being paid by the performer and subsequently is alienated by becoming bored or worse angry at the feeling of having wasted one’s time and expense to attend the concert.   Three, a mind on autopilot is very prone to making mistakes, which usually means that the most interesting events happening in autopilot are the mistakes made in performance.  This, ultimately, is the source of performance anxiety.  But the opposite of autopilot is mindfulness, which is usually thought of as a powerful good in life.  In musical performance or improvisations, mindfulness (a full mind) needs to be overwhelmed by overstuffing it with things to pay attention to and decide about so that it yields to that part of us, the soul, which is accustomed to easily managing thousands of decisions per second--something of which the most well trained mind isn't capable.

To counteract this mindless mode of practicing music means either avoiding preparing for concerts altogether which is not a good idea or to practice replacing every mental task that you are putting on mental autopilot with a mental behavior even more demanding than the task that has been put on autopilot.  In other words, try transposing the music into another key altogether, try altering the harmonies to notice the effects caused in the music by having different harmonies, try changing the meter by either making it an altogether different meter or adding notes to accommodate a totally different meter, try creating a completely logical melody to the harmonies already provided, try changing the expression completely so that a feeling produced when playing the piece is completely transformed making the music sound like it was composed by someone else.

·   What you are aiming for is to generate a new approach to the music.  If you can actually succeed at thinking outside of the musical box, what you will be doing is actually learning how to improvise using the written score as a point of departure.  This is an excellent method for teaching yourself how to improvise more interestingly.

·   It also prepares you to create the kind of environment in your mind needed to invite the soul to do your playing or improvising.  There are other methods for making that invitation.  They are:

·   One is to play faster than you can think.  

·   Another is to use more gestures in playing phrases and subphrases

·   Another is to discombobulate the meter by playing melodies or phrases ahead of the beat or behind the beat and mostly never with the beat.

·   Yet another method is to focus intently on how the notes in the melody tend one way or another and resist, milk, exaggerate by stretching or compressing (augmentation or diminution) the note values.

·   Change the articulation or the rhythm…if the music is hymn-like, make the music dance palpably.

·   Experiment with things like loud and soft playing, strong and weak articulations, starting fast then getting gradually softer and softer until you can’t be heard, yet you are still playing the notes—and the like.

·   See if it is possible to divide a melody into two separate lines of music. Try to make one line of music into a dialogue. 

·   See if adding ornaments of all kinds triggers any new ideas about what to do differently. 

·   Create cercare at all the points of emphasis in the music.  A cercare is a musical moment in which a lower or upper leading note is performed both silently and rapidly to the following note…like the human utterance “un-huh”, spoken in recognition or agreement.

If you learn to pile up layer upon layer of these techniques in order to overwhelm your intellect or mind, you will discover that when you are successful in enacting this layering technique your soul will somehow just magically, as if from nowhere, start to take over all that you are trying to do and the quality of your music making or improvising will improve dramatically.  The reason why this happens is that all these above techniques are actually a serious form of play.  Indeed, it is just this kind of play that the soul can’t resist participating in…its got to come out and engage in playing with what is happening. 

More importantly, these techniques are actually what your soul does when it is playing all by itself so it is merely emerging to do what it already does when your mind is turned off.  If you don’t believe this, I suggest that you watch little children when they are by themselves playing with their toys.  They employ these techniques without thinking.  And when you learn to identify each of these techniques you can actually produce a real time analysis of their behavior, blow by blow during their play.  Once you prove to yourself that this is true, you can once again experience for yourself what it feels like to really “play” music.

That we so rarely, if ever, experience a musician’s soul in their act of making music, most of us have come to expect nothing extraordinary when listening to music.  It is for this reason that it is imperative that every musician have it as a goal to perform or improvise music in a way that encourages the soul to play the music.  Music with a big M only happens when the souls of the musicians are playing; otherwise what is heard are mere notes in time.

 

ON AFFECT

 

               WITH  SUGGESTIONS  OF  THE  AFFECTS  FOR  THE  WELL  TEMPERED  CLAVIER  BY  J S  BACH

By Keith Hill and Marianne Ploger © 2003 

 

We have provided you here with a kick start into the business of thinking about the affects with the following affect analysis of the first six preludes and fugues from JS Bach's Well Tempered Clavier, Book Two. We have also included a possible vignette or scenario because we have found that it is vastly easier to hold an image of a scene and the feelings that go with it than to hold 4 words in your head while trying to perform. The words are just words. The vignette is poetic. That is why inventing your own vignette is extremely important. For your music making to be entirely yours, it must come from you. Our purpose for publishing this analysis is that it is just a model for what to do. Make your own analysis and vignettes and "act" them while playing music and your music will come alive...especially if you are using all the communication techniques.

 

We have analyzed all 24 preludes and fugues but we are showing only the first six, because, as we have said, to provide you with a model. It is not a replacement for you doing your own thinking.

 

1. Prelude in C

Spiritual- Curious and Affirming

Mental- Sure 

Emotional- Aroused

Physical- Powerful

 

Possible Vignette

When informed of the likely and possible dangers of a certain action, you are even more sure that what you are feeling is righteous which give you confidence in your power to prevail.

 

Fuge in C 

Spiritual- Forthright

Mental- Focused

Emotional- Quibbling

Physical- Surging

 

Possible Vignette

Once having set out on your quest, your feelings of misgiving argue with the intent of your purpose, and all the while, you are steadily moving forward toward your quest.

 

2. Prelude in c

Spiritual- Vacillating

Mental- Willful

Emotional- Troubled

Physical- Measured

 

Possible Vignette

You were totally convinced that what you were doing was the right thing so by the exercise of your will you overcame your misgivings and move ahead determined to pace it out till the end. Like when you were told to take a class but you weren't convinced it was going to be interesting but you decide to stick to it anyway.

 

Fuge in c 

Spiritual- Resolved

Mental- Explanatory

Emotional- Reluctant

Physical- Inevitable

 

Possible Vignette

You are about to do an interview for a job which you are not totally sure you want but you need so you rationalize to yourself about the pros and cons knowing that no matter what happens, if you are offered the position, you will be taking it.

 

3. Prelude in C#

Spiritual- Delighted

Mental- Anticipatory

Emotional- Soaring

Physical- Breathless

 

Possible Vignette

Turns out the new boss (to continue from the above) is a real sweetheart and likes your work and can't wait to have you join the team...you are pickled tink.

 

Fuge in C#

Spiritual- Momentous

Mental- Carrying

Emotional- Radical

Physical- Snappy

 

Possible Vignette

Aware of the importance of your new status, you are already working out powerfully innovative ideas that are popping into your imagination.

 

4. Prelude in c# Spiritual- Endurance

Mental- Solid Assurance

Emotional- Heaving

Physical- Suffering Pain

 

Possible Vignette

You imagine how Jesus must have felt on his way to his crucifixion because you can empathize with his feeling of a job well done yet which caused his inevitable dismissal.

 

Fuge in c#

Spiritual- Free

Mental- Turbulent

Emotional- Release

Physical- Spinning

 

Possible Vignette

You are out of time and are trying to think quickly and because you know exactly what you are doing you feel you can just let go and it all works.

 

5. Prelude in D

Spiritual- Elation 

Mental- Reasoned

Emotional- Joy

Physical- Vigor

 

Possible Vignette

You had every reason to know you were right something and the fact that someone close to you affirmed you feelings and chose to accompany you makes you feel wonderful.

 

Fuge in D

Spiritual- Emphatic

Mental- Serene

Emotional- Willing to Accept Responsibility

Physical- Insistent

 

Possible Vignette

You are resolved in your course of action and mentally calm because it was you who decided to solve a given problem, because you know you have the chutzpah to persist to the end.

 

6. Prelude in d

Spiritual- Encouraging

Mental- Certain

Emotional- Excited

Physical- Running

 

Possible Vignette

You are swimming or running and are really hyped up about a problem you feel certain you can solve but you are giving yourself a pep talk anyway.

 

Fuge in d

Spiritual- Cautioning

Mental- Focused

Emotional- Anticipating

Physical- Intense

 

Possible Vignette

You see an accident up ahead and you realize you need to really pay attention because other people are panicking so you take pains to calm yourself so as not to go into chicken vision.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by  Keith  Hill   ©  2014   Nashville ,  TN

 

         Here is the conventional "wisdom".  A finger touches the key, the key lifts the jacks, the jacks hold the tongues that contain the quills that release the string, that begins to vibrate sending its energy into the bridge and the soundboard, out into the air, into the ear canals of the listeners, touching their eardrums, causing the nerves in their ears to send impulses to their brains for registration.  Aural perception, according to the conventional understanding, is what occurs when the sound enters the ear canal.  The act of hearing is the act of perceiving sound.  That way of thinking about aural perception works as long as you basically don't care at all about the quality of the sound that you are hearing.

        What happens if you hear a sound and you think it sounds ugly and offensive?  For that matter, what happens if you taste or see or smell or touch something that you think is offensive?  Where does the "being offended" part have its place in the perception process?  Conventional wisdom calls that taste—and you know what they say about taste—de gustibus non disputandem est—there is no disputing taste.  In other words, because people can't agree about what is offensive, what is beautiful, what is interesting, what is ugly, they pass it off into an intellectual nether world for aesthetic philosophers. 

     Personally, I think that perception actually begins where the nerve impulses end.  Everything else up to that point is scientifically measurable but, perceptually speaking, totally uninteresting.  If human beings are to be regarded as mindless, soulless, and irresponsible, then the mechanical reality is all that is required for perception to take place.  You have no need for a mind for your eardrums to send nerve impulses into your brain.  You have no need for a center that processes all that is sublime (your soul) if sublimity is not a part of the sound that sets your eardrums into motion.  And you have no need to respond to anything if you are to be considered an extraneous piece of meat, one that happens to be able to hear, by those who think that perception stops with the nerve impulses.

        Perception begins where nerve impulses end.  So what happens next? Well, sometimes nothing happens, in which case no perception has taken place.   Sometimes we respond to the impulses that enter our brain by wanting to spit them out because we perceive their effect on us as highly offensive.  And sometimes we respond to our perception of the effect of the impulses by wanting more because of the pleasure and beauty that we feel when being exposed to the source of those impulses.  The problem is that we don’t always go further.  We get stopped by our beliefs.

        Too often, what we are told is good is what we think of as pleasurable and what conflicts with what we are told is good causes confusion and eventually pain.  It is because of these suppositions of good and of bad that we learn to feel pain or pleasure by what we experience.  And having learned to feel pleasure by that which is acceptable we allow ourselves to react emotionally in a positive way.  Eventually, with repeated experiences, we learn, like Pavlov's dogs, to react emotionally directly to the sensed experience.  When that happens, we no longer become capable of distinguishing between what we believe to be acceptable and what we know, by direct experience, to be good.  In other words, we are robbed by the opinions of others of our ability to perceive.  How this works can be found in the following examples:  The Nazis taught their followers that exterminating undesirable peoples was a good thing.  Those who ran the Nazi extermination camps derived pleasure from their work.  In the process, they lost the ability to perceive the injustice of their actions.  When they were finally stopped, they couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about.  They were merely carrying out an approved action. In like manner, music students are taught that eliminating undesirable tempo fluctuations in musical performance is a good thing.  Those who run the Music Schools derive satisfaction from turning out musicians that can accurately keep a beat.  In the process, teachers and students alike have lost the ability to perceive that their performances are sterile and lifeless.  These well trained metrognomes are merely doing what they were told to do.  

        To better understand the nature of perception, that is,  that we desire to spit out the impulses or that we desire to experience more of them, we need to realize something about the way the brain works.  Although the ideas I will be discussing are bandied about in the field of psychology and brain research, I have posited my own way of thinking about the ideas.

       We are taught that nerve impulses enter the brain and are processed by the brain in order to give you a "picture" of what it was that you beheld.  This is the "camera model" explanation of the nature of perception. In my way of understanding the whole process, the brain receives the impulses from the senses and distributes the impulse energy throughout the brain for the purpose of being touched, handled, or manipulated (however you prefer to think of it).  In doing this the brain is tasting, so to speak, the impulse energy to extract from it what it can in order to make sense of it.  The process of making sense of the energy involves running the energy through a bunch of scanners, so to speak, on each side of the brain to see what the energy gives off.

        Since it is well understood that the brain has two hemispheres which handle certain tasks, I use this understanding and refine it considerably more than what is normally required. (Had I considered the conventional ways of thinking about brain function to be useful, I would have used them as others do. I don't, for which I hope you will appreciate my reasons as I continue.) Psychologists and brain researchers understand the left side of the brain (in right handed people) as the analytical side.  The right side is considered the intuitive or feeling side.  To me this way of describing the duties of each hemisphere of the brain is like saying that only the left side of the brain is good.  I say this because in our society left brained behavior is encouraged, seriously cultivated, and most rewarded.  (Schools of all levels and kinds do everything in their power to train and perfect left brain processing and at the same time exact stiff penalties on those who do not naturally gravitate to such lopsided ways of functioning.)  It is like saying that the right side is irrelevant because it does this sort of mushy stuff that always gets in the way of analyzing and computing.  Essentially, the terms betray the vested interests of those doing the research.  The terms I prefer are far more useful and clear.  I use the term "structure sensing" to describe what the left side of the brain is designed for.  And I use the term "behavior sensing" to describe the job of the right side of the brain.  One side of the brain handles and tastes the nerve impulses to taste the structural aspects of the impulses while the other side tastes the behavioral aspects of those impulses.

        Crucial to the entire process is an idea which is, I believe, the purpose for this impulse or energy sensing (tasting).  That idea is making sense of experience.  The brain wants everything to make sense.  The brain needs everything to make sense.  The brain feels deprived when it has to struggle to get the feeling that sense has been made of the impulses it takes in.  The feeling in the brain, that which it most urgently seeks, is a feeling of repose or balance which occurs naturally when sense has been made.  This need for balance is as powerful a need for the brain as the need we feel for air when we breathe.  When the brain fails to sense balance in the impulses it takes in, after it has run the impulses past the scanners on each of its sides, it goes into a demand mode, so to speak.  It demands to have balance.  It demands for things to make sense.  This demand or need is so strong that if it does not get the balance it requires, the brain manufactures the balance all by itself.  In other words, the brain can draw on its own resources in order to create a correction it requires when it experiences imbalance.

        If the brain experiences too much structure in the impulses coming from the senses, it will manufacture whatever it needs in the form of behavior to balance against the structure it has sensed. A classic example of this is all the graffiti that one observes on city walls of sterile looking buildings.   The blank empty spaces provided beg for being graffiti-ized and when graffiti artists oblige they cease applying their trade when a balance has been created.  On the contrary, if it senses too much behavior, the brain will manufacture some form of structure to create the feeling of balance it demands.  In music, this behavior is at its most interesting.  When the brain experiences impulses from the ear which are sensed as too behavioral, the kinds of structure the brain manufactures are behavioral in nature.   For example,  a musical instrument which has not been built so that musical proportions sound in all its parts must necessarily be unstructured.  This means that the brain reads the impulses as behavior because it senses no structure from the sound.  Sensing no structure it manufactures a structure to create the balance it demands.  Unfortunately, the kind of structure it manufactures most often is manifested as a void of ideas.  In other words, when you hear out-of-tune something or other, it tastes like behavior to the brain.  In response,  the brain creates a structure to balance the lopsided feeling of behavior.  What it creates is sterility of idea.  Sterility feels like structure to the brain.  Since it has to draw on what behavior it has the most of, i.e. ideas, it is ideas that it sterilizes itself of.  It does this extremely efficiently.  So musical instruments which sound bad or sound unstructured to the brain produce musically sterile playing or playing that is void of musical ideas.  Happily, the brain also does the opposite.  That is, when it registers sounds that are exceedingly structured, it generates copious amounts of musical ideas, i.e. behavior, to balance the sensation of structure it perceives.  The effect, for those that play such structured sounds, is called "being inspired" by the instrument.

        The energy of the sensation of structure, that you can actually feel as it is taking place in the brain, is sent from the structure sensing side over to the behavior sensing side.  It does this, as far as I can tell, to have the behavior sensing side check the energy over for any behavior available for use in balancing.  When the behavior sensing side finds nothing, it sends the energy back to the structure sensing side.  The effect, if you are paying very close attention to the sensation of the energy passing from one side to the other, is almost like swooning.  The energy seems to cross over the visual “screen” of the imagination as it moves through the brain from one side to the other and back.  This effect is the perception in the hearing act.  

       The perception can also be of sense having been made.  When sense has been made, balance occurs.  When balance occurs, then the energy remains central in the brain.  It doesn't move about looking for confirmation or balance.  When perception is due to sense having been made, the feeling in the brain is fulfillment.  Ultimately, this is the feeling that musicians need to be creating in the minds of their listeners. 

         When balance has been created for an audience by a musician playing in a sterile way on an instrument that sounds behavioral, the brains of the audience members will detect the balance in the relationship between the lack of structure in the sound and the absence of behavior in the playing.  But, because a good piece of music is highly structured, it needs to be conveyed in a manner that is highly behavioral.  Since the audience's brains can also sense the imbalance between the sterile playing and the score, their brains create balance by causing their minds to wander, or worse, create the balance by producing a feeling of guilt and shame for not understanding why they are so bored by sterile performances of great music.  Sometimes the lack of behavior on the part of a listener, just sitting there waiting for something interesting to happen, will cause the brain to tune out all the boring input and go into a sleep mode so it can dream.

        As far as I can tell, the only people who genuinely love music that is played in a way that is as sterile as possible are people who have a high intensity emotional life.  I guess the behaviorality of the emotions feels in balance only when listening to music played by a computer or someone posing as a computer. 

    This is the framework which I have created for myself to understand many of the positively strange things that go on in the music world.  I have found that this framework works for understanding most of what goes on in human behavior as well.  When others, with whom I have shared this framework, use it themselves, they report that they find thinking about what they experience easier and the result of their thinking to be clearer.  I hope it does the same for you. 

 

 

 

 by  

Keith Hill

 

"It is not what the ear hears

 but what the mind attends to,

which feeds the soul."

 

There are many aspects to the act of listening which require our attention in order to bring the act of listening to a degree of sophistication such that it may be properly called an Art. The kind of listening I mean is a very specific way of using the mind to pay attention to the senses when they are sensing. Among these aspects, the three most important are focus, dispassion, and sensing.  Focus is essentially an intellectual act. Dispassion is an emotional disengagement, in this case, from the object of focus.  Sensing, on the other hand, is a spiritual act.

Focus

Your ability to pay attention is limited by what you select to focus your attention upon. Each of us is limited in our ability to pay attention by our vested interests—our agendas—consequently, we don't usually focus on the right things. You only take in what you focus on. This is why most people tend to be poor listeners.  However, by letting go of our vested interests and expanding our range and intensity of focus we can all become better listeners.

Besides our vested interests, we bring a load of irrelevant mental baggage to the act of listening. This baggage causes us to focus on certain irrelevancies in favor of others.  The result is that we tend to focus on matters which are largely a waste of time. All too often, knowing what to focus on is not so clear.  This lack of clarity concerning what is and what is not important makes the business of focusing rightly very difficult.  In spite of this problem, choosing what to focus on so that you are rewarded, at the deepest level, for the time spent paying attention can be systematized.  The method for systematically making good choices involves asking the right questions.

Understanding How to Ask the Right Questions

The premise of this method is the truth that everything that we do is the result of a question having been asked.  This is true whether or not the question is consciously asked or unconsciously posed.  Habits are merely established answers to previously posed questions. Let me explain.  

When you picked this article to read, you were doing so because you were interested in its contents.  Your interest was perhaps piqued by the title.  It likely caused you to ask the question to yourself about what was inside.  Exactly how you worded the question in this instance is unimportant.  As soon as you wondered what was in the article, you were asking the question: "what is it about?  or  I wonder what he has to say about this subject that might help me?"  If you read some of the article and put it away because you thought it was nonsense,  you answered to your satisfaction the question about whether or not the time spent reading the material was worthwhile.

Another more practical example occurs when you feel the need to eat.  The sensation of hunger is triggered by internal physical mechanisms and processes which cause you to look for something to eat.  The question you are answering when you search for food is: how do I end this sensation?  You may choose to posit the question differently but the answer remains the same.  Eat!

Generally speaking, this kind of question asking goes on unconsciously.  Philosophers have a term for the unconscious type of question; they call it a covert assumption.  Because covert suggests secretiveness, I prefer the term functioning assumption, the assumption upon which our actions are based.  Since every assumption we have stems from a question about the nature of reality, we can best examine our assumptions by looking at the questions for which they are the answer.  The easiest way to start doing this is to be disciplined in consistently asking yourself questions about why you do this or that.  Where did I pick up this notion? Why did I do that? What am I trying to accomplish? Where is this leading me?

Once you can reliably get to the questions which guide your actions, you need to start asking questions about those questions. Ask questions such as: is this question going to get me to the essence of this situation? Is this question one I need to ask at this time? What is the point? Or: Is there a more appropriate question than that? Could that question be phrased differently and, if so, how might that affect the answer I might arrive at? Questions like these need to be asked. The moment you begin asking yourself such questions is the moment that your thinking and behavior begin to assume the quality of deliberateness.  As soon as your question asking becomes reliably deliberate, you stop behaving in a conditioned manner.  You notice your conditioning.  You ask questions about your conditioning.  As you find answers to these questions, you notice how your attention shifts from the superficial level to deeper levels of concern.  When people behave in a shallow manner, it is due to a failure to engage in this process. Everyone alive is capable of learning to ask these questions and of profiting from doing so.

 The nature of questions

 Questions only generate the answers for which the questions were posed.  The phrase: "Ask a stupid question and you get a stupid answer!" reflects how obvious this truth about the nature of questions really is.  In spite of this obviousness, very few people act like they really understand exactly how significant it is.  Maybe our understanding might be enhanced by saying instead, "Ask the right question, get the right answer." Nevertheless, once you are impressed by the significance of the consequences of the exact wording of your questions, you may begin to treat your question asking with the respect it deserves.  As you treat your question asking with respect, you will naturally wish to think about and weigh the precise use of words as you select them in the formulation of your questions.  And finally, you eventually learn to control your formulations to "force" the answers you wish to have—by an artful posing of the questions you ask.  

Ask a general question; get a general answer.  Ask a specific question; get a specific answer.  Ask a question that anyone could ask; get an answer that anyone could get.  Ask the right question; get the right answer. Knowing how to ask the right question usually comes with practice and with a feeling of urgency about wanting to know what is true.

When your question asking improves, your focus will shift to ever deeper levels of awareness.  Your attention will become more richly rewarded for what you pay.  When you begin to ask questions that request the answers to provide a foundation of relationship about what you are experiencing and learning, your perception will  skyrocket.

Some Tricks to Improve Focus

Focus is also dependent on your interests, so it behooves you to regulate, very carefully, what you choose to be interested in.  This requires some significant mental discipline.  But, there are a few tricks that can help you improve your concentration on important things. 

1.  Practice trying to concentrate with a multitude of distractions while doing those things that you find most interesting.  Concentration is the ability to work, think, be, or do undistracted. In other words, concentration is the trait of undistractability.  Distraction is whatever attracts your interest from the business at hand. Concentration is like a muscle.  If you don't exercise your muscles, you won't become stronger and you might actually experience muscle atrophy—as the saying goes, “use it or lose it.  The same is true for concentration.  (Caution: do not do this exercise on tasks or projects that are of marginal interest.)  Begin this exercise with the most interesting things.  Then, gradually pile up the distractions in order to challenge your concentration.  The more distractions you can deal with and still maintain your concentration, the stronger your concentration "muscle" will become.  You may consider yourself successful when you can concentrate for 2 to 3 hours at a time and accomplish what you intended.  When your concentration has been groomed and strengthened, you can begin to take on jobs that challenge your interest.  The more you challenge your interest, be sure to reduce the numbers of distractions.  When you can do something that totally bores you in a disciplined, mindful manner, you may consider yourself successful at having learned the discipline of concentration.

Focus and concentration are related abilities.  However, it is easily possible to be focused without concentrating and concentrated without focusing.  This is because focus has to do with what you direct your attention to and concentration has only to do with being undistractable.  Since it is easy to be totally unfocused yet thoroughly concentrated (becoming “hypnotized” by watching a numbingly inane TV program so intently that you become unaware of anything at all) or to be totally focused without concentrating (evading creative work by turning the attention on all the distractions—letting anything that might distract have its way) it is essential that focus and concentration be seen as discrete functions.  

2.  Study your boredom. ( I cover this subject in greater detail in an essay which you will find in the next section of this book.) Boredom is actually a very interesting mental state.  It is the absence of interest.  When you have problems focusing, the cause is usually insufficient external stimuli.  When that happens, you feel bored. Each person has a different threshold of sufficiency of stimuli.  The natural reaction to boredom is to mentally shut down and tune out.  Doing this is actually very destructive. The reason it is destructive is that you are, at that point, consciously not paying attention. Therefore, the counteraction to this destructive reaction is to study yourself while you are being bored.  By study, I mean, notice as much as possible about how the state feels and study the causes of that state.  You will find that you can learn much more by studying your boredom than by studying anything else.

3.  Invent or construct conditions in your work under which focused attention naturally occurs.  Generally speaking, there are three different types of conditions that naturally bring about a heightened state of mental focus.  First is the condition of fear,  life endangerment, peril, flight, or confrontation.  These all will cause you to get focused quickly.    If you can invent a way of doing something so that you can easily imagine being imperiled during the doing (even if there is no danger present), you will find that you  can do what you do with a focus that is razor sharp.  Second is the condition of need.  Need is a state of urgency that makes the mind almost frantically focused.  The mind is so focused that it can process information at a rate ten or fifteen times the normal rate.  It is unimportant to the mind that the feeling of need be real.  That is, the feeling of need can be faked.  If you have a powerful enough imagination, you can convince your mind that the fake need is real.  That will result in the mind being more focused in order to meet the need.  Third is the condition of pressure.  Again, faked or real, pressure is treated in a similar way, by the mind, as is fear and need.  The kind of pressures that I have in mind are: accuracy pressures, time pressures, quality pressures, quantity pressures, etc.  By challenging yourself with the pressures to be more precise, more diligent, more rapid, more productive, more ...  , you learn to become more focused while you are doing what is important to you.

Mind Watching

Finally,  focus can be improved and sustained by meditation.  I don't mean transcendental meditation or religious meditation.  Instead, the meditation I mean is what I call: mind watching.  Mind watching is done by sitting in a quiet comfortable place and then letting your mind wander.  Letting the mind wander is an opportunity to study where it goes.  The most important disciplines that you can acquire during mind watching are an absolute acceptance of what the mind comes up with and a judgment about the value of what is produced.  

Often, we have terrible thoughts and thoughts that are very destructive.  Our tendency is to dismiss these thoughts,  to put them out of our conscious mind.  The danger of dismissing them is that you may also be acting out of denial. On the other hand, we can easily get lured into dwelling on thoughts that are either entertaining or pleasurable. These kinds of thoughts become a form of addiction when we can’t let them go. The tendency to either deny thoughts that are painful or become attached to thoughts that are pleasurable is normal but also leads to mental dead ends. 

Mental dead ends can be avoided by  acknowledging thoughts as you have them and accepting them as they are happening while depersonalizing them. This means knowing and feeling that (1) you are you  and (2) your thought are thoughts your brain is having but that they are not you.  You and your thoughts are not one and the same. This means having the attitude about yourself that you are like a driver in a car. Your mind is the car.  Your car is not you but you are in charge of it.  How well it runs is determined by the care you take of it.  If your car starts going down roads that it wants to travel but which you don’t want to go down, who is in charge? If your car goes where it pleases, it is in charge.  It is imperative that you be the one in charge of saying where it goes. During mind watching, if you decide to go down those roads, you do so only to see where your car is taking you.

Once you have acknowledged and accepted the thoughts you are having, it is just as important to classify them, to say that they are disgusting or revolting, brilliant or true, dumb or false, pleasurable or  lustful, etc.  Once you have judged what your thoughts are as they occur, you can learn to develop impatience with reoccurring thoughts that you deem to be pointless or worthless. Then, if you wish to dismiss those thoughts, do so.  You can also learn to catch and hold on to thoughts that never occurred to you before so that you can think about them later.  

The point behind mind watching is to develop a habit of being in charge of your own mind.  The more you watch your mind, the more you get to know about the way it works.  The more you know about how it works, the more control you can exercise over its processes.  The more control you can exercise over its processes, the more focused you will become.  The more focused you become, the more "in charge" of your mental life you will be.  When you are in charge of your thinking processes, you have power.  When you have no control over these processes, you are powerless and inept.  The purpose for mind watching, ultimately, is to empower yourself to accomplish the things you focus your attention upon.

Taken altogether these various techniques, attitudes, and suggestions should be useful to help you improve your ability to focus your mind.  Being able to focus your mind is absolutely essential to being able to listen skillfully. 

In musical instrument making, the plethora of acoustic phenomena that are manifest in the simple act of tapping on a soundboard are so complex that without the skill of focus you will not be able to isolate important or pertinent sounds from irrelevant sounds.  At first you may think that you can succeed in doing what you need to do merely by functioning according to your accustomed habits. However, when those habits begin to get in the way and hamper your ability to listen effectively, you will see the need to abandon those habits and to replace them with the skills I have just discussed. I have found that those who fail to learn the skill of focus in order to listen effectively usually abandon the business of listening altogether. They dismiss their inability to hear what is going on in a complex system by using two different rationalizations. One rationalization is that the system being so complex that no one can really hear anything in it with any real degree of reliability; hence, those who say they can hear reliably are fooling themselves and others.  The other rationalization is that anyone who can hear anything reliably in a system so complex has more talent and therefore no amount of greater effort applied on the part of anyone less talented is going to change their own lack of talent.  

I repeat, listening effectively is a skill that anyone can learn.  It took me the better part of fifteen years to learn how and that is only because I had no one to show me how to do it or what I was supposed to be listening for. Making excuses for not learning this skill is the best way I know to fail to be an effective listener.  It is hard work.  It is painful at times.  It is time consuming.  But it is essential for anyone who wants to build instruments that genuinely sound wonderful.  In the end, it is perhaps the supreme test for one’s spiritual measure.  Those who can pass this test will enter a realm wherein the intricacies and mysteries of sound are revealed.  Character, not talent, is what makes the difference.

Understanding

As your focus improves by the practice of using it, your perception will grow.  Perception increases in direct proportion to the amount of detail noticed. When you turn your focus on your perceptions, your insight will increase.  Insight expands when two or more perceptions seem to connect in the mind. If you focus on your insights, they will cause your understanding to improve. Generally, understanding is linked to an appreciation of relationships between one insight and another. When your understanding of these relationships improves, your work will reflect it.  That is, quality is a by product of the understanding of relationships.All depends on using your mind to focus on what you are sensing.

Sensing

Sensing is how you train your attention.  Ultimately, how you train your attention and on what you train your attention will determine the quality of your listening.  As it goes with the quality of your listening so it goes for the quality of your work. The two are inextricably linked.

In a very real way, the depth of your sensing determines the depth of your spirituality. The other way around is also true, that is, your depth of spirituality determines your depth of sensing. When I use the word spirituality I do not refer to anything remotely connected to religion.  The spirituality I speak of is your degree of awareness of your living essence.  For me, this means my degree of aware attention which I pay to nervous energy as it flows throughout my body and mind. I use nervous as it applies to the nervous system.  Sensory nerve impulses of the subtlest intensity are what I use in order to cultivate a sensitivity to the flow of energy as it moves about my brain.  

This is not an esoteric theory. This is instead as precise an explanation as I can give for the process which I refer to as sensing.  Another more long winded way to discuss sensing is to speak of those things which get in the way of sensing and to follow that discussion with another on exactly what sensing means.

Forces that Inhibit Sensing

There are four different yet related forces that inhibit sensing, in the way I mean sensing. These forces are: fear, desire, comfort, and security. The first and most powerful force is fear.  Fear is a mode of mental behavior in which the survival instinct center of the brain takes over and determines every decision and therefore every action.  This function of the brain is designed to save your life.  Every human brain is “wired” with this survival instinct fear mode function mechanism.  However, since most human beings in the world today don’t have to worry about being attacked by man eating tigers, this wiring is a hindrance because it continues to function even when there is no real need for it.  

The primary purpose of that center of the brain, where fear is in control, is to save your life.  To do this, speed is of the utmost importance.  In an emergency, taking time to think about what to do when under attack could cost you your life.  It is the speed of response in this brain area that makes it so efficient for doing its job.  But it is also the speed response of this area of the brain that is a problem.  I will explain.

In order to quickly respond to emergency situations, this area of the brain requires only the minimum amount of information to create a reaction.  This minimum amount of information is called a schema. A schema is a representation ( an idea) or replacement of something (a concept) in which most of the details are missing. In other words,  a stick figure of a man is a schema and as such contains all the information the brain requires in order to know that what is meant is a man.  When speed is of the essence, then, any more information only gets in the way.

The problem is that most human beings begin life using this part of the brain as the primary means of perceiving reality.  Any early experiences that are highly stressful merely reinforce the need for continuing to use this part of the brain.  At an early age, we can’t distinguish between feelings of stress and feelings of real life endangerment. The result is that most learning that humans experience, which is usually acquired under stress, is stored in the brain in a schematic form.  This problem is intensified by the fact that unlearning what is schematically acquired is a very painstaking process of paying attention to details missed the first time around.

Because this “schematic brain” needs very little information to do its job, and because the schematic brain is the area of the brain where fear is located, any experience, in which fear in any form is involved in any way, will be taken in schematically.  And since the details are missing from schemas, most of what might be perceived in such an experience will be missing altogether.  This is the way in which fear inhibits sensing.

Sensing must mean perceiving all the details both internal and external for it to have any real meaning at all.  To fully sense something is to do so only in a fully aware state of mind in which fear of any kind is wholly absent.  If perhaps you haven’t cultivated a fully aware state of mind, your perception will be reduced by the degree of your awareness.  If you have not fully banished every trace of fear from your mental process, your perception will be diminished accordingly.  Obviously, we all have a lot of work ahead of us if we are to accomplish full awareness of what we are sensing.  But I believe that everyone has the capability to master this skill.  The key is desire.

Desire

Second in the list of four inhibitors to sensing is desire.  Wait a minute!  The last sentence in the previous paragraph was: the key is desire.  How is it possible for desire to be both a key to mastering the skill of full awareness and an inhibitor to sensing?  The answer to this question is in how you relate to desire.  If you think of desire as possession, then desire is an inhibiting force.  If you think of desire as wishing, then desire is an inhibiting force.  If you think of desire as wanting, then desire is an inhibiting force.  If you think of desire as being drawn towards, then desire is the key.  For if you are drawn towards achieving full awareness and complete perception, you won’t be sucked into thinking of them as objects to be acquired.

The problem we all have with desire is that it is an expression of an attitude of being object oriented.  That is, because we are given toys and other things when we are young, we learn at an early age what having means.  Having means things.  Things are not a part of ourselves. When we see that things mean something to adults, we learn to focus our attention on things.  The objects of our attention become more complex as we age.   For some, the objects are ideas.  For others, the objects are processes.  Objects can also be the usual things but can also include notions, beliefs, habits, projects, relationships, and other such distractions.  I call them distractions because, as objects, they divert us from paying attention to our inner lives. 

When we are successful in reformulating our minds to a right relationship with desire, it is possible to acquire and possess things, to wish for, want, to desire anything without having the sensing experience inhibited by the desire for the object.  Objects in such a relationship become tools for the purpose of building stronger perceptions and more complete awareness.  This happens naturally as the objects are viewed as expressions of principles.

Naturally, reformulating the mind to be in a right relationship with desire is more than a little hard work.  It is extremely hard work.  It means denying the instinct for territory, the pride of ownership, the thrill of acquisition, the pleasure of being envied by others, the joy of having, and all other such vanities.  It is the hard work that is at the core for why sensing eludes most people.  Laziness, indolence, and inertia usually overwhelm the ordinary person when they contemplate doing mental work of this sort.  It is the feeling of comfort of inaction that is the third force which inhibits sensing.

Comfort

Anything that calls us to do more than what is absolutely required threatens our feelings of comfort. Comfort, in this case, refers to a feeling of pleasure that comes from not sensing, not doing, or not thinking.  For instance, when we think of a bed as comfortable, it is the fact that we notice nothing unpleasant from the experience of lying in it.  If it is too hard, we feel uncomfortable. When it is too lumpy, we feel uncomfortable. When it is too soft, we feel uncomfortable.  When it sags in the middle, we feel uncomfortable.  The same goes for ideas, beliefs, notions, etc.  When they accord perfectly with how we would like the world to be, they feel comfortable to us.  When they don’t, we feel uncomfortable with them. In otherwords, comfort exists when nothing wrong attracts our attention.  

The problem with comfort is that it is a condition that humans tend to want to exist.  Usually, we want a condition of comfort to exist so strongly that we will do almost anything to make it come about—even to the point of purposely not paying attention.  What you don’t notice won’t bother you.  When you assume an attitude of inattention, you are actively cultivating dullness of mind, body and spirit—i.e. the bliss of ignorance.  Unfortunately, the bliss of ignorance can easily become a curse if at some point you need to know.  Lulled into a comfortable mindlessness from practiced inattention, people can find themselves between a rock and a hard place if life’s circumstances force them into needing to pay attention.  Unequipped to use the mind for such hard work, their lives shatter or crumble into a self inflicted misery.

The way to deal with the problem of comfort is to reject it as a goal or ideal.  The better way to deal with it is to treat it as an evil—not a major evil but a tiny evil that  one always needs to be wary of.  Then, when comfort is experienced, it may be enjoyed completely for a moment but it is soon packed up and put away for safe keeping until a time when it is really needed.

Indifference to comfort allows the mind to be ready and alert.  Cultivating indifference to every form of comfort grooms the mind into a state of alertness and readiness.  Listening requires an ever alert mind to be successful.  Anything that detracts from that condition of readiness is destructive of true listening. 

Of all the comforts, security and the feeling of need for security are the most difficult to become indifferent to. This is why security forms an almost impenerable barrier to listening.

Security

Security is a condition most human beings think they need to be happy.  Ironically, some of the most secure individuals are some of the most unhappy people.  Those who know how every day of their lives is going to go, how every expense is going to be covered, how every thought is going to be resolved, or how every action is going to occur, live lives no more rewarding than that of an inmate in a prison.  The converse of security is change not insecurity.  How you relate to change is what makes you secure or insecure.  If you think change is an enemy, you will always feel insecure.  That is, you become a prisoner of your compulsion to eliminate change.  That compulsion is enough to completely stifle sensing.

If, on the other hand, you think of change as your best friend, then you can embrace change as a tonic needed to stay young and vital.  When you are not threatened by change, you can pay attention to how things change.  You can learn to anticipate the changes that are coming by a kind of forward sensing in order to predict how things will go in the future.  

When you function without the stifling effects of these four sensing inhibitors, you become free to notice a host of relationships previously unnoticed and a world of sensory experiences which together constitute the food on which your spirit thrives.

Finally, there is one condition that has as much if not more a paralyizing effect on our ability to listen skillfully.  I call that condition opaqueness of mind.

 Opaqueness of Mind

A mind that is preoccupied by every concern other than paying close attention to sensing is rendered opaque to any significant sensory experience.  Like a brick wall which forms a successful barrier to passage, a preoccupied mind prohibits passage of anything except that which is occupying it.  Opaque to the light of reason  or the illumination of intuition, the proccupied mind is locked in to the objects of its fancy like a rat in a treadwheel.  For this reason, it is imperative to good listening to get off the treadwheel and to focus on sensing. 

What to do about these sensing inhibitors.

Perhaps the most effective means of dealing with these factors that inhibit sensing is to adopt a courageous frame of mind.

The way of courage means being willing to assume full responsibility for your actions and destiny. Being responsible also means careful listening, scrupulous attention paying, and inventing imaginative ways of making a living.  It means devaluing the esteem of others in order to be free of the hold on you which valuing it imposes.  It means never being satisfied that what you have perceived as true is true by subjecting it to incessant criticism and inquiry.  It means understanding as much as possible in order to better explain to others the nature of the reality it is that you perceive.

The way of courage means poking holes in your own thinking to discover all the places where weaknesses may be found.  And, above all, it means eradicating from yourself all traces of preconceived notions, vested interests, mindlessness, idleness, cynicism, bitterness, and all other vestiges of a well groomed ego.  These must be replaced with the qualities of openness, flexibility, selflessness, mindfulness, industry, nobility, sincerity, grace, and humility—and if being courageous makes others think you are arrogant, that is their problem... not yours.

It takes courage to think your own thoughts; not those designed to make you feel secure.  It takes courage, to appear in opposition to others when it is really their opposition to the truth that vexes them.  It takes courage to allow others to defame you without thinking ill of them for doing what comes naturally.  It takes courage to focus on essence when the rest of the world rewards what is shallow.  It takes courage to follow the dictates of your conscience when the criticism of others can make life uneasy.  But, fortunately, courage has its rewards.

Courage offers a clarity and freedom of thought not otherwise achieved.  Courage endows its possessors with fortitude, endurance, perserverance, and tenacity.  Courage engenders esteem and respect from the best members of the human race.  And, it’s more fun than its alternative.

Understanding Sensing

Since the ability to listen hinges on the proper way of sensing, it is crucial to delve into those ways of sensing that are improper, at least from the standpoint of developing the art of listening.

The first way of thinking that is destructive of good listening habits is the notion, long espoused (over 2500 years), that one should not trust the senses.  Even today, philosophers, scientists, thinkers, and otherwise intelligent people hold to the notion that it is best to not trust your senses.  The reasons most often used to buttress this idiotic notion are: one, that reality is an illusion, and two, that the senses are easily deceived.  As long as you are only interested in the surface of things, as most people are, then these reasons are fully justified.  If you buy into the notion that the senses are not to be trusted, then you must by default buy into the conventional notions of what is trustworthy.  Should you choose to invest your attention on those things that you think you can trust because the rest of the world considers them trustworthy, here is what you are investing in.  One: what scientists accept as true.  Forty years ago, back in the 1950’s, people invested great trust in the word of scientists.  Scientists put great trust in themselves.  There was no problem for which science could not provide the solution.  Today, should you ever find all scientists to agree on anything you’re in luck! And if they do, it probably won’t change the outcome of your life all that much.  Add to this the reality that scientists have actually created more problems than they have solved, it is no wonder that science has lost the glow of all that people had come to expect of it. Two: in a similar vein, you could put your trust in what psychologists have found is true.  You are in trouble here because these people don’t know what perception is much less how it actually functions. And, finally, three: what has been handed down to us through the ages by thinkers—religious, philosophical, spiritual, etc.— as true.  It is a circular argument for a thinker who begins with the assumption that the senses are not to be trusted to say that anything is true or not true.  It is circular, in my judgment, because no thought that emanates from a brain that is disconnected from its senses can be taken seriously, especially the thought that the senses cannot be trusted.

My point of view is: Trust your senses, and The mind is easily deceived.  Therefore, put all your trust in your senses but don’t necessarily trust what you at first, or at second or third, for that matter, make of them or how you naturally interpret what they are telling you. For this reason, question everything but don’t doubt your senses. The senses are impossible to deceive.  They have no mind of their own.  How do you deceive a radio receiver?  It is the radio listener who is easily deceived not the object that is the vehicle of the impressions.  The senses are mere receivers of frequency impressions.  Since what you make of those impressions is entirely dependent on how you relate to them, it is your relative act that needs work.  And if you are going to work on  this at all, don’t start with the preconceived notion that your senses are untrustworthy.

As far as reality being an illusion is concerned, that, too, is a feeble minded notion which flows from the tendency that people naturally have to think that whatever they think is worth something merely because they thunk it.  Part of human nature is to not listen or look too carefully.  This tendency causes some people to take the material world too seriously and causes others to treat the whole business as an illusion—designed to deceive us.  Why should we take seriously the notions of those who don’t listen or look all that carefully? We shouldn’t.  Nor should we take the idea that reality is an illusion as truth merely because ancient philosophers, Indian mystics, and modern scientists have invented a reason for thinking it so.  

How would it be if you observed the light from a distant star and the light from that star might be coming from one that exploded one million years ago.  If the light we see is older than one billion years it would not reflect the reality of the more recent death of the star.  What we know or do not know in no way invalidates the sensations we now receive. It is trumped up speculation that triggers this suggestion of illusion.  No person living has witnessed the death of a star and knew what he was seeing, so why should we care about what may or may not be unknowable? What’s the point?  Indeed, it is the construction of such entertaining speculation that makes science fun but one ought never to take the products of this play seriously as a way of thinking.

When you really begin to investigate the nature of reality in its utmost detail, what you find is an incredibly spectacular work of art in its designs, structures, behaviors, and expressions. Let me illustrate this. Most people now understand that magic, the art of illusion, is merely a craft of carefully constructed deceptions.  The art of painting used to be the craft of three dimensional depiction or illusion (until in the 20th century when it became the expression of the deluded).  To me, reality is the Art of God.  We can delude ourselves by fixating on the material aspect of God’s Art, like art scholars discussing the patch of ground on which the flax was grown to make the canvas and linseed oil for a Titan painting or dismissing it altogether like religious fanatics dismissing all forms of art as worthless because it conjures illusions—what a bore!!!  Better is to delight in the intricacies of nature’s workings, imitate its effects in our own efforts, and be grateful that we have the opportunity to be witnesses to it.

Distrusting your senses

The most tragic effect of this attitude is what happens to the brains of those who do not trust their senses.  The brain feeds on attention to sensory impression in the same way that the body feeds on molecules of protien, carbohydrates, minerals, and so on.  Just as the body may be starved of nutrients because the person distrusts the food placed in front of him, the brain, too, may be starved from the absence of attention paid to sublime sensations which are the spiritual nutrients on which the brain relies to thrive.  Starved of adequate nutrition, the brain responds by shutting down the systems within itself that most depend on this sustenance, systems such as the intuition, the imagination, and eventually the nervous system, as the brain, like the bodies of those who are anorexic begin to consume themselves irreversibly, begins the process of consuming its own support system. 

Trusting your senses

 When you trust your senses, your brain is in the business of making sense of all the impressions that flow in.  When sense has been made of some impressions, knowledge occurs.  Thought depends on the clarity of the impressions.  Fuzzy thinking flows from an indifferent attitude about paying attention to the senses.  Clear thinking flows from persistent attention paying to the senses.  The degree of clarity is directly proportional to the degree of intensity of attention paid to the senses and to the degree of sublimity of the impressions noticed.  A genius is merely one who pays the greatest attention to the most sublime sense impressions and knows how to optimize the results of that attention.

Ideally speaking, no interpretation should take place, only observation.  When people who pay attention to their senses fall into error, it is because they bothered to interpret what they took in.  That is, they chose to put a spin on it. To avoid the trap of interpretation you need to have an attitude of dispassion.

Dispassion

By dispassion I mean the absence of emotional reaction. It does not mean the absence of feeling an emotion.  Instead, it means feeling the emotion but choosing not to have a reaction to the feeling.  When we react to a feeling we experience, we do so because we have generated an interpretation for why we feel as we do.  If we feel that the interpretation is justified, we generate an appropriate expression to vent the feelings which the interepretation itself created. Self righteous indignation is a handy example of this process.  When our sense what is right has been violated, we tend to feel hurt because of the violation.  As we brood over why we feel hurt, we might conclude that the violator was wrong to have violated us.  This conclusion itself is enough to create in us the feelings of indignation. 

With dispassion, we may feel an emotion but dispassion is a choice we make not to engage in the remainder of the cycle of passion, that is, interpretation and the feeling in us that the interpretation itself generates.  In this way of thinking, dispassion is more like a habit that one learns.  Over time, as this habit becomes more a part of our modus operandi, it is even possible to develop an absence of the initial feeling itself. 

Excellence in listening requires such a level of dispassion.  But, it is especially the absence of interpretive spin that characterizes dispassion.  By delaying or avoiding interpretive tendencies, you give yourself more time to make sense of inflowing impressions.  Good listening involves this certain delayed response mechanism.  For if you are too quick to respond or react to something you stop listening the moment you respond or react.  The need to put a spin on some impression is a sure sign of weak listening habits.

Further, dispassion is the setting aside of a recognized emotion for the purpose of getting closer to the truth.  It does not mean being cold—although this behavior can often appear cold to others.  It does not mean heartless—although others may interpret the lack of overt reaction as being aloof and arrogant.  It does not mean unable to feel.  Being dispassionate merely means not allowing the emotions to have any influence on decision making and perception.  

People who cultivate a high degree of dispassion are often the most passionate of people.  Because they don’t allow their emotions to influence their decision making, they can express their feelings openly, that is, without editing their behavior.  In these people enthusiasm runs high as does dissatisfaction.  What is felt is allowed by them to be felt very intensely in order to make the feelings easy to register and disallow.

Nothing ruins the purity of listening more than emotion.  Whether or not the emotion is positive or negative is of no account.  Any trace of emotion befouls the experience.  What do I mean by emotion?  The emotions of desire, affection, envy, jealousy, anger, most forms of love, most forms of hate, joy, anxiety, etc. and any degree of these are what I mean.  More specifically, I mean the range of feelings that are centered in the hypothalamus and are related to pleasure and pain.  Though these feelings have their uses in human experience, they are useless and prohibitive in the act of listening.  Dispassion is the systematic recognition of these feelings as they may exist and prevention of them from polluting the business of listening.  It is upon this aspect that good listening depends.  The better you are at cultivating dispassion when listening, the more purely you will perceive.

Dispassion also guarantees listening success in direct proportion to the degree that it is applied.  The more dispassionate you are while listening, the more clear, pure, and illuminated your listening experiences will be.  Contrarily, the more emotion you allow to be insinuated into the process, the more turgid, troubled, and dark it will  be.

However you may agree or disagree with these assertions and how they are expressed don't really matter much in terms of listening.  If you hate what I have said but you listen purely, then you do what I am talking about.  If you totally agree with what I have said but can't listen well, it is because you are not being dispassionate enough.  My reason for expressing this in this way is that it is often hard for us to realize or actualize what we feel and think.  Often, we think that thinking something and being convinced of it is sufficient for us to be assured that we are doing what we intend.  Sadly, this is  just not true.  

Thinking that you are an artist and being convinced of it is no guarantee that you are in fact an artist.  Not even the appellation of others who call you an artist can make you one.  It is the quality of your work that defines you as an artist.  And it is the quality of your listening that determines the quality of your work.  Therefore, it is important to avoid the trap of self deception, into which we all fall at times, by learning to focus on how we are sensing and on what may be inhibiting the purity of that sensing.

The work of becoming dispassionate can't be avoided nor eased.  If you want to become a masterful listener, becoming dispassionate is what you accept as part of that territory.  If being dispassionate were easy, I would tell you it is.  It is very difficult.  But anyone who makes an effort, over time, can become better at it.  The beauty of this is that when you get better at dispassionate listening, the quality of your work improves.  As the quality of your work improves, the easier it is to be dispassionate when you are listening.  By judging your work dispassionately, you can tell if your listening skills are improving.  The two nourish each other.

There is one more attitude that I can share with you that I have learned which may be helpful: how you relate to mistakes—your own as well as those of others.  If you treat mistakes as personal faults, then you will have a hard time learning to listen.  On the other hand, if you love mistakes for what they can teach you and use mistakes as jumping boards to catapult you to higher awareness, then learning to listen will be simplified because the mistakes don't possess the emotional baggage they might otherwise have.  Mistakes and "face" are closely connected.  Mistakes and sensory insult are closely connected.  Mistakes and emotions are closely connected.  By having a loving attitude towards mistakes, you can break those connections.  Mistakes become just mistakes. And they only have the power to make you lose face, insult your senses, or make you feel lousy if and when you allow them to.

 Learning to sense more deeply, or, sensing sensing.

Now comes the problem of learning how to sense more clearly and deeply.  Having clear and deep sensations means training  your attention on what you are sensing as well as on how that is affecting you.  Specifically, that involves focusing your attention on sensing the act of sensing.  It means studying your mind's responses to each sensory observation.  When I speak about this idea with others, they usually draw a big blank. I guess that doing this has become so normal for me that I assume that everyone does the same.  Therefore, I will try to be as precise and as unconfusing as possible.

Were I to touch your arm with my finger and you were aware that I did so, you could have one of a dozen ways of being aware of what happened.  Here they are.  1.  The “legal” reality.  What a judge and jury might decide about whether A touched B.  2.  The moral reality.  Was A supposed to have touched B?  3.  The ethical reality.  Was the touching of B by A the right thing to do?  4.  The intellectual reality.  For what reason did A touch B?  5. The emotional reality. What did A mean by touching B?  6. The sexual reality.  What did A want when he touched B?  7.  The sensory reality - level one. I sensed the pressure, texture, and temperature of a warm smooth object touching me.  8. The sensory reality - level two.  Something touched me. 9.  The sensory reality - level three.  Sensation took place.  10.  The spiritual reality - level one. Attention was paid.  11.  The spiritual reality - level two.  Knowing occurred.  12.  The spiritual reality - level three.  Being.

The “legal” or so-called objectively provable reality may or may not be true and can only be established in a court of law when two or more witnesses agree.  Since it is your word against mine, what we report as the truth is entirely dependent on what we think is in our best interest.  That approach to reality is not the soundest basis for objective consideration. 

The moral reality may or may not be relevant; and if relevant, your interpretation depends on what you happen to believe is moral or immoral behavior.  Since you can believe anything you prefer, it can hardly be construed as objective.  The same goes for the ethical reality, the emotional reality, and the sexual reality. There are other similar realties but they, too, fall into the same category of what is commonly cast as objective reality.  The supposed function of a good lawyer in a courtroom is to ferret out the fluff and end up with as clean a description of legal reality as possible.  In practice, however, “legal” reality is a fiction, nothing more and nothing less. So it’s not objectively real either. But this does not stop people from thinking of these non-realities as being objectively real.

From my point of view, I have a hard time in accepting that the first six of these ways of being aware are anything but subjective. They are highly subject to interpretation and invested manipulation. Hence, they don't have any ultimate significance.  Some of them may have some meaning, but that meaning is irrelevant.  Only the remaining six ways are in the realm of the truly objective.  The problem is that you can't prove them in a court of law—as though this were the be all and end all of true objectivity.  To be truly objective, an experience must be pure of all interpretation and invested manipulation. 

Each of these twelve levels of awareness is accompanied by a certain kind of relationship between a person and his or her emotions.  The more you are aware of your emotional condition while observing reality, the more clear and objective will be your sensing.   People who typically process the world in ways 1 through 6 have a relationship with their emotions such that the person and his or her emotions are one and the same.  To sense in ways 7 through 12 requires you to fully recognize what you are feeling emotionally and be able to dismiss the feelings in order to prevent them from obstructing your clarity of perception.  This relationship is one that recognizes emotions as something that you have but they are not who you are.  Not being who you are, emotions may be clung to or cast away as you see fit to do.  Sensing can only have purity when the emotions are set aside completely.  Those who can do this are the best listeners.  They can then focus their entire attention on the appreciation and awareness of the energy flow involved in the sensory act.  This is sensing as I mean it. 

A Hierarchy for Listening

The business of listening is not an easy undertaking.  What makes it difficult is the fact that though our ears hear, our minds are what do the listening.  It is astonishing how few people actually use their minds in a deliberate disciplined manner.  Listening requires significant discipline to silence the competing attention grabbers.  It requires a methodical deliberate approach to avoid a drain on one's focus.

Every activity, venture, or situation has its appropriate hierarchy of attention.  There is a natural hierarchy for listening that may be useful in order to develop listening skills quickly and effectively.  This hierarchy is structured according to the subtlety of the phenomena.  The person who called this idea to my attention was Marianne Ploger (of the  frequency related timbre, the second acoustic principle, fame).  She developed a hierarchy for her ear training students for them to be able to avoid being deluded, distracted, or deceived by changes that might occur during an ear training exam.  Her hierarchy is based on what the ear naturally grabs on to when hearing sound.  I have adapted her idea and applied it to hearing the sounds of musical instruments. 

First and easiest to hear is what the ear has the greatest context for comparison, that is, volume or loudness.  The ear hears sounds as loud or soft before knowing anything about the sound.  If a sound is loud it may be compared to a clap of thunder or a person yelling at the top of his lungs.  If a sound is soft it can be compared to a whisper or the hum of a mosquito in flight.

Second is timbre or wave form.  In a natural setting, we learn to recognize the differences between the sounds of crickets, katydids, canaries, sparrows, humming birds, cats, dogs, people, and weather by their various sound colors or peculiarities.  The ear has no problems recognizing specific sounds as belonging to a known sound source unless the sound is too soft to hear easily.  However, were a sound, such as that produced by a cricket dropped in pitch by several octaves and made very loud, the ear would not recognize it as belonging to a 16' CRICKET. It would either draw a blank or create in the mind a metaphor about the experience until more was known about the sound.

This makes pitch the third aspect of sound in the hierarchy.  Pitch recognition is merely a way of more specifically recognizing a sounding source.  In musical instrument sounds pitch recognition comes in two forms.  One is called "perfect pitch" recognition and the other is called "relative pitch" recognition.

All the ear really cares about is whether or not one pitch is higher or lower than another.  To the ears of normal people, all pitches are a matter of complete indifference—they are much more interested in timbre as well as other acoustic properties of sound.

First of these other properties of sound, and fourth in the hierarchy of hearing, is what happens to a sound after the sound begins.  This is usually called decay, which is appropriate for most musical instruments that sound dead.  When a sound is dead, it is in the act of rapidly disappearing until it is too soft to hear; other than that nothing of consequence happens.  Sometimes musicians try their best to gussie up these dead sounding pitches by the use of vibrato, sort of like nudging and nudging a dead horse in order to make everyone think that the horse is still alive.  Other times they use techniques to create an illusion of making the sound feel as though it is alive.  Pianists do this by using the damper pedal to bring out as much sympathetic resonance as possible.  This creates a somewhat successful illusion of life.  What these techniques are attempting to reproduce is the effect of inflection in human speech. 

The ear is totally accustomed to hearing inflection in everyday speech.  But it has more trouble to recognize it in the sound of musical instruments.  Once this inflecting behavior is heard for what it is, however, the ear can easily recognize it.  I am referring, of course, to " bloom".  Bloom gives the feeling in us that sound is a living substance.  Without bloom, sound feels to be as dead as doodle dust.  In the hierarchy of listening, bloom is usually more obvious than tone and is usually mistaken for it.

Fifth in the hierarchy is tone.  Generally, most musicians have enough contextual experience to recognize sounds as having good tone or bad tone. The human brain is designed to recognize tone of voice in human speech.  The speech center in the right side of the brain is responsible for making sense out of the tones of voice heard in everyday speech in order to provide a true reading of the  environment of speech utterances.  It does so by noticing the relationship between intensity (when a sound feels like it is straining to the utmost) and inflection (fluctuation of pitch, volume, and timbre).  

Without intensity, inflection sounds fake and insipid, like bad acting.  With intensity, almost any sound takes on the quality of meaning business.  It is this property of meaning business that tone expresses.  It can't be faked and it can't be ignored when it is present.  If you think otherwise, try ignoring a baby that is crying quietly.  Human brains are designed to not ignore tonal intensity. Yet, most musical instruments are made without tone because most people don't have the idea that they are supposed to have tone.  They think that tone is supposed to magically appear in an instrument after a certain number of notes have been played on it. 

This is the "aging notion" that is bandied about by many who like to think they understand the relationship between wine and musical sound. That is, because certain wines are known to improve with age and because the violins from Italy built in the 17th and 18th centuries sound wonderful and both are aged, the reason for the goodness must be age. Other than the usual playing-in period there is no relationship. (There is only a false logic similar to the spontaneous generation nonsense about flies magically being born from rotting flesh that these same people would likely have argued as true had they been born back in the 15th century.  Who knows, maybe flies do come from rot just as violins improve by being seventy five years older.)  If this aging notion were true, that would make the violins of Vuillaume at least as good as the fiddles by Guarneri del Jesu—they already have 150 years under their belts to prove it. So why don't they? 

Babies have tone the second they are born.  Great musical instruments have tone the moment they are first sounding.  Just as people acquire tonal sophistication with experience and the technical control it brings, musical instruments that have tone gradually sound better and better with correct use.  Instruments that have no tone to begin with sound the same or worse with use.  

The ear requires very little extra training to learn to notice tone.  And once noticed, the ear demands the effect and feels deprived when tone is absent.  Tone is usually intuitively recognized when it is recognized by untrained ears. People who naturally gravitate to sounds that have tone and pass over sounds that do not have tone are generally the most musically sensitive individuals in the population.  These people rarely have perfect pitch but always have excellent relative pitch awareness.  Even more, they have outstanding tonal "antennae".  It is my opinion that this aspect of tone recognition should be the only test of musicianship to qualify musicians for entry into music schools.  It is objective and measurable; and it is far more accurate in predicting the musical ability of a human being from the point of view of brain function.

Sixth in the hierarchy is resonance.  Generally speaking, if you can hear tone you can recognize resonance when you hear it.  Trying to appear sophisticated, many well intended musicians refer to loud, boomy, boxy, fundamental sounds as resonant. Loud booming sounds assault the ear.  Resonance fills the ear completely.  Loud booming sound is shallow.  Resonance is deep appearing.  Loud booming sound is tedious to hear.  Resonance energizes the listener.  Loud booming sound makes the listener numb.  Resonance focuses the listener's attention.  Loud booming sound has no clarity.  Resonance is solid, lucid, and transparent.  

Seventh is the property of perceptibility.  Perceptibility is that aspect of a sound that makes a sound capable of stirring the mind.  The cause of perceptibility is the degree of obvious structure in a sound.  The more structure, the more perceivable it is.  Perceivability exists when the brain can grasp the full extent of a sound at one listening.  Mediocre sounds, on the other hand, may be hearable but they are not perceivable.  Sometimes, those who can  sense the perceptibility of a sound say that it is palpable.

It is the degree of palpability that causes the effect of presence in a sound.  The more present a sound is the greater its ability to be perceived at great distances.  In musical instruments, this is called carrying power.  The difference in decibels between great instruments and loud mediocre instruments is not that significant.  What is significantly different is the apparent ease which the palpable sound has to penetrate the atmosphere of air and noise to touch the auditory sense undiminished by the impediments thrown against it.

Though everyone perceives such a sound, not everyone notices their perceptions.  This aspect of perceptibility in a sound is unsubtle enough to apprehend such that it can cause that noticing behavior to take place. When that happens, the person has an "Aha!" experience.  There is a sudden recognition of something finally making sense.

The eighth and most sublime level is that quality of sound which causes it to touch the soul directly.  I had the experience, when visiting Japan, of showing my harpsichords to a group of musicians.  One person in the group, who was the son of a Zen priest, said that, on hearing the sound of the instrument, he could feel his kundalini rising to his crown chakra and beyond.  I was astonished to find someone who was aware enough to be able to get the point of my work.  It is exceedingly gratifying when that happens spontaneously.  

That quality of sound occurs when every aspect that is involved in making a sound as enhanced as possible exists in exactly the right balance.  Nothing is missing. And everything fits as it should to create this effect.  For me, all my instruments are failures that do not possess this quality to some degree. Those that I have made that I like best have this quality in abundance.  The effect in these instruments is "enchanting."

 

The Art of Listening as translated into Chinese by Mr. Ping Zang.

 

<听>的艺术

 

听不是耳朵在获取,而是心在给灵馈送。

凯特.山 撰稿,张平 译(于法国巴黎)

 

听这一行为在很多方面都需要我们倾注足够的注意力,以便能让听的行为充满智慧从而上升到

可以被称之为艺术的高度。我这里所说的听,是以一种极为独特的方式,用心把注意力倾注到

正在感受的感官上。以下三个方面最为重要,就是专注、静气及感知。专注,从本质上说是一

理性行为;静气,是对专注的问题不情绪化;感知,相对而言,是一种精神范畴的行为。

 

专注

我们能否集中注意力取决与如何选取应专注的事项。我们每个人都会被手头利益,日常琐事限

制了注意力的集中,其结果往往就是不能专注在应该的事项上。只有对事情专注了,我们才能

把它搞明白。这也是为什么大多数人的听力往往会是<耳背>。然而,只要抛开干扰因素,提高

专注程度,每个人都能具备一个好听力。

 

除了手头利益琐事,我们还会在听的过程中夹带进来一些思想杂念,它们会使我们转移注意力,

把我们带入误区,结果是浪费大量的时间。最常见的是,对到底该专注于哪个事项没有清晰的

思路。这种对主次轻重欠缺判断,使得对正确事项进行专注就更显艰难。尽管存在这种困难,

但花上时间,尽可能地选取正确的专注事项是会有回报的。正确的选择可以系统规范化,方法

就是要提出恰当的问题。

 

如何善思巧问

这一方法的基础是基于这样一个事实:我们做的一切都是一个被提问题的结果。这对有意识还

是下意识问题都适用。所谓的习惯,只是给从前的问题反复提供答案而已。让我解释一下。

 

当你要读这篇文章,是因为你对其内容感兴趣。也许是题目引起了你的兴趣,你会问到底写的

啥嘛。但具体怎么问是不重要的。当你发现文章是这么个写法,你会问:这写法对我有帮助吗?

读了一阵觉得不对口便放弃了,其实你对是否值得一读这个问题给出了完满的答案。

 

另一个更直观的例子就是你感觉须要吃东西。饿的感觉是由身体内在机能触发而引起的。你在

寻找食物时就是在回答这样一个问题:怎样才能终止这一感觉?你也许会换个方式提问,但答

案都一样, 就是得<吃>!

 

一般来说,提这类问题都是下意识的。哲学术语把其称为<隐性推断>。隐性有藏匿之意,这类

推断却又导致了我们的行为。所以我认为,称之为<功能性推断>更为确切。由于我们每一个推

断都源于对现实事物提出的问题,那么探究作为源头的问题就能更好地审视作为结果的推断。

最简单的做法,就是从凡事都问个为什么开始。比如,我从哪得到这一想法的?我为什么要这

样做?我这样做要达到什么目的?我这样做能带来什么结果?

 

当你认准那些引发你的行为的问题时,你就应该开始对这些问题提问题了。比如,这个问题能

让我直奔要点吗?这个问题提得是时候吗?问题的关键点在那?或者,有更恰当的问题吗?能

换个角度提问题吗?如果可以,是否会影响我的结果?等等诸如此类都是应该提出的问题。当

你开始如此提问题时,就说明你开始认真思考了。只要你对提出的问题都能深思熟滤,你便不

再犹豫不决。你知道你在犹豫什么,你会对疑虑提出问题。当你找到答案时,你会猛然发现你

的关注点已经从表象深入到了本质内容。那些只做(肤浅)表面工夫的人,是做不到这点的。

然而,每个人只要这么做, 都能从中受益。

 

问题的特性

问题只有在提出后才能有其答案。人们所说的<提一个愚蠢的问题,就会得到一个愚蠢的答案>

真是把问题的特性描绘得入目三分。尽管这样,真正懂得其中因果关系的人还是凤毛麟角。换

个说法兴许更好理解,<提一个正确的问题,就会得到一个正确的答案>。然而,一旦你对提问

的措词安排会产生如此差异而感到惊讶的话,你就会掂量如何提问的份量。当你把提问当回事

时,你便自然地会对所提问题斟词酌句。结果是,你渐渐地学会怎样巧妙地提一个能引出你期

盼之答案的问题。

 

提个泛泛的问题,得到泛泛的答案。提个针对性的问题,得到针对性的答案。提个大众化问题,

得到大众化答案。提到点上的问题,得到的答案也在点上。只要对求知有热盼,一定的实践之

后就能精确的提出问题。

 

当你提问的技巧有了长进,你的专注点就会上升到更高的层次。你付出的努力会得到丰厚的报

偿。当你的提问涉及到事物的原理基础时,那么你就在其中翱翔了。

 

提高专注力的一些技巧

你的专注点与你的兴趣点有关。因此,你得细心地选取你的兴趣点。这需要在精神上有一定的

管控力。有些技巧能帮你改善把精神集中到重点上的能力。

 

1。在众多干扰的环境下,练习专心做你最感兴趣的事。专心就是不受干扰地工作,思考,这

样或那样的能力。换个说法,专心的特征就是不受干扰。干扰就是把你的注意力从手头的事情

中抽出来。专心就如肌肉一般,如果不练它,就不会变得更强壮,甚至会萎缩。就如人们常说

的:用进废退(曲不离口,拳不离手)。要注意,千万别拿无关要紧的事来练习。从你最感兴

趣的事练起,不断地加码干扰因素来挑战你的专心度。干扰因素越多,你能保持专心做事的话,

就说明你的<专心肌肉>越强壮。当你每次都能够保持两三个小时专心做你想做的事时,你就算

成功了。当你练就了对兴趣点的专注力度后,可以挑战对非兴趣点的专注力度,不过要减少干

扰因素。当你能够有条不紊地完成使你无聊至极的事情时,你就达到了有管控精神的能力。

 

专注和专心是两个相关的能力。然而,专注某事而不能专心其上,或专心于并非专注的事是很

常见的。这是因为专注是你把注意力集中在某点上,而专心是你不受干扰地做某事。很容易的,

或专心于并非专注的事上(比如呆呆地看那些不知说些什么的电视节目),或沉浸在专注的事

上而没专心在所做的事上(比如从创作中抽身出来散下心,你根本不在呼做的什么)这应该是

专注和专心之间的差别了。

 

2。探讨一下厌烦问题。厌烦其实是一种精神状态,就是缺乏兴趣。当你不能集中精力,一般

说来是因为外部刺激因素不够强烈,你就会感到厌烦。每个人的兴奋点会因人而异,如果感觉

厌烦,精神上的自然反应就是封闭和放弃。如果真的这样那就砸了。原因是你在这种状态下是

不会有注意力的。因此,要避免这一沮丧情形,就得反省一下你为何会厌烦。审视一下,就是

尽可能的自省在这种状态下的感觉,引起这种状态的原因。你会发现,通过对厌烦的自省,你

能学到比其它方式更多的东西。

 

3。给你能够精心工作营造条件。一般说来,有三种条件能让人的精神自然地进入高度集中的

紧张状态。第一种是恐惧,命危,灾祸,逃溃或对峙等。这些都能立马让你精神高度紧张。如

果你能营造这种气氛(虽然并无危险存在),你会发现你做事时的神经状态仿佛是绷在弦上似

的。第二种是需要,需要是一种紧急状态,它会使思想极度集中。思想在极度集中状态下能比

平时有效十倍甚至十五倍。是否真的需要并无关要紧,也就是需要可以是一种思想假设。如果

你有充分的想象力,你就能让这种假想需要象真的一样。你的精神就会在上面变得更为集中。

第三种是压力,同理,在精神层面上,压力与恐惧和需要是类似的。我随便就能列出的压力有

以下几种:精准,期限,质量和数量等等。给自己在更好、更快、更多上来点压力挑战自我。

你就能学会在该做的事上更加聚精汇神了。

 

精神审视

其实,专注力是能够通过<静思>的方式来改善与提高的。我这里说的静思,不是修炼型的面壁

打坐或宗教式的虔诚祈祷,而是我称之为<精神审视>的静思方式。这一方式就是座在一舒适安

静的地方,让你的思绪漫游。让思绪漫游能给看它到哪去提供了机会。在精神审视当中,最重

要的准则就是完全放纵你的思绪并认可漫游间得到的第一印象。

 

很多时候,我们有些可怕的,极为有害的想法。我们试图忽略它们,把它们从理性思维中排除

掉。把它们忽略掉的危险是同时你的行为也就没能回避它们。另一方面,我们容易徘徊在那些

使人愉悦欢快的想法上,如果不能排除它们,就会让其给迷恋住。这种回避痛苦与缠绵愉悦的

思想倾向是正常的,但同时也导致了精神上的僵化。

 

精神僵化是可以避免的, 通过正视你的想法,并把它们当作以己无关的想法来接受。也就是说

要分清(1)你是你。(2)你的想法在你的脑子里但不是你自己。你和你的想法是两个分立

的个体。就如你是架车的司机,车是你的精神。车不是你但你在驾驭它。车行使的好坏就看你

如何掌控它。假如车子窜到你不想去的路上,谁的责任?车子随意窜行,因为是辆车子。所以

你必须告诉车子如何行使。精神审视,就是你决定让车子带着你随意窜行的游历过程。

 

一旦你知晓并接受了游历中相遇的想法,得把它们分门别类。比如恶心叛逆的、亮丽如实的、

晦涩荒诞的、愉悦动人的等等。做出以上直觉的判断后, 就可试着把那些你认为无关紧要的,

以及相关的部分凑在一起来审视一番。然后,如果愿意,可以把它们剔除掉。也可以把那些从

未有过的想法先挂起来,等以后回过头来在细细揣摩。

 

精神审视的目的就是要培养一种反观自我想法(思想)的习惯。你越是追究你的想法,就越清

楚到底想的是什么。你越清楚你的想法,就越能把控它们。你的把控能力越高,就越有专注力。

你的专注力越高,就越能<顾及>你的精神活动。当你能<顾及>你的想法时,你就有了力量。当

你不能把控这些进程,你就只好望洋兴叹。精神审视的终极目的,就是让你能够对所专注(上

了心)的事项做到尽善尽美的一种自我锤炼。

 

以上这些技巧和建议对改善与提高你的专注力应该有帮助。要有敏锐的听力,掌控你的精神焦

点是最基本的关键。

就乐器制做而言,在音板上轻轻叩击所激发出的响声是如此的复杂,以至于如果没有一定的专

注功力,你就不能把其主音给锁住从而把它从次音中甄别出来。一开始,你会认为你现有的本

事足以把叩击音听个一清二楚。然而,那些现有本事并没能赋予你一个清晰的听力,你就会明

白得放弃它们,用我刚才介绍的技能来替代。我遇到的那些没能学会把控专注力来获取清晰听

力的人,一般都彻底地放弃听的努力。他们以两个籍口漠然处置不能听清一个复杂叩击音的尴

尬。第一个是,叩击音是如此的复杂,无人可以确切的听清其中的成份。因此,那些自许可以

听清楚的人不仅自个是个疯子,还能把其他人给逼疯了。第二个是,一个可以听清楚叩击音的

人,必然是个天才。对那些天份不足的人,努力补遗还不如就此认命算了。

 

我这里得强调,清晰的听力是每个人都能练就的本领。我本人在上头耗费了将近十五年的时光,

因为没人如上所述那样来诱导我如何去练听力。对无心练听的人来说,就我所知,再简单不过

就是为推委学习这一技能找个籍口。的确,修练听力真的是耗时、耗神、耗力。但听力是每个

要制出音色纯净优美之乐器的人所必须的基本功力。说白了,这也许是对一个人精神觉悟的终

级考验。那些经得住严峻考验的人,终将进入一个斑斓神奇的声音世界。区分良莠的是个性与

处事态度,而并非天赋。

 

认知

通过不断的实践,你的专注力会随之改善,你的洞察力也随之提高。洞察力的提高与注意到的

细节的多少成正比。当你把专注点聚集到洞察点上时,你的认知力就会提高。当两三个洞察点

在脑海中能给贯穿起来时,你的认知力便随之暴涨。你若把专注点汇聚到认知点上,你将会因

此更有智慧。一般而言,认知能力与对两个认知点之间关系的评估能力相关连。当你对认知点

之间的关系的认知力得到改善时,你的工作将从中受益。也就是说,对各种关系有了高度的认

知力,优异的品质便瓜熟蹄落。完全取决于你把精神集中到你的感觉上。

 

感知

感知就是你如何导控你的注意力。说到底,如何导控与向何处导控你的注意力决定了你听的质

量。听的质量越高,感知就越敏锐,工作品质便水到渠成。两者紧密相连。

 

确切地说,你感知的深度决定了你精神的高度。反之亦然,就是你精神的高度决定了你感知的

深度。我这里用的<精神>一词与宗教完全不搭架。我所说的精神是你对生命本质的意识程度。

就我来说,是我对流通于身心上的神经能量的主观意识程度。我这里用<神经>一词,是指的神

经系统。我就是用感觉神经所激发的极其微妙的神经能量来培养对脑中能量流的感知能力的。

 

这可不是什么专业理论。这是我能给出的尽可能准确的有关我个人对感知的看法。对其它有关

感知的高论,它有它的看法。

 

感知障碍

有四种相关因素会对我这里所说的<感知>形成障碍。它们是:恐惧,欲望,安逸(舒适)和安

全(保险)。其中<恐惧>是最强势的因素。

恐惧

是精神行为。其间,大脑中的求生中枢被激活,一切决定和行为都由求生中枢来定夺,其功能

就是用来逃命的。每个人的大脑都有这一功能。然而,现今人们基本上已经没有了猛虎野兽的

威胁,这一功能就会给我们带来副作用。

 

求生中枢的基本功能就是用来逃命的。逃命时就一个<快>字。危急时如果还在那犹豫便有生命

危险。这个<快>字使得大脑中这一区域是如此的高效,但这个<快>字同时也带来了问题。我在

下面解释一下。

 

为了逃命,求生中枢只能以最少的信息来作出反应。这些信息只能称之为<草图>。草图并不包

含具体细节,只能表达某个概念或想法。就如人像素描只提供人的轮廓信息一样。如果只图<

快>,那么其它信息就只好割爱了。

 

问题是大多数人从出生起都用这一机制来观察现实世界。任何紧急的情形都会不断强化这一机

制。人生的早期分不清什么是<急>,什么是<险>。结果是获取的信息都以<草图>方式存入脑中。

更大问题是要想绕开草图,在其中寻找细节信息,那真是难上加难了。这是因为<草图脑>用极

少的信息就能运作,是因为<草图脑>总有恐惧的影子,任何事情都会与恐惧相关连,都会变成

一副<草图>存储起来。结果是把细节信息给丢失了,使得对细节的观察变得不可能。这就是恐

惧会给感知造成的障碍。

 

感知的确切内涵应该是对所有的内外相关因素都有察觉。要真确的感知事物,唯一的可能,就

是得把一切恐惧感从精神负担中排除出去。你也许对精神的主观意识把控缺乏训练,那你对事

物的感知力度会相应不足。你如果不能完全把恐惧从思想过程中排除掉,那会限制你的感知深

度。显然,要完善我们的感知力度,还有很长的路要走。但我坚信每个人都有能力把握他的感

知能力,关键是要有欲望。

 

欲望

第二个妨碍感知的是欲望。稍候!刚说的,关键是要有欲望,那么它怎么会既是感知的动力又

是其阻力呢?那就得看你如何对待欲望了。如果你的欲望是占有,那它就是阻力。如果你的欲

望是企图,那它就是阻力。如果你的欲望是索取,那它就是阻力。如果你的欲望把你向前牵引,

那它就是动力。对此,你不会计较在前进中的得失,只在意对感知与认知的不断完善。

 

就欲望来说,我们每个人都会遇到同样的问题。欲望其实就是如何面对眼前事物的一种情

绪表达。比方说,我们儿时面对玩具和其它物件时,对其就是儿童所能有的感觉。我们对事物

就是一个感觉,事物并非我们自我。成人对一事物,会倾注更多的注意力。随着年龄的增长,

对事物的关注点也随之更为复杂。有人把事物当概念,有人把事物当过程。事物可以是一件普

通的东西,也可以内含观念、看法、习惯、打算、关系等等如此之类的消遣。我把这些称为消

遣,是因为它们会分散我们对内心活动的关注。

 

当我们在思想中端正了对欲望的关系后,便有可能排除欲望在感知事物时所形成的障碍,从而

获得想要或获取的任何东西。事物此时便成了强化知觉和意识的工具。这是把事物看作原理的

具体体现的自然结果。

然而,要端正思想中对欲望的关系,并非举手之劳。而是一项伤筋动骨的努力。也就是说,得

戒绝在心中拿架子,戒绝对拥有的自豪、获取的激动、他人羡慕的目光、得到的欢乐等等诸如

此类的虚荣心。正因为如此艰难,这正是为何<感知>难倒大多数人的关键所在。这样的心力付

出,对那些安于现状、无意进取的人来说只好知难而退。追求舒适安逸也就成了感知的第三障

碍。

 

舒适(图安逸)

任何要我们多加努力的事都会妨碍我们的舒适感。这种情形下的舒适,是对安于不感知、不作

为、不思考而言。比方说,我们觉得床很舒适,是因为躺在上面没有不爽的感觉。如果太硬,

我们会觉得不舒适。同样地,太斜、太软、太凹,我们都会觉得不舒适。同理,对想法、论点、

观念等等都可类推。当它们与我们期待的完全吻合时,我们就觉得舒适或对胃口。反之,我们

就会觉得不爽。简言之,当我们没有感觉不对劲时,就是舒适。

 

问题是,人们总在寻求舒适。一般都是尽己所能来追求,尽管有时是下意识的。无知便无碍,

既你不知的东西不妨碍你。如果抱着事不关己的态度,你的思想、精神、身子就会产生惰性,

直至安于无为乃至僵化。不幸的是,当你想要来事的时候,这种安于无为会让你倒霉的。不善

于动脑子,会让自己陷于穷途末路。

 

解决舒适问题的办法,就是不把其当目的或理想。最佳的办法就是把它当毒疮来看,不是致命

的那种,而是要时刻留意的那种。舒适的感觉只可让其延续一阵子,之后就得留神了。

 

冷淡对待舒适,才能让精神处于警觉和待命状态。培养对待舒适的冷漠心态有助于让精神进入

警觉和待命状态。听的成败有赖于精神的警觉状态。任何对这一警觉状态的干扰对能否听得利

索来说都是致命的。

 

对所有的舒适因素来说,保险或者说安全感是最难舍弃的。所以图保险就成了几乎不可越逾的

障碍。

 

保险(求安全)

保险被大多数人认为是能够喜悦的必备条件。但讽刺的是,那些被重重保险着的人是最不快活

的人。那些数着日子来过,期间做什么,想什么,发生什么都像板子丁钉那样日复一日,就如

关在了牢子里。以此相反的就是变化,不保险。你对待变化的态度,会使你得到保险或不保险。

如果你把变化当敌人,它总会让你觉得不保险。也就是说,你会强迫自己排斥变化。这种强制

力足可以把感知给完全窒息掉。

 

然而,如果你把变化当良师益友,对它就有热切的需要,会张开臂膀热情洋溢地拥抱它。当你

不惧怕变化时,就会注意到事物的变化。你会学着用感知来感受变化,从而预感和判断变化的

走向和趋势。

 

假如你没有被以四种感知障碍所迷雾住的话,你就能自在地注意到从前没注意到的各种关系以

及一个提供充裕精神食粮的感官体验。

 

最后,有样东西至少会瘫痪我们敏锐的听力,我称之为思想的阴暗性。

思想的暗影

一个不顾及专注感知而旁故其它的思想就把有益的感知体验给投到了思想的暗影中。就如一道

砖墙阻挡了通道一样,一个左旁右顾的思想除了占据它的杂念之外什么都不能接受。理性之光

和直觉的光明都被这暗影给屏蔽掉了。这样的思想被眼前纷杂的景象给缠住,就如爬滚轮的老

鼠,深陷没有尽头的无畏精彩。正因为这一原因,必须得认真地去听,以此跳出爬滚轮式的死

循环从而能够抽出身来专注感知。

 

如何应对这些感知屏障呢?

 

最有效的处置办法也许就是摆出一个勇敢的心态。

 

勇敢的方式可以是对你的行为和命运担负起责任。担负责任意味着得仔细地听,留意每个细节,

创意性地想象。也意味着不用顾及他人的评价,这样才能保持你对真正价值的判断力。也意味

着从不满足现状,不把已知的真理当永恒,得不断对其质疑和批判。也意味着厚积薄发,把你

对自然的领悟充分地展现再他人面前。

 

勇敢的方式可以是把你的思想空间平展开来随处戳一戳,以此来找出其中的薄弱点。关键是要

通过自身来根除那些思想中的固有观念,利益得失,空洞病态,愤世嫉俗,扭捏作态等等这些

虚荣的东西。代之以开放,灵活,自信,活跃,实干,坦诚,优雅和有人情味。如果这样的勇

敢方式让人觉得你傲慢的话,那是他们的而不是你的问题。不顾得失,想你自己所想是要勇气

的。让人知道他们站在真理的反面而使其恼羞成怒是要勇气的。面对他人的诽谤而不与其计较

是要勇气的。当他人庆幸走了捷径你却坚守着信念是要勇气的。在他人的批评难于承受时仍坚

持自己的良心和守望是要勇气的。所幸的是,所有勇气都会有应得的回报。

 

解读感知

因为听力与感知的方式密切相关,所以如何甄别那些不妥的感知方式就显得有为重要。至少从

培养听的艺术之角度来看是这样的。

 

对听力良好习惯造成毁灭性障碍的是观念。这一观念来由已久(至少2500年),就是不信

任感知。即便是现在,哲学、科技、思想界的所谓知识人士也都持有这样的观念,就是最好不

要信任你的感知。支持这一愚蠢观念的理由往往是:一是现实存在是一种幻觉,二是感知很容

易让人失望。如果你和大多数人那样,只对事物的表象感兴趣的话,那么这些理由完全成立。

如果你接受感知不可信的观念的话,那你就无形中接受了那些被大众普遍认为值得信赖的观念。

假如你认为值得把精力花在大家都认为是对的事情上,那你的精力就耗在了:

 

一,科学家接受的即为真理。几十年前,就是回到1950年代,人们对科学家的话语深信不

疑。科学家们对自己也非常自信。没有科学不能解决的问题。然而现今,你如果能找到科学家

们一致通过的事情算你走运。即便科学家们都赞同的事,也不一定就能改变你的生活。目前的

科学家制造的问题比解决的问题还多。科学在人们的心目中大丢面子也就不足为奇了。

 

二,同理,你若把心理医生的话语当真理,那你会很难堪的。因为即便这些心理医生本人都不

一定清楚知觉到底是如何运作的。

三,长久以来,我们接受的都是些诸如宗教,哲学,思想界等的思想者认为是正确的东西。其

实他们都事先认为感知是不能用来断定事物的对与错的。我认为这是个死循环,因为从一个脱

离感知的大脑中冒出来的想法,怎么能当真呢?尤其是认为感知是不可信任的想法。

 

我的观点是,信任由感官获取的感知。主观臆断会让人上当的。因此,把所有的信任都放在感

官上,但并非就是信任初始一两次的感觉。而是很自然地把感官传给你的感觉接受下来。正因

为如此,除了感知你可以质疑任何其它因数。感官是不会骗人的,因为它们没有主观意愿。就

如你怎么骗一个无线电接收器(收音机)?是听众容易受骗而非接收器,它只是传感媒介而已。

感官只是触觉的接收器,你对触觉如何反应与你的角度有关。因此应在如何端正你的角度上下

工夫。如果你要起动感官功能,那首先得抛开对感知不可信的偏见。

 

至于把现实当幻觉而言,同样经不起推敲。只是人们习惯于不加思考地把原有观念当宝贝而已,

因为人的习性之一就是不够认真地听和不够仔细地看。这种倾向导致一些人把物质世界看得太

重,以至另一些人只好摆出幻觉与假象,目的是欺骗我们。我们为何要把那些不认真听、不仔

细看的人的看法当真呢?真的不应该。也不应该认同那些把现实世界当幻觉的观点。

 

当我们观察遥远的星际,其光线在路上经历了亿万年,我们所得到的信息不能证明星星是否已

经死亡。我们知道或不知道,都无法打消我们目前的疑惑。这正是激发我们有幻觉感的起因。

无人能直接见证恒星的死亡,也不能确切的知道他看到的究竟是什么。那我们又何必在乎什么

是可知和不可知的呢?关键在那里?其实,正是这种不确定性使得科学更为有趣,但绝对不能

把这种<不可知论>当我们的思想方法。

 

当你真要仔细探究自然本质时,你就发现从任何角度来看,大自然都是一件令人叹为观止的精

美艺术品。让我细述几句,很多人现在都知道魔术说白了就是障眼法,就是精心构造的欺骗手

法。绘画曾经是描绘三维空间或激发三维幻觉的手法(到了 20 世纪,它成了情绪的表达和宣

泄)。对我来说,大自然就是上帝成就的艺术品。面对上帝之杰作,我们往往不得要领,比如

只注重它的材料或什么的,就如一些学究钻死角那样去研究希腊神话的作品是用哪块农田种植

的亚麻做布和制油来画的。或者堕入另一极端,认为全是宗教狂想毫无价值。这不都是给自己

下套吗?对自然的唯美,更应该去欣赏它的美妙,尽力去模仿,庆幸我们有幸见证它的存在。

 

弃用感官

对那些持这一态度的人来说,最悲剧的,当属他们的大脑了。大脑从感官印象获取的养份就如

我们身体从蛋白质、碳水化合物、矿物质等获取养份一样。正如一人因为不信任摆在他面前的

食物,他的身体会因营养缺失而被饿死。大脑也是一样的,它会因为没有从感官获取精神上的

养份…感知,而窒息。养份缺失,大脑的直觉功能、想象功能,甚至它的神经系统等都会停止

运作。这时的大脑就如厌食症患者的身体一样,只能不可逆转地自我内耗了。

 

信赖感官

当你信赖你的感官时,你的大脑就对所有通过感官俘获的感知印象赋予具体的含义。当感官俘

捉到感知信息时,就有了收获。思想的形成源于清晰的印象。对感官处以不以为然的态度,思

维就会模糊不清。对感官注意力高度集中,思路就清晰明了。清晰的程度与付予感官注意力的

强度和摄取信息的精妙程度是成正比的。所谓的《天才》只是那些能够倾注全力去摄取感知信

息,并且知道如何甄别和优化感知信息的人而已。

 

最理想的应该是,所获得的感知信息只是不带情绪的观察结果而已。那些不能通过感官获取客

观信息的人,是因为他们总是想当然地把获得的信息贴上标签,分门别类。为了避免落入曲解

信息的陷阱,你需要有冷静、平和的心态。

 

静气

这里指的是没有情绪性的反应。但并不等于没有情绪。反而应该是有情绪感觉,但不为其所动。

当我们对体验到的感觉有反应,是因为我们对这一感觉做了某种解读。如果我们认可这种解读,

就会产生一个相应的表达方式,以释放解读本身营造的感觉。<自以为是>,就是这一过程典型

的例子。当我们感觉是正确的被否定时,我们会因遭否定而感到伤害。当我们揪心为何感到伤

害时,我们会责怪错在他人。这个结论本身足以让我们造成愤愤不平的感觉。

 

静气,就是我们可以有情绪感觉,但以冷静的态度处之,从而免于落入情绪波动的恶性循环当

中。也就是说,对感觉做解读其本身就让人激发出另一类感觉。从这个角度来看,静气更应该

是一个通过后天学习来养成的习惯。久而久之,这种习惯便越来越深地溶入到我们的行为方式

中去,甚至可能发展到连初始的感觉都给忽略掉。

 

卓越的听力需要这样的静气状态。特别是把解读意识给忽略掉的静气。通过延迟或避免解读意

向,留给自己更充裕的时间来处理所获取的感知印象。良好的听力一定得有这种延迟响应的机

制。因为如果你对某些东西过快地反响或反应,你在回应的那一刻就听不进其它的了。喜欢给

感知印象贴标签,肯定会把听力给搞砸。

 

此外,静气就是把起伏的情绪放一边,以便能够尽可能地接近真实情况。但这并不意味着冷漠,

虽然这种姿态往往对别人来说显得很冷酷。也不是无情,尽管他人可能会将这无动于衷的反应

视为清高和傲慢。更不是无法感觉。静气只是不让情绪来左右感知和对其判断,仅此而已。

 

那些拥有高度静气定力的人,反而是充满激情的人。因为他们不让情绪左右他们的决策,可以

坦诚地表达自己的感受,也就是说,不刻意修饰获取的感觉。对他们来说,越不知足就越有激

情。这样便能强化感觉,以便让获取的感受变得更易取舍。

 

没有什么比情绪更能糟蹋清晰的听力。无论积极的还是消极的情绪都一样。哪怕就一丁点的情

绪都会把清晰的听力给搅黄了。那我要说的<情绪>是何物呢?可以是欲望,感情,嫉妒,愤怒,

等等。凡爱恨情仇,喜怒哀乐等不一而足的情感。无论强度大小,都属我所指的情绪。更具体

地,我的意思是指以下丘脑为中心,并且与快乐和疼痛相关的感觉范围。虽然这些感觉在人的

体验中有它们各自的用途,但在听的行为中不仅无用,还应该禁忌。静气其实就是在听时,一

边不可避免地接受这些感觉,一边又得避免它们对听力造成干搅。良好的听力取决于此。所以,

听的时候越是静得住,就听得越清晰。相反,你在听的过程中越是情绪化,那么听的结果就越

模糊,越混杂不清。

 

然而,你可能会赞同或不赞同以上的叙述。其实,对听力如何表达和描述并不重要。如果你不

乐见我的表达方式,但你却能听得清晰,那么,你其实就在照着我说的在做。如果你完全同意

我的说法,但不能听清楚,那是因为你还没能静得下来。我以这种方式来表达,是因为我们往

往很难意识到或体会到我们的感觉和想法。通常,我们认为只要满怀信心做事情就能够把事情

办完美。可悲的是,往往事与愿违。

 

你想当制琴艺术家,也自信是一位制琴艺术家。但这并不能保证你就是,甚至即便其他人这么

称呼你也不能保证你就是。而是由你的作品的质量来定夺的。而你作品的品质又由你听的品质

来决定的。因此,一定要避开自欺欺人的陷阱,尽管我们都有如此的经历,通过听力训练来提

高感知专注度和如何避免对感知的干扰。

 

要成为一位沉稳、静得住气的人没有一蹴而就的捷径,而是一个不可绕过去的努力。如果你想

成为一个对听力把握自如的人,那静气更是你必须面对的挑战。如果静气是容易的话,我会告

诉你的。但其实,要静得住气,真的是太难了!其妙就妙在,当你静得住气,听得就越来越清

晰,调制的成果就越来越斐然。调制成果提高了,又反过来让你更静得下来。两者相辅相成。

对调制成果的前后比较,你便可以判断你的听力技巧有否提高。

 

下面我要分享一下我认为对每位读者都有益的心得:你如何看待失误 - 你自己的或他人的。俗

话说《不想犯错,啥都别做》。如果你把失误当作个人缺陷的话,那么你会有心理负担,将很

难进行听力训练。反之,如果你很高兴在失败中学到了东西,认为失败是成功之母,它是块将

你弹上了另一个台阶的跳板。那么听力训练,对你来说就简单容易得多了。因为失误不再是一

个让你恼火的心理负担。我们都知道,犯错会《掉面子》,犯错要《伤自尊》,,,反正犯错

就让人懊恼、伤心。如果以积极的态度来看待失误,你就能逾越这些心理障碍。错了就错了呗,

仅此而以。什么掉面子,伤自尊,懊恼,伤心等。其实这些都是自寻烦恼而已。

 

强化感知:感知,再感知!

下面一起来看看如何更清晰、更深层感知的问题。要清晰、深层地感知,就得培养你把注意力

投入到你的感觉上,看感受如何。具体来说,就是把注意力集中在你的感觉行为上,看看你的

精神对感官的回馈如何反应。每当我对他人谈及这一主题时,他们大都不知所云,一片空白。

我觉得对我来说这是很自然的事,所以,我认为对别人也应该如此。因此,我尽量精确、明了

地来阐述这一主体。

 

如果我用手指触摸你的手臂,你感觉到了。你的反应会是, 1.“法律”层面的事实:就是法官

和陪审团可以用来决定<甲是否触及了乙>;2.道德层面:甲应该触摸乙吗?3.伦理层面:甲可

以触摸乙吗?4.智力层面:甲为什么触摸乙? 5.情感层面:甲触摸乙意味着什么? 6.性层面:

当甲触碰乙时,甲想要什么? 7.感官层面(一): 感觉到一个温暖物体在触摸我。 8.感官层面

(二): 有东西触动了我。 9.感官层面(三):我感觉到了。 10.精神层面(一):注意到了。

11.精神层面(二):知道了。 12.精神层面(三):现实存在。

 

“法律”层面,或所谓的客观事实,可能真,也可能假。因为这个层次的事实只能在两个或多

个证人同意的情况下才能在法庭上成立。法庭上都是各说各话,完全依赖各方的最大利益。因

此,法庭上得出的结论不一定就是客观事实。

 

道德层面来讲,所谓的事实可能,也可能不确切。因为是否确切,得取决于你的道德观倾向,

就是对同样一件事,你可以认为是道德或不道德的。其实,你可以认为任何你喜欢的事是有道

德的,反之亦然。因此,从道德层面出发,很难接近客观事实。还有诸如情感、情绪等等都是

如此。一位好律师在法庭上应该是去伪存真,尽可能地陈述法律事实。然而,现实中的“法律”

陈述往往就是一部彻头彻尾、揪人心弦的小说,很难说是客观事实。尽管如此,并不妨碍人们

将这些认为就是客观事实。

 

就我个人来说,很难接受前六种方式是主观认知之外的任何其它认知方式。因为它们高度依赖

主观意愿和相关利益。因此,毫无实证意义。只有后六种方式才有客观性可言。但是,你却不

能在法庭上证明它们是如假包换的客观事实。要做到真实客观,任何体验都必须独立于主观意

愿和相关利益。

 

这十二个认知档次与一个人的情绪是相关联的。在观察的过程,你越了解你的情绪状况,你的

感知就越清晰和客观。以一至六类方式来处事的人,是典型的把其本人和情绪混为了一体。要

以七至十二类方式来感知,你得对感知的情绪化影响有充分的认识并把情绪化因素尽可能的排

除掉,这样才可能获得清晰的感知成果。关键是你要撇清人和是人都不可避免的情绪之间的关

系。你归你,情绪归情绪。如撇不清,情绪能把人左右得团团转。只有把情绪放在一边,才能

获取清晰的感知。那些能做到这一点的人,就配备了一副<金耳朵>。他们便可全神贯注地鉴赏

感官传回的感觉。这,就是我所强调的感知。

 

听觉的层次

就听觉来说,并不是一件容易把控的技能。难就难在它是通过<>在听,但却由<>来觉。让

人诧异的是,现实中极少有人能够把控和规范他们的心灵活动。听觉对自我把控、排除干扰因

素的能力要求极高。只有有条不紊的行事方式才能避免失误。

 

每项活动,突发或常规的,都有其特定的表征层次。听觉也一样有其自然的层次特征,明白这

点,有助于快速有效地提高听力技巧。这种层次结构是由表征现象的微妙性而构成的。给我引

入这个想法的人是玛丽安.簿罗戈(Marianne Ploger),她为训练学生的视听能力开发了一个层

次结构课程,以便使他们能够更好地经受变化无常的听力考验。这个层次结构建立在耳朵俘捉

到的声音上。我将她的想法稍加改动,并应用到监听乐器的声音上面。

 

首先,是音量或强度。这是声音中最容易让耳朵听到,能够比较大小(或强弱)的成份。在甄

别有关声音的任何特征之前,耳朵听到的就是声音的大小。如果一个声音很强,可以与雷声或

一个歇斯底里喊叫的人相比。如果声音很弱,可以将其与吴侬耳语或飞行中的蚊子的嗡嗡声相

比。

 

其次,是音色或音(波)形。 在自然环境中,我们学会通过各种音色或声音的特质来识别蟋蟀,

草蜢,金丝雀,麻雀,鹧鸪,猫,狗,人和天气的声音等之间的差异。耳朵没有识别特定的,

属于已知声源的问题。除非声音太弱而不易听到。然而,当一个声音,比如一个蟋蟀发出的音,

下调几个八度音后,即便非常响亮,耳朵也不会认为它是一个巨型蟋蟀发出的音。耳朵会无所

适从,或在心中(听觉记忆)留出一档候补位置,以待更多的已知声源来匹配。

 

这就使得音高(或音调)成为结构中的第三层。音高的识别只是一种更具体的识别方式。就乐

器声音而言,有两种识别方式。一个被称为“绝对音高” 方式,另一个被称为“相对音高”

方式。人们耳朵真正敏锐的是,两个音中哪个高或哪个低。就常人的耳朵而言,一个音的高低

并不重要,它们对声音的音质或音色和其它声学特性更感兴趣。

接下来的是结构中的第四层。即声音开始后会怎么样,也就是常说的衰减(或延迟)。大多数

乐器听上去是死音,正是衰减在作崇。所谓死音,就是乐音开始后快速衰减消失,很快就弱到

难于听见了。演奏者常常用揉弦颤音来维持音长,就好似牵着木偶的四肢不断地晃荡,给人它

还活着的感觉。或通过其它方式来给人一种声音悠长的错觉。比如在钢琴上就通过使用延音踏

板来尽可能长地维持共鸣声。这的确能给人一种有活力的错觉,正如人们说话时用改变音调来

活跃气氛一样。

 

人们耳朵完全习惯于在日常对话中的音调变化。但是要在乐器的声音中识别它就比较麻烦。然

而,一旦听过这种乐音特征是怎么回事,耳朵就可以很容易地认出它来。我这里当然指的是<

回荡>。 回荡给我们的感觉是,声音是一种有生命的物质。如果没有回荡,声音给人的感觉就

像死水一潭。 在听觉层次中,回荡其实比音质更显重要,但通常被忽略了。

 

结构中的第五层是音质。一般来说,大多数音乐人都有足够的听觉经验来识别声音的音质是好

是坏。人类大脑的功能之一旨在识别人类言语中的声音。语音区在大脑右侧,负责从日常对话

的声音中,读取对话语境的具体含意。这个过程是通过关注声音力度间的关系(即声音的张力,

声音给绷紧的感觉)和变音(音高,音量和音色的波动)来达到的。

 

如果声音没有力度,那么变音也就显得虚浮、笨拙甚至做作。声音的力度能给任何声音带来活

力。这个特征正是声音所要体现的。当声音饱含力度的时候,是不能被掩盖和忽略的。如果你

不这么认为的话,那就试着忽略一个放声哭喊的婴儿。人脑先天就生得不会忽视声音的力度。

然而,大多数乐器在制作完成的时候都音质欠佳。因为人们认为刚做成的乐器不可能有好音质,

寄望于弹奏了一定数量的音符之后,音质就会神奇般地变成悦耳动听。

 

这正是很盛行的《老化》观念。人们想当然地把葡萄酒的陈年老化和乐音音质的优化拿来相提

并论。也就是说,由于某些葡萄酒随着酒龄的增长而品质有所改善,和十七、十八世纪制做的

意大利提琴琴声也非常悦耳,其共同点就是年龄的《老化》。那么卓越的品质必是源于《老

化》。其实,除了一段必要的《开音》期(两三个月的专业拉奏足已。译者注),琴声好坏与

《老化》没有任何关系。如果《老化》真的能成就优越音质的话,那么维永(Vuillaume)的琴

声至少与瓜氏(Guarneri del Jesu)的琴声一样的好:他们都经历了 150 年的《老化》时间。事

实上并不这样,那又是为什么?

 

婴儿在出生后发出的第一声就确定了他的音质。一件不朽的乐器发出的第一声也同样确定了它

的音质。正如人声要通过不断的训练和培养来达到悦耳动听一样,乐器也只有在正确的使用下

才能优化它的音质。但如果一件乐器一开始就一副鸭嗓子,再怎么使用也不可能有回天之力。

 

人耳并不需要特别的训练来识别声音是否悦耳。但一旦听过让人《爽》的音质,如果声音不

《爽》人耳会觉得别扭。未经训练的人耳对音质的识别其实是很直觉的。那些天生对好音质有

感应的人是我们当中最具音乐敏感度的人。这类人一般对绝对音高(物理音频)不是很敏感,

但他们对相对音高(乐理中的三度、五度、八度、大调、小调等。译者注)感觉却是相当的棒。

仿佛他们有一副敏锐的音乐<触角>。我个人认为,这一天份是音乐学校甄选人才时的唯一必要

条件。这个天份客观可测,能够非常准确地从大脑功能的角度来预测一个人的音乐能力。

 

结构中的第六层是共鸣。一般来说,如果你能识别音质,你就可以听出声音中的共鸣。很多音

乐家尝试用更为微妙细致的词汇来表述共鸣,如宏亮有力、嗡嗡作响、腔音浓郁、底音浑厚等

等。音之宏亮冲击耳膜,而共鸣给人有萦绕耳际之感。宏亮拓展宽度,而共鸣构筑层次和深度。

宏亮缺乏朝气,而共鸣激发听众。宏亮会使听众麻木,而共鸣能凝聚听众的专注。宏亮缺乏清

晰度,而共鸣给人以坚实饱满、清澈透亮之感。

 

结构中的第七层是声音的感知性。感知性是声音能够打动听众心灵的一个特征。感知性源于声

音中的清晰层次。层次越丰富,感知性就越多彩。当大脑能够在一次聆听中把声音的各元素都

众揽无遗时,感知性才显山露水。以此相反,一个劣质音,即便听到了也不能让听众有所感知。

有时候,那些被声音打动了心灵的听众会说声音的感知性是那么的触手可及。

 

正是声音的可触觉性强化了它的存在感。存在感越强,在远处被感觉到的程度就越高。人们将

其称为一件乐器的<穿透力>。一件不朽的乐器与一件平庸乐器之间的的差异并不在于音量分贝

的大小,而是它那可触觉的声音能轻而易举地穿透空气和噪音而不衰减地去打动听众。

 

虽然每个人都可以感受到这么一种声音,但并不是每个人都留意到这种知觉。声音在感知性方

面的确还不足以触发人们对它的特别留意。但当察觉到这种知觉后,人们会有<哇乌>的感叹。

忽然醒悟到这一知觉有种具体的存在感。

 

第八个也是最让人仰慕的层次,就是声音的品质直接触及灵魂。有次到日本推介我制作的羽管

健琴,参加活动的音乐家中有个禅师之子,听了弹奏之后,说他有被琴声勾了魂的感觉。我很

惊讶有人这样来评价我的作品。忽然间听到这样本能的反应,真的令人很是满足。

 

要让声音的品质达到这一境界,优化音质的方方面面都得匹配得恰到好处,缺一不可。每个因

数都得发挥出它的最佳效能才能达到如此完美。我制作的所有乐器如果不或多或少地具备这种

特质,对我来说就是一种失败。我最满意的作品都是充分到达这一境界的作品。这些乐器都有 “迷人的”的魅力。

 

 

by Keith Hill  ©  2015  Nashville,  TN

 

        Great work is neat, is quickly done, looks easy, and is right the first time.  These are the four principles of competent craftsmanship.  Whenever a piece of work is judged by anyone of discriminating taste to be less than good, its defects are the result of a failure to observe any or all of these principles.

         By comparison, the customary standards of craftsmanship applaud work that appears flawless no matter how it was done.  This standard requires zero understanding to either execute or appreciate—which is why it prevails today. Everyone should be able to judge everything equally—the democratic principle at work encouraging mindlessness in everyone equally. It is possible for a work to look absolutely flawless and still violate all four of these principles.  This is because neatness, easiness, and being right the first time rarely generate a flawless result.

         To create something which can bear up to the "rigors of mortise" and still give the impression that it is without flaw is a level of mastery to be envied.  It is this level to which I aspire.  But the line which must be tread between the attitude of making things appear as nature herself might grow them and creating the impression of being unflawed is no tightrope—it's a tight dental floss.  There is almost no room for error.  It entails having every detail of the final outcome so clearly in mind and knowing exactly how to get that result that when you work you can focus entirely on paying attention to the doing and the effects of what is being done.  Every detail that is not clearly in mind will result in a flaw.  Every aspect of technique that is missing from your method will create flaws.  Every instant that your attention is allowed to wander invites flaws.  To control yourself to this degree is not impossible, merely improbable.  Human beings don't usually come equipped with the self confidence, self assurance, experience, and discipline required to possess this level of mastery.  If anything, it is this level of mastery that the saying, "striving for perfection", aims at. 

        The essential defect of attempting to overcome these human failures of skill, discipline and self control is that it produces the effect of self consciousness in the work.  That is, if you try to side step these human frailties by working very slowly, meticulously, painfully, and consciously, the work will look like it.  Although self consciousness is a positive attribute in a person who specializes in repair work, it has no place in creative instrument making.  Repair work requires the master craftsman to be fully conscious of what work is original work and what work is his work.  And once conscious of these the master repairman never inflicts his preferences on the original work.  For this reason, I have nothing but the utmost respect for master musical instrument repair persons. Unfortunately, the discipline of self-consciousness that makes them great repairmen is hard for them to drop or let go of when they are faced with making a musical instrument.  I say unfortunate because self consciousness, when it shows up in the sound of an instrument, sounds hideous.  It requires a significant amount of discipline to not be self conscious when being self conscious has been a cultivated attitude.

        To strive for perfection of self in matters of discipline, knowledge, judgment, experience, mental agility, spiritual acuity, taste, attentiveness, wisdom, awareness, and compassion is, in my estimation, the process of fulfilling life's purpose.  Because mastery of this sort entails making mistakes and exposing those annoying personal flaws, such mastery cannot be realized without, at some point, learning the principle of forgiveness and applying it.  This means having a forgiving, not tolerant, attitude towards self generated flaws.  The key is non-tolerance of flaws.  What is the distinction?  To forgive flaws that exist because they already happened is essential because mistakes are all part of the learning process.  But to tolerate the same flaws and allow them to reccur in the future is sloppy and incompetent.  That is, mistakes need to be loved and reviled.  They need to be accepted when they happen but never allowed to occur again.  When this balancing act becomes a functioning part of one's personal technique, improvement follows like clockwork.  In time, mastery, too, follows like clockwork.

        The beauty of art is that the act of creation acts as a measuring stick to tell the artist how well he or she is doing in the pursuit of perfection that leads to mastery.  The work always reveals the true nature of the artist.  You need only know how to look.

Knowing How to Look

        Knowing how to look is the key to being able to "read" what your work is telling you.   I suppose that you could also use the word: sensing.  You might also use the word: perceiving.  Basically, being aware of your assumptions and how they affect your clarity of sensations is the way to look.   You can develop a good working technique for doing this by studying the work of others and asking of yourself this question:  What attitude does the person who did this work have to have in order for the result to appear exactly as it appears?  This question will lead the asker to a way of understanding the relationship between attitude and aesthetic outcome.  When you can read the attitude accurately, you should be able to assume the same attitude and produce an equivalent result with enough time and patience.

        Any success in being able to read attitudes is enough to convince anyone that using one's work to learn about one's own attitudes is useful and productive.  It is useful because you can know your true self more clearly and honestly.  And it is productive because you can begin to take charge of your attitudes, change them, modify them, invert them, turn them inside out, and watch to see if the alterations make a difference in the aesthetic outcome.  Often, I have found, people can make the fastest most enduring changes in their technique by changing not what they are doing but their attitude about what they are doing.  Even a small change in attitude can produce a massive change in technical ability.  Here's an example.

         If you have the attitude that time spent equals quality of outcome,  then you will, more likely than not, spend much time in order to produce a high quality result.  (The mere fact that time does not equate to quality is irrelevant.)  Whenever I encounter this attitude, I maintain that time spent only equals time spent; the quality of the outcome is based instead on the clarity of details in one's conception.  I try to punctuate my point of view by asking whether or not the quality of a performance of a Chopin Polonaise is improved by taking it at exactly half the indicated tempo. My thinking is, if the attitude is reasonable, then logic should dictate that it can be used as a fully functioning work related principle and that it may be applied to all kinds of work.  Since the question regarding the half tempo Polonaise invariably gets a negative response,  I usually do not get further argument and the person whom I am attempting to instruct can begin to change the faulty attitude by replacing it with the attitude about improving the clarity of conception.  The result never fails to produce the effect of higher quality work in less than half the time.  Once awake to the possibilities of rapidity of change through self manipulation of attitude, anyone can guide themselves to accomplish whatever goals they are capable of imagining.

Standards of quality.

        Ultimately, we are all prisoners of our imagination,  that is, we are unless we take charge or our attitudes and assume responsibility for what we feed into our imagination.  And, we can only do reliably what we can imagine clearly in every detail.  This is why I am certain that all real learning takes place in the imagination. Because of this, we have to be exceedingly careful about what we take in or learn.  If we take in an idea without scrutinizing it carefully, that idea has the potential to pollute us and all that we do. 

        The problem, here is the next one, is how do we know what will help and what will hinder. There are three standards by which everything taken in can be measured to know if it will help or hinder.  The first standard is: quick.  The second standard is: easy.  The third standard is: right the first time.  In other words, there are three questions that must be directed towards any incoming idea or concept.  Will the idea or concept increase my speed?  Will the idea or concept make my job easier and more efficient?  And, will the idea or concept improve my ability to "get it right the first time".

        Sometimes the answers to the first two questions will be negative butbe positive to the third question.  Sometimes, the answer will be negative to the third question and positive to the other two.  If an answer is negative to all three questions, it is usually more efficient to set aside the issue until a time when the answer is positive.  I say this because sometime we are not ready for a right answer at the moment we get it.  However, if you are studious about the business of thinking, you will benefit from keeping a notebook in which to keep all answers, information, ideas, and concepts so that you can refer to the notebook on occasion to review the answers just in case you are ready for them.

         By carefully controlling what you take in, you are providing your mind with a very powerful message.  That is, "I am in charge here and nothing gets in unless I let it in."  The alternative is a mind that has no clear pilot and having no clear pilot it usually runs on impulse power.  Which means it runs in a sort of idling mode.  It goes nowhere.  It does nothing.  It repeats thoughts endlessly.  It wanders hither, thither, and yon without any direction, rhyme, or reason.  When you take charge of your mind, it sighs with relief and is allowed to focus on the problems you direct it to solve.  And it helps you assess incoming ideas directly using these three standards by blocking those which ring untrue to the standards.

The backbone of aesthetic mastery

        Quick, easy and right the first time are the backbone of aesthetic mastery. Quickness implies speed, deftness, positiveness, lack of tedium, and directness.  It is easy to overlook the appearance of the lack of quickness in a perfectionistically fabricated product.  When this feature is missing, the appearance is tight, pinched, overworked, and lifeless.  Speed can but does not suggest haste.   Haste has the appearance of things forgotten.  Speed never presents that impression.  Deftness suggests alert relaxation and surefingeredness.  Positiveness suggests the absence of halting, stuttering, or mumbling.  In the case of handwork or musical instrument playing, halting, stuttering, and mumbling is common when the conception is either not clearly in mind or not clearly expressed.  Tedium occurs when a job has taken longer than it was supposed to.  When work moves along at a pace that assures that all aspects have been properly attended to but not overly so, then it appears complete in every detail but none of the details were fussed over.  The energy boost that you get from doing things this way prevents tedium from becoming part of the experience.  Directness relates to the clarity of conception as well.  However, directness refers to the intensity of the intention of the workman as he is doing the work.  

        Perhaps the best examples of quickness in the field of music are the manuscripts of Bach and Mozart.  The degree of directness, speed, deftness, poitiveness, and energy in the manuscripts of these composers is astonishing.  It is a clear indication that they had their musical ideas so clearly in mind before they took pen to paper that they had no need to have their work appear otherwise.  Such clarity of conception is only possible if they were rigorous in applying principles in their work, because principles handle most of the load of decision making which allows the artist to deal with the mundanities of preparation, procedure and construction.  Unburdened by decision making while working, they can buzz along at top speed paying attention to take care at the most crucial moments in the procedure.  Because the principles handle most of the load of decision making, the artist has the freedom to pay attention to the intuition and to follow it.  And the more the artist allows the principles to work, the less time is spent following dead ends.  The habit of principled work causes the mind of the artist to rapidly eliminate all possibilities except the one that works.

        Easy implies relaxation, absence of concern, facility, and effortlessness.  Relaxation suggests lack of tension.  Actually, nothing happens without some tension.  The question is the amount of tension or, more to the point, the excess of tension.  True relaxation is characterized by the absence of excess tension.  The only energy being used is that which is required to do the work.  Any energy that is used beyond that bare amount is excess.  

        When excess tension is exerted while working, the final result appears out of control.  This appearance is scrupulously disguised in perfectionistic work by slow painstaking meticulous control.  The problem with this kind of work is that it looks like it was a slow, painstaking, and compulsive effort.  Absence of concern suggests "sans souci" : without a care.  This phrase was a aesthetic philosophical ideal in the 17th and 18th centuries.  They hated the idea of fastidiousness because it looked oppressive.  It's oppressive because of the feeling that someone is always looking over your shoulder criticizing and judging your work.  I agree that this is a hideous oppression. 

        Facility suggests total easeand self assurance of execution.  But facility is born of its mother, Constant Practice.  When constant practice is missing in one's daily routine, facility is never born.  But constant practice of the wrong kind only leads to work that looks like bad practice habits.  When you practice music in a metrical, machinelike manner, you will play in a metrical machinelike way.  When you develop habits of woodworking that are meticulous and painstakingly precise, it is usually due to the lack of a precise and clear conception.  The habit persists because one can finally come to the end of the work and feel comforted to know that nothing is missing.  

        My experience is that in these cases, nothing is missing except the life of the instrument.  Facility breathes life in your work.  Constantpractice allows you: to eliminate mistakes of the grossest kind early in your development, to eliminate mistakes of the ordinary kind in your middle development, and to eliminate the subtlest mistakes in your mature development.   During the entire time, your work will appear lively, spirited, and facile.  

        Effortless suggests the absence of effort.  This is a wrong notion.  Effort is always a part of doing something.  The question is the nature of the effort and the nature of the feeling which the effort produces.  Effort that appears effortless springsfrom an organic process.  The effect of all things working together towards the same purpose creates this appearance.  When the effort is painstaking, the feelingproduced is painful and oppressive.  When the effort merely requires your presence of body, mind, and action but does not require you to stress yourself, then the work may be characterized as effortless.  You do it but it exacts no toll on you either mentally, emotionally, or psychically.  

        Generally speaking the greater the emotional tollexacted from you, the higher the degree of effort.  A not so subtle example is working for a complaining, demanding patron who exacts a high degree of emotional energy from those they hire. Working for such people is an extreme effort even if the work is physically easy.  Such patrons always get the worst work from those they hire.  ( My wife and I redecorated our farmhouse a few years ago and hired most of the work people ourselves.  The comments we got from those craftsmen and women was that they loved coming out to do our job because we were asking them to do things they had always dreamed of trying but never had the opportunity to do.  They loved to work for us because they always felt more energetic at the end of the day afterspending the day working the way we wanted them to work.  They did a fabulous job.   Our secret was to tell them that we expected them to make mistakes but that it was important to try to catch them as soon as possible so that they didn't follow the mistakes too long.   And we paid them by the hour.  The result was that they were far more conscious of the quality of their work.  They also knew that if they did make a mistake, that we weren't going to take it out on their hides.  We made it clear that mistakes were an opportunity to try something new or they were gifts from God that were intended to challenge our craft and creativity.  We were happy to pay them because they met the challenge of making our house a livable space most splendidly.)  When work is effortless, it gives the doer more energy than it requires.  The person who pays for it always feels like they got more than they paid for.

         When something is right the first time, that implies that and nothing else.  It means right the first time.  Not almost right almost the first time.  It means right the first time.  Not OK or passable.  Not flawless.  Not good enough for government work.  Right the first time means right the first time.  When something is right, it fulfills completely the intention behind it.  When it is right the first time, it means that there exists no hesitation, no uncertainty, or deficit to either the conception or the execution.  Right is less a fact than a sensation.  Although the condition is a fact, the sensation of right far outweighs the fact.  Normally, we call this sensation a feeling of right.  Whatever it is, our emotional reactions to it are fulfillment and gratification.  These are the feelings of happiness.

        Nothing creates true feelings of happiness more efficiently than being right or getting something right or doing something right the first time.  Conversely, nothing creates unhappiness more effectively that being wrong or getting something wrong or doing something wrong repeatedly.  To avoid this unhappiness, human beings tend to do only those things which they can do right without having to think too much about it.  This has led to a culture of talent worship in all aspects of human behavior.  The notion of craft has disappeared in favor of mindless facility.  The fact that the actual numbers of individuals who can function with facility in a mindless way is minuscule doesn't seem to bother anybody.  The amazing things is that all this does is create a society of unhappy people.  Those that are worshipped for their talent are afraid of being exposed as frauds because they have no real idea about what they are doing.  And those that do the worshipping are unhappy because they feel left out and cheated.  One of the reasons why people who work with their hands, wholearn a craft, are some of the happiest people in the world is that they have experiences of getting something right the first time on a regular basis.  When craft and the principles that underlie craft are taught to the young, they grow up to be happy productive people.  The craft provides the activity one needs to earn a living.  And the principles that underlie the craft provide the possibility of doing the work so that it is right the first time.  When this level of mastery is achieved, the happiness that ensues is gratifying beyond most mundane experiences.  If one's craft is mental, the happiness tends to be more intense.  If one's craft is spiritual, the happiness is called ecstasy.   Because "right the first time" involves both quickness and easiness, one could lump them all together.  The word used when they are lumped together is mastery.

        Where the values of quick, easy, and right the first time began to degenerate was when they were applied to money making during the Industrial Revolution.  When men began to figure out that ways of earning vast sums of money quickly and easily coincided with the ability to produce things in large quantity using cheap labor, the spiritual values of work that was masterful became dispensable.  As the craftsman made products began to disappear during the 19th century, being replaced by factory made products, the cheaper more poorly made products satisfied the masses and made craftsmen irrelevant. In the later half of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th century this decline was furthered by the labor unions. When the craftsmen all but disappeared in the early 20th century, with them went their entire way of thinking and life. 

       The attempts to resurrect that way of thinking since that time have failed to produce the level of quality of workmanship appropriate to each individual craft.  What passes for quality craftsmanship today is meager compared to what the typical craftsman of the 18th century was capable of. Piano builders, for instance, don't exist today who can build instruments that are both functionally competent and musically competent.  The musical half of that equation is missing.  The typical piano builder of the 1820's in Vienna could produce an instrument that was both.  Even if the musical result was not spectacular, as it was in many instruments, it was more competent than the best of the modern piano factories.  In today's culture, in the Western countries, only a handful of craftsmen exist who can match the work of their predecessors.  And most of them are thought of as kooks. 

        In Japan, the government has recognized the value of their craftsmen and have created a class of "national treasures" who preserve the traditional trades and crafts.  These men and women are one of the world's most valuable repositories for the attitudes that make the craftsman what he is.  It is imperative that their attitudes are studied, recorded, and learned before they pass away completely.  

What has Replaced the Attitudes of Mastery?

        The attitudes that result in mastery and high quality work have been replaced in the modern world by what I call "the specter of self-expression".  On the surface, self-expression is an innocuous reason for doing art or music.  Its innocuousness has given it a grip in the minds of most people such that it has completely taken root—like the tentacles of some alien parasite that makes its home in the interspaces of the brains of their human hosts and lives off creative energy.  Self-expression has come to be equated with every fundamental right of man.  Freedom of speech is self-expression.  Freedom of religion is self-expression.  Every freedom we now take for granted can be reduced to self-expression.  Spiritually, this is a disaster that can only be called apocalyptic. 

       The reason self-expression is so spiritually negative is that no principles, no standards, no values, no morals, no aesthetic communication, no purpose, nothing which speaks to the soul is needed for the result to be generally accepted as worthy of being called good.  This condition might not be so bad except that those who buy into the self-expression game consider any word uttered against their way of thinking to be a violation of their right to self-expression. Not unexpectedly, insanity is indulged. Self-indulgence is glorified—childishness worshipped. Irresponsibility is rewarded.  Having no character is seen as a virtue.  All in the cause of self-expression.  The unfortunate outcome of this way of thinking is that almost everything that people do under the influence of this specter will be trashed after they are dead.  The greater evil of self-expression is that those who advocate it also use up the world's resources in the process.  This means that the resources these people consume to waste on what will be trashed after they are dead will be unavailable for those who have to clean up the mess.

        The only good that the specter of self-expression has brought in its path of destruction is the seeds of its own extinction.  Since the attitude of self-expression nullifies the possibility that those who speak the truth will be exterminated, which they would have been as recently as the 19th century, the ideas of truth can be spread about without fear of extermination just as those of the self-expressionists.  When the adherents to the cause of self-expression finally succumb because of their idiocy,  only the truth will remain.  It is merely a matter of time.  

        At the crux of this aesthetic issue of self-expression is the decision each person must make; that is, to be or not to be irrelevant.  The word relevant means: (from the Latin) to raise, lifting; especially regarding the spirit.  The second meaning is: pertinent.  These definitions are very to the point.  Each decision we make has its opposing decision.  When a person decides to place self-expression first, that person is placing the expression of principles last.  Though the work of such a person may receive acclaim when he or she is still alive, its irrelevancy destines it to the obscurity that all mediocrity deserves.  This is because there is nothing of inherently high quality about the self.  

        Should a person choose to put his or her self-expression at the bottom of a priority list and put expression of principles at the top, it is only a matter of time before that person's work will be taken seriously and given the credit it is due. As the saying goes: The first shall be last and the last first...a saying that fits exactly the meaning of this essay.

LINKS  TO  WEBSITES  

THAT ARE  CONCERNED  WITH  MUSICAL  AESTHETICS  

AND  CRITICISM

Yevgeny Chepovetsky is a young violinist of the first order who is concerned about the mechanization of music making today.  His writing is eloquent and very easy to understand given that he is a native of Riga in Latvia.  Here is the link to his website:

www.yevgenychepovetsky.com