Conductor's Mind Online Guitar Lessons

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Conductor's Mind
by Jamie Andreas

When I was a teenager I spent a lot of time educating myself about music. I used to read a lot of the excellent educational material produced by Leonard Bernstein. I remember reading an essay of his describing the role of the conductor in an orchestra.

He was talking about the fact that a lot of people really did not think the conductor had any use. A lot of the time the musicians are not even looking at him, so what is the use of him standing up there waving his arms around while everybody else does the real work of making the music!

Bernstein then showed a musical score for a symphony, and of course it looked extremely complicated, twenty or so lines of music one on top of the other, all for the different instruments of the orchestra, all written in different clefs. Just looking at it boggled my mind; I was still working hard to be able to read one little line of music for guitar! He then explained that the conductor is responsible for knowing every single note that every single instrument must play, and he must be able to look at that score and actually hear it all in his head!

Further, the conductor must have an overall vision of how all that music is going to sound, and how every one of those notes is going to come together and form a musical whole. How loud, how soft, how slow, how fast, the tone colors, everything must be in his “inner ear”, and then he must bring it out of the musicians, and make sure it is shaped into what he has heard in his inner ear.

The conductor, therefore, is the embodiment of what I call Intention. Intention is the complete knowledge of what you desire, and how to obtain it, and it is also the desire itself. Intention is our inner power to create, and there is no creating, there is no accomplishing of anything, without it. Great artists have this, whether they know they have it or not. Whether it is Andres Segovia, or Jimi Hendrix, there is intense and overwhelming desire to hear on the outside, with the outer ear, the music that is heard inside, in the inner ear. That desire is the fuel that leads to the knowledge and ability necessary to manifest it.

The conductor, like the director of a movie is responsible for being the primary source of those twofold aspects of Intention: the vision, the conception itself of the final result desired, as well as the desire for that result. As the director of a movie has the final responsibility, and is held ultimately accountable for the pictures that end up on the moviescreen, so the conductor has the ultimate responsibility for the sound that is painted in the air.

I remember around that time of my life having an experience which made me realize how weak my Intention was in playing. I was listening to Nicanor Zabaleta play a piece on the harp that I played on guitar. I noticed that I was hearing the bass line in a very clear and distinct way, and I had never really heard it that clearly when I played the piece myself! Then, I realized that this was because I was not bothering to pay enough attention to my own music when I played it, and I did not bother to study the music carefully enough to realize what the bass line actually was!

As I began to correct these weaknesses, I became a better and more musical player right away.

Music is emotion, music does not just express emotion, it is actually the same energy as emotion (e-motion, energy in motion). This energy exists inside of us, and can only be accessed and brought out of us through our own “emotional awareness”, which is often called in today’s popular terminology “Emotional Intelligence”. Our inner emotional energy is able to be brought out of ourselves in the form of music when we intensely feel the desire to hear it. The great Pepe Romero tells us in his method book for guitar that the “desire for the note” is the origin of the actual note we hear. It is combined with two other things to produce each note we hear. It is combined with a mental and physical “feeling awareness” of the finger of each hand that is to be used to play the note. Remember when you hear these words that these are the words of a master player, who is generously trying to enlighten his fellow players as to the inner mindset of a virtuoso. So if it sounds a little strange, do yourself a favor and think about it for the next twenty years.

This desire that Pepe talks about is what you see on the face of a Santana, a Hendrix, a B.B. King, a Julian Bream, etc. It is a powerful emotional and mental concentration, combined with a complete mental and physical awareness of what we desire, and what needs to be done to get what we desire.

I call this state of complete awareness “Conductors Mind”. Like a conductor in front of an orchestra we must have this complete awareness when we play. If we are playing a composed piece of music (as opposed to improvising), we must really know every note that is to be played, and we must emotionally desire that note before it is played. It must be born in our inner ear before it comes through our fingers or pick. (This is why one of the things on my list of “10 things you can do right now to become a better player is to imagine each finger as a player in a band. It helps to strengthen your Conductors Mind). We must hear, really hear, everything, before it is played, and while it is played. We must be completely one with the process of creating the music, and the music as it is created, just as is the Conductor standing in front of an orchestra.

We must be able to sing what we are going to play. If you can’t sing it, you are not hearing it with your inner ear. The great prodigy of the piano Glen Gould always sang when he played, and you can hear him in his recordings over the Bach fugue he’s playing! George Benson is famous for it, and is a good example of Conductors Mind at work in an improvised style.

If you are a player of an improvised style, rock, jazz, blues, you must have a complete awareness of your own inner musical reality, and also how you fit in with the larger context of your fellow players. The more the guitarist understands the role of the bass player the better guitarist he or she will be. The more the guitarist understands what the drummer is doing, and why, the more powerful a contributor to the overall sound and musical creation they will be. While playing, the guitarist must be completely one with the music being created by his fellow players, hearing and feeling everything as strongly as his own contribution, standing inside and outside at the same time, just as is the Conductor standing in front of an orchestra.

Andres Segovia once said “don’t work to become guitarists, work to become musicians”. Of course, we must work to become both, but he was trying to make a point about the supremacy of the one over the other. Our true worth and ability as a guitarist depends upon how much of a total musician we are. In this sense, every player of an instrument should consider themselves in essence a Conductor, whose awareness operates on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels as the overseer and center of Intention for the music being created.

Copyright 2002 by Jamie Andreas. All Rights Reserved.


Back to Power Practicing main page - A site aimed at showing players how to reach their next level of playing ability, no matter what level they are currently at. This is done by teaching how to practice to get results, by using the principles of correct practice for guitar. It is also the perfect start for beginners, because it shows how to begin learning the guitar without getting all of the usual bad habits.

Other lessons and articles by Jamie

Why Are So Many Guitarists Masochists? - Discover Your Discomfort!
Changing Chords - Having a little trouble with those "easy" chords?
The Secret of Speed: Finding the Incredible Lightness
What Should I Practice?
Your growth as a guitarist: vertical or horizontal?
Your Hand is Your Band: The Importance of Fingering
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Teaching By Travel Brochure
Natural Talent
On Memorizing - Part One
On Memorizing - Part Two
Changing Bad Habits - Part One
Changing Bad Habits - Part Two
Aggressive Practicing
Thinking: What A Concept!
Conductor's Mind
Stage Fright Part 1
Stage Fright Part 2
Stage Fright Part 3
Teachers Lounge
Becoming a guitar teacher
Lost In Time
Climb Every Mountain
Making it
Becoming the music
Scales, who needs them? Why and What For, Anyway?!
Pulling Up The Slack: Mining Your Potential
Can I Teach Guitar?
Bricks & Mortar
The Inner Master
The Alone Place
The Meaning of Life
My personal work habits
How to nail a solo
Removing The Barriers To Musical Expression
AC/DC - Back in Black
Metallica's "One"
What Is Real Practice On Guitar?
The Learning Curve of Various Styles of Guitar

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