Author: Campbell, Bruce

Use Your Head (or something else?)

On occasion, I pause to ponder the miracles of the human brain. We equate brain power with intelligence, and intelligence with the ability to make one’s way in the world, and solve the challenges that present themselves along the way. That’s certainly important, but the brain shows power in other surprising ways.

We’ve all hear of musical savants, people who may be profoundly challenged in some areas, but can instantly recall musical pieces heard only once, and play instruments without any training. These people aren’t “smart” in the conventional sense, but they have amazing brains.

It seems to be the case that the parts of our brains that facilitate the creative arts are utterly separate from the parts that handle reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. Rememberhow Mel Tillis stuttered when he spoke, but sang wonderfully? Both actions are vocalizations of a language, but apparently the parts of the brain that initiate these actions are different, or perhaps the mechanisms.

I think for most us, learning to play an instrument, or learning to sing, begins with the “smart” part of the brain. We memorize theory, scales, chord and lyrics, and try to apply that knowledge to create art. And at first, in a lot of cases, what emerges is something short of art. Melodies played haltingly, clumsily and mechanically. It’s thrilling though, I can tell you that.

As we get more practice under our belts, we’re able to shift some of the mechanics of music away from the “smart” brain and more towards the creative side, and then the music really begins to be more expressive and rewarding. With muscle memory handling the physical movements, we are free to apply emotion and true creativity to the endeavor, and it gets even more thrilling. This is the feeling akin to an addictive drug. Once you’ve bypassed the “thinking” part of your brain and played straight from the heart – if only for a few seconds – you’ll want to recapture that feeling.

Alas, sometimes it’s difficult. Unless you’re significantly gifted, access to that magical musical part of your brain can be elusive. It’s like some sort of high level of meditation. If your mind’s in the right place, and you’re with the right people, and several other obscure factors, you can increase the likelihood of going to that special place.

I think this is a big part of the appeal of jamming with friends. For us amateurs, we don’t need (and probably couldn’t tolerate) the pressure of playing music at a super high level day after day – especially for demanding audiences and promoters and record companies. I admire the folks who can do this – I honestly wish I was one of them. But, picking and singing with friends is a reliable way to get those endorphins flowing.

Plunk me down with those friends around a Coleman lantern outdoors on a nice spring night, with an adult beverage or two and it’s a near sure thing. And even on nights when I can’t quite soar with the eagles, some folks in our circle will, and the look on their faces will make it all worthwhile!

Spring arrives tomorrow, and soon, the CBA Spring Campout!

Posted:  3/20/2013

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