Author: Campbell, Bruce

Tap Into the Mystic

Earlier this week, I posted on my Facebook profile that I ‘felt like a musician”. It’s a great feeling, and chasing it takes up a lot of my time. I know a lot of you know this feeling – I’ve seen it on the faces of jammers hundreds of times. It’s not just having fun playing, although that’s nice, too.It doesn’t necessarily mean playing flawlessly – being careful (or lucky) has nothing to do with this.

It’s that feeling when you’re playing music, and you stop thinking about it. The process moves from the conscious brain to a more primitive, unconscious side. Suddenly, you’re not worried about what key the song is in, or what chord is next, or what your vocal part will be. You don’t need to worry about it, because you just KNOW, for some reason. The music flows directly from your heart to your fingers, in the most natural way possible – it’s magic.

But it’s a fleeting feeling. I used to be fooled by it. “Oh!”, I would say to myself. “Now I finally get how to play music right!” But then something happens. The next time I’d go to play, and tap into my newfound ethereal gifts , they just weren’t there. Several of my fingers will have grown fat and sluggish, my dulcet vocal tones go froggy,my sense of rhythm goes fractal, and my effortless command of pitch becomes anything but. Did I just imagine my previous state of musical grace?

Sometimes, it is just that simple. Ever have a jam session you thought was absolutely epic, one for the ages, and then someone comes up with a recording of it. In inky dark of night, at a late, sodden hour, you all felt you were making the most joyous noise this side of the pearly gates, but then you hear it the next day and it’s much more like a bunch of feral cats on a fence. Sometimes, the moment is the thing, and shedding the light of truth on it later on does nobody any good.

Other times, though, you really had something going on. Even hearing it later, you get goosebumps and say “Was that me?”

I used to figure that professional musicians are always in the effortless zone, but over the years, I have learned that they feel they have “on” days and “off” days, too. It’s just that their “off” days are lightyears better than my best “on” days. I suspect they do have a better ratio of on to off than us mere mortals too – that’s why they’re professionals.

I think we can all agree that practice and attention to craft will help you be poised to plug into the mystic a bit more often, even if hooking into that zone generally means paying no conscious attention to mechanical details at that moment of transition. Oh – that moment of transition! In an instant, you go from “My fingers go here, and my voice goes here” to “The music goes like this”.

If you play music, and haven’t felt this feeling, stick with it. You’ll get there, and I hope I’m in the jam circle with you when it happens so I can see the look on your face!

Posted:  3/9/2011

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