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Oct 07

Losing yourself in what you are playing

Losing yourself in what you are playing

 

There comes a moment in all musicians’ lives where you just get lost in the moment. Losing yourself in what you are playing is one of the most pleasurable experiences that can happen to a musician. I often catch myself wondering how my hands are doing what they are doing whilst I am singing. It must be natural, I didn’t consciously try to play that accompaniment.

A grand little Grand

A grand little Grand

I play mostly 2-3 hour gigs in clubs, public squares and restaurants as well as hotels. I have always played from memory having learned a song first and I try to never play or copy the exact notes of the recorded version of the song I am playing, I always vary it a bit depending on how I am feeling. I NEVER play solos verbatim, that’s someone else’s solo, I would have played this. If you want the original notes as they were in the recording, go listen to the original. I want to play my version of the song, that’s what’s on offer, not a faithful reproduction.

There are certain “later-in-the-evening” type songs that I play totally live, just solo piano and voice and these are the ones I get lost in. There must be some sort of cerebral sphincter, a kind of shut-off valve that prevents the piano-playing part of the brain from confusing the singing part and vice-versa. And I think the perfect place for the subconscious part of my brain to be is at the heart of that split point. It normally happens soon after you start, very rarely before. Your brain listens to the intro and then, as you start to sing and get in the groove, plop – what follows is kind of hard to explain.

View from my head

View from my head

It’s neither playing the piano or singing. That’s happening by instinct. Defences are down and the outside world beyond the song is a blur. It feels like the music and words have fused together and that you are being taken along on a wave, cushioned by the harmonics, floating on the reverberation. And as quickly as it started it ends as you near the end of the song. It’s like your subconscious pulled a parachute cord and you flail out of the current you were riding in and fall back into control and on to end the song; the landing.  It really is a most enjoyable experience, highly recommended. I have found the key to finding it is that you must know the piece REALLY well. This goes without saying, you need to be able to do it blind-fold. You certainly won’t be looking at your fingers while you are in the zone, in fact chances are your eyes will be closed for most of the song.

Experience has taught me that the gig needs to be also going well. I don’t think this has ever happened to me with a rowdy crowd in the audience, but an experience something similar takes place when the audience are really involved and the whole gig shoots by in what seems a micro second. It’s not as intense as you are constantly changing feel and tempo with each song change but it’s definitely another kind of wave that you are riding.

View up from the keyboard

View up from the keyboard

The crux of it is this, I go to my gigs hoping that this will happen, therefore it’s a motivating factor and the reasons I still play after over 40 years of staring down at that keyboard day after day. It’s playing for pleasure. It’s my hobby, my job and my high. Lucky boy!

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