About interpretation

Many non-musicians, and even some music students, have the idea that the learning of a musical piece happens something like this:

First, we decode the notes in an exact way (there is only one option)

Then we encode this in our motor skills. Our body is considered an empty shell which we fill up with the exact understanding of the notation of the musical piece.

Finally, we can choose an interpretation freely and without constraints, which will be both our conscious and personal choice of exactly how to play this piece.

However, as my videos show, many of these choices occur throughout the course of the practice process, already from the first encounter with the piece. There is a complex interaction between my motor skills, my understanding of the work through the notes, my embedded experience as a musician, and the auditory feedback that, in some kind of intuitive leap, introduces new elements in my performance of the work. In the videos, they often occur in connection with strategy changes.

I actually think that this is an interesting revelation of some kind of “creativity atom”: From the outside, it seems that “I get an idea” – but the “I” is not clear here. “The idea comes to me” is probably more adequate. That this does not necessarily lead to spirituality or some other kind of otherworldliness, is in agreement with a lot of recent theories about how our cognition works. It is a basic fact about our motor actions, that the process begins in our brain, before we are conscious about actually “deciding” the action. This is anxiety provoking, as we are accustomed to the illusion that we are always aware – and in control – of all our actions. (See About free will)

Hence, the idea of interpretation as a conscious choice, that I am always free to take, is probably wrong. Our understanding of the work is constantly evolving during our practice process, and the optimal process allows our embedded knowledge and unconscious control to be part of it. Instead of trying to make clear and conscious choices, we must let go of taking charge in order to gain a higher degree of understanding – and thereby a higher degree of control. (See About the control paradox)

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