About the control paradox

In my project, I gradually became better to open myself up to the strategy changes that often occur beyond my immediate consciousness. These shifts are not perceived as a conscious management of details, but as the underlying nudging of a natural process. Here the focus is on being in the “listening” body as well: the more I am able to experience the music from the outside, the better I am able to fully assess – on the conscious or unconscious level – the quality and my ability to communicate the musical content in a continuous way. I became better to produce attention shifts that helped me to achieve a result as quickly as possible that could be as convincing and satisfactory as possible. When I succeeded, my rate of learning increased quite dramatically, which in itself is positive. (See About reaching for your full potential)

As classical musicians we are often met by a paradox when learning a musical piece: We have to control all the details to achieve the strongest communication of the piece. But at the same time, we need to let go of the control of details to achieve a strong and overall coherent expression. It’s not an uncommon experience: For example, to read a story loud in a convincing manner, we can’t focus on each syllable but must focus on meaning, content and feelings. The focus has to be on the goal of our actions.

A related example is this: If we as adults are to learn a new language, first all the elements are being consciously apprehended; We learn the grammar and syntax and gradually build up a vocabulary. Children go about it completely differently, they imitate, try out, play with the language and see what works. As adults, it takes a very long time to reach an “integrated feeling” of a new language, while children probably can’t avoid this at all. Consequently, also in this area, it seems to be a better strategy, as children can learn language at a speed that is much above the level of adults. (See About being at several places at the same time)

There is a matter of part and whole at stake here. The previously mentioned central paradox in the acquisition of complex musical works may also be formulated: Control of the whole requires control over the detail, but the understanding of how to perform the details requires understanding of the whole.

By being very aware of where the attention is at a given time – “inside” or “outside” – and being very open to the fact that the management of the overall process often takes place just behind my immediate consciousness, I think that my project has shown some promising ways out of this paradox.

A key realization is that I can, to great effect, very early in the process shift the focus from detail control towards motor or musical elements of an overall character. It could be a free and relaxed feeling in arms and shoulders, an experience of overall phrases, or listening for harmonic progressions. The consequence of shifting perspective at the right time is that I sometimes can skip more detail-oriented stages in the process. (See About strategy changes).

I have clearly had a tendency to wait too long to introduce an overall perspective – I’ve probably expected it to emerge by itself. But on the other hand, I have not had enough knowledge of how my practice actually was able to identify this part-whole question.

Occasionally I have had an immediate sense of “loss of control” when I changed strategies towards an overall perspective early in my practice processes. But I think I’ve started to accept it more easily, as I have a lot of experience now that the detail control is getting even better. This is the paradox again: Freedom presupposes control that requires freedom.

There is probably also a means/ends-axis appearing here. The shift from part to whole often happens when I change the focus from the execution of my action to my aesthetically-based perception of the consequences of my action. (See About tickling yourself)

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