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When you're playing a tune (mainly improvising) are you constantly thinking and focused on what you are doing/going to be doing? Do you just listen to yourself and others? How hard are you working mentally?
 

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I try not to think about the changes, because I find that if I am thinking about the changes too much, the solo just plain sucks. There is no emotion in it, and I don't like that!

However, I do think about chord progressions, and what would sound good over what the rhythm section is playing.
 

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I try to think mostly about what the other guys are playing.

Otherwise, I'm pretty much in a coma.
 

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I never stop thinking, its one of my problems. It is the one thing that holds me back. So basically.. I think too much.. and I play "square" as some would describe it when I am trying to improv. I can't seem to find the Off switch that people talk about. I can play emotionally if I have played it enough before that it doesn't require intense thought... or if I am given directions.. but improv is something different.. I want to be able to do it more than anything.. but its the one thing that my brain holds me back from.
one day.
: )
 

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If you're up for some interesting reading on the subject, try: "Thinking in Jazz. The infinite art of improvisation." by Paul F. Berliner
Published by the University of Chicago Press.
883 pages.

Great reading, full of musical examples and insights from the pros. Covers the whole gamut, from getting your vocabulary together, to the group dynamic and more.
A great read for those 12 hour graveyard shifts.
 

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I am focused, but thinking has little to do with it. Thinking tends to get in my way.
 

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I just listen, usually their is some pratice time with the band, when we play the songs, so I just listen to them during the pratices. Play different stuff during the pratice sessions, and play different things during the pratice. When the preformance comes, I play a variation of all the stuff during pratice. It makes an interesting solo, but their is plenty of emotion, because it usually comes from the hear when I play it. That or I am trying to show off.
 

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I think it depends on the style of music. With improv, I more go off on my own wims and let the music float out of me. If I'm playing classical, my mind is finely sharpened and focused on the most minute possible details.
 

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For me, there is something I need to do while improvising, but I would not call it thinking.

The best way I can describe it is that I am straddling a doorway, trying to keep one foot in each of two different rooms. In one room, I am trying to let myself freely conceive what I want to play. In the other room, I am trying to listen to (and react to) what actually comes out of my horn (which is not always what I thought I asked it to play) plus what everyone else is playing.

I find that bad solos occur when I am not listening to what actually comes out of my horn, and not incorporating that into my conception of what to play next.

Anyway, this is the process I need to deal with *my* playing, and others might need to do different things for themselves, so you could get a hundred different answers to your question.
 

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harmonizerNJ said:
For me, there is something I need to do while improvising, but I would not call it thinking.

The best way I can describe it is that I am straddling a doorway, trying to keep one foot in each of two different rooms. In one room, I am trying to let myself freely conceive what I want to play. In the other room, I am trying to listen to (and react to) what actually comes out of my horn (which is not always what I thought I asked it to play) plus what everyone else is playing.

I find that bad solos occur when I am not listening to what actually comes out of my horn, and not incorporating that into my conception of what to play next...
That is more or less how I approach it, too. The clarity of the idea is the most important, and if I can pay attention, mistakes are relative. Even if I goof technically on an idea, I just keep going. I respond to it, add to it, play something that the pianist or bass player played... so that it is complete and no longer a "mistake". Human beings are not perfect, so in that regard, there should be mistakes. Not in the intentional sense, but you get what I mean. ;)
 

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Well, I'm right with BlueNote and harmonizerNJ; here's my take on it.
I think there is a very specialized kind of thinking that you're engaged in when playing music, especially improvising.
If I'm reading a chart playing, in a section, I'm doing what I'd call "objective" thinking musically. Very important to keep up with the measure count and all the details of the chart. It requires a keenly visual focus.
If I'm improvising, very often I'm playing with my eyes closed. As I experience it, it's a much more subjective activity. I am very aware and focused, but it's certainly not the sort of thinking that would balance my check book. Which I suck at anyway.
I'm thinking thematically, "pre-hearing" slightly, my next phrase while I listen to the changing musical environment. Bit of a tight-rope, I guess, but lot's of fun.
 

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When improvising, usually I try to think about everything that I play. Really every note, every effect, and everything else I analyze a lot. I don't play "regular" jazz with changes, etc. but only improvised music. I think a lot to make sure what I improvise always has logic in its continuety and connection with everything else like the melody (if there is one) or ideas (whether they are improvised or not). Sometimes I stop thinking and some moments come out intuitively. Interestingly, others who listened to me thought I was playing completely intuitively without thinking and analyzing at all, very emotional as opposed to analytical. I think it doesn't matter what is going on in your head, etc. What matters is only how it actually sounds.
 

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I probably over-think when I solo because I am just an analytical type of person. But usually I try to think of a simple motif and work it as long as I can create some continuity. Then I try to think of another and so on and so on.
 

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i think the best playing comes when we don't think...at least not on a conscious level. When we can get into that Alpha zone and you let your subconscious do the work. That is why practice is so important..so that we have all the tools and know them so well that our subconscious can find them whenever they are wanted.
 

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Interesting thread. Thank you. I find I DO think when playing but not all the time and in a rather specialised way. I seem to have "flashes" of thought which relate to the music i am playing or about to play. eg the lyrics at a certain point of a chorus might flash through my head or i might lightly critique a passage i've just played (eg "try different pattern") - it's actually rather difficult to describe because the thoughts aren't "fully formed". As long as it's focused on the music and the music feels like it continues to flow I think this might help rather than hinder my playing. Other times i'm just listening and, like hak said, in a kind of "coma". There is another kind of thought which i find is ALWAYS unhelpful and is something like "oh, that was crap" or "I wonder if I should stop playing, it's getting late" etc etc.. Negative thoughts or thoughts not related to the music can't help, can they?
 

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This is a really complicated question, obvious when you look at the responses so far. Of course I'm thinking when I practice. But in performance my goal is to not be thinking but to more experience what is happening, much the same way you would in the audience. The difference is that I'm experiencing a second ahead of what I'm hearing. This may sound weird, but it is the only way a can describe what happens when you get to that place that so many great musicians have talked about. Not that it happens to me all that often, most of the time I'm trying so hard to get there that it doesn't happen. If what I'm talking about makes any sense and you'd be interesting in fining more out, check out Kenny Werner's book "Effortless Mastery". It's a very zen approach to music and talks a lot about how the ego is really what holds creativity back and not the mind. It also guides you through some meditation exercises that can really help you get the most out of your practice.
 

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I do think, but with a different part of my brain. I notice it best when I am tired or unfocused for another reason : my playing goes to hell. But if I think with the wrong part of my brain, the one I use to analyze procedures etc, I'm too slow in anticipating and it all flattens out.

Don't ask me which part of my brain though, I'm not aware where I put it :D
 
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