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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I used to play a lot of racquet sports and very occasionally got in the 'zone'. Most sportsmen/women will know this feeling.... Everything is easy, your timing is spot on and there seems to be no real thought, it's all natural. It's purely a mental thing where you mind is tuned into the game. I'm sure top stars can manufacture this whilst us mere mortals have to trust to luck when it happens.

Well, tonight for the very first time, I was in the 'Zone' practicing on sax. It's never happened before and was strange. I was able to sight read much quicker, scales were relatively effortless and my timing was much better. Oh to be able to capture this on demand.... :D

For you experienced players out there.... Is this normal? Can you manufacture this or is it just luck when your mind happens to be totally switched on to your playing???
 

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I'm no experienced player but "well done Alistair" that feeling is a great one!
 

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According to a wise man:

Before enlightenment:

A flower is a flower.
A river is a river.

At enlightenment;

A flower is no longer a flower.
A river is no longer a river.

After enlightenment:

A flower is a flower.
A river is a river.
 

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Hi AlistairD:

Re "The Zone", I've had the opportunity to do quite a bit of research in this area, and also have experienced this wonderful state of mind and being on quite a number of occasions, including while playing the sax.

Sonny Rollins said that it seemed as if he had stepped out of his body and watched himself play as the music flowed. I completely agree. However, I also should note that the experience of "The Zone" can vary in both intensity and duration.

It isn't possible to "manufacture" the experience; the conscious act of trying to make it occur, in itself can be an obstacle.

However, there are a group of techniques that can increase the likelihood of it occurring. Although these short articles don't deal with "The Zone" directly, they do review a number of the core techniques.
http://www.saxontheweb.net/Resources/Performing-NSharpe1.html

We are currently developing a website that will provide a comprehensive, practical, step by step program. The site will be free; I'll post a notice on SOTW when the website is ready.

Here are four quotes that lend both insight and guidance.

Truly to understand the self,
Is to forget the self,
And to forget the self,
Is to be enlightened by all things.

Dogen Zenji​

There surely is nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A person’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment. If one fully understands the present moment, there is nothing else to do and nothing else to pursue.
Yamamoto Tsenetomo
Hagakure- Book of the Samurai

When walking, just walk.
When sitting, just sit.
Above all, don’t wobble.

(attributed to various authors, including Lin Chi, Lao Tzu, and Yun-men)​


By letting go
Of what you want,
You find
What is true in you.
Then, nothing is impossible,
Nothing can stop you.
Because through you and from you,
All flows.

Tao Te Ching
 

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Unconscious incompetence
Conscious incompetence
Conscious competence
Unconscious competence
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thanks guys, some great thoughts here....

Neil,

I'll watch out with interest for your site...
 

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Here's one of my favourite bits of Zen wisdom. It's a piece of advice by a master swordsman to one of of his students, but I'm sure you'll see how easily it could be about anything, including playing the sax ...

If you direct your mind toward the bodily movements of your opponent, your mind will be taken by the bodily movements of your opponent.
If you direct your mind toward your opponent's sword, it will be taken by the sword.
If you direct your mind toward trying to strike your opponent, it will be taken by waiting to strike.
If you direct your mind toward your own sword, it will be taken by your sword.
If you direct your mind toward not being struck, it will be taken by the desire not to be struck.
If you direct your mind toward your opponent's attitude, it will be taken by his attitude.
In short, there is nowhere to direct your mind.
 

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You may find that Kenny Werner's book "Effortless Mastery" helps you progress along this path in your playing. The idea, I think, is to reach a state where it feels like "the music is playing you" rather than the reverse. It sounds weird and hippyish but in fact there's a lot in this way of thinking, based, perhaps, on a more "Eastern" spiritual outlook. My observation has been that some players reach "the zone" very naturally. They probably think there is no other way to play. Most of us have to work at it, I reckon.
 

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AlistairD,
I've read Kenny Werner's book "Effortless Mastery" and am now reading "The Inner Game of Music" by Barry Green. Found both to be valuable. So far Barry Green's book seems more on a practical bent and I'm looking forward to putting his advice to practice. If you haven't heard this book is based on "The Inner Game of Tennis" by W. Timothy Gallwey.

-Todd
 

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I once played, by sort of a sideways invitation, with some guys I had no business playing with at a club known for not tolerating fools gladly. At one point I felt that outside the body thing, I was listening to what I was playing and it was if someone else was moving my fingers. After a set and a half I figured I'd better quit while I was ahead. I have never figured it out.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
ToddMartin said:
AlistairD,
I've read Kenny Werner's book "Effortless Mastery" and am now reading "The Inner Game of Music" by Barry Green. Found both to be valuable. So far Barry Green's book seems more on a practical bent and I'm looking forward to putting his advice to practice. If you haven't heard this book is based on "The Inner Game of Tennis" by W. Timothy Gallwey.

-Todd
Todd,

I've read the Inner Game of Tennis so I'll try the Inner Game of Music..

Thanks for the advice
 

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I have read the book, "Inner Golf" by Galwey. There are times when playing golf that I do get in the zone. I find in retrospect that when I have been in the zone; that my body is competley void of tension. My mind is unaware of anything but my target, there are no negative thoughts. I do not begin my backswing, it just happens, with the rest of the actions flowing with out thought of positions, pace or posture. It is magical. I cannot capture it by will. Only by letting go.
I have only had this experience one time in music, actually on just one song, but then I have played and practiced golf far longer than I have music. The knowledge of the zone is what keeps me practicing and playing the sax. I believe it will come in time, and with increasing occurance.
 

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I have found a number of analogies between golf and playing the sax, being "in the zone" is definitely one of them.

In golf you get in the zone when your thought process is focused only on the target, and envisioning the shot you want to hit. No thoughts of mechanics, potential problems etc.

I'm sure it's the same with sax. No thoughts of the chords, technique, sound etc. Just hearing the music you want to play.

In both instances, it's practice that gets you to the point where you can stop focusing on mechanics and just let it happen.
 

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One of the things that's often said about Wayne Gretzky is that, when he's in his "zone," he actually perceives the world at high speed, so that, in effect, from his perspective everything around him has slowed down and from ours he seems able to react and do things impossibly quickly and effortlessly.

I'm often reminded of this theory when I hear Charlie Parker: he's not just in his "zone," he's in another "time zone." Cool.

Rory
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 · (Edited)
rleitch said:
One of the things that's often said about Wayne Gretzky is that, when he's in his "zone," he actually perceives the world at high speed, so that, in effect, from his perspective everything around him has slowed down and from ours he seems able to react and do things impossibly quickly and effortlessly.
Rory,

Occasionally when playing Badminton, I used to get the exact same feeling... everything seemed to slow down. Unfortunately it was only on very odd occasions.

Anyway, practiced again this afternoon and everything is back to normal..... At least I can aspire to the "Zone" again one day...
 

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The Zone can vary significantly in terms of intensity and duration. In leading scientific journals, prominent researchers, such as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (http://www.cgu.edu/pages/1871.asp), have identified characteristics typical of the full experience:

· The feeling that the mind and body are perfectly integrated.
· Mental concentration is 100% on the activity at hand with no thought given to success or failure, self-evaluation, or to other competitors.
· Time seems to slow, sometimes to the point where everything seems to move in slow motion.
· Every movement is seamless, effortless, flawless, and flowing.
· “Spectacular” levels of performance can be attained.
· Feelings of “total mastery”, “a sense of invincibility”, “transcendent”.
· The experience is “perfect, complete…reacted to with wonder, amazement…and even reverence, exaltation.”​

Everyone has the capacity to experience The Zone.

What’s blocking the way?

Imagine a circle. This represents “The Zone”, when one is performing at 100 percent.

Distractions such as worry, nerves, and self-consciousness, can cut away “slices” of the circle to the point that we may be performing at a fraction of our potential.

Attitudes and values can have an equal impact.

Ken Fornetran, whose last CD won a Downbeat award as one of the best of the year in 2005, discussed this in an interview (I’ve cited this elsewhere, but it’s especially relevant to this discussion).

"I used to get all worked up. I felt like I had to come up with the perfect song, the perfect set, and would get upset if there were mistakes. If you get stressed out, it's going to affect the music. Worry turns you inward, cuts you off. We begin to have issues about getting up in front of people and playing. We can begin to get nervous about it, to constantly worry. I used to have those kinds of anxiety issues. But, I’ve learned to just let things happen. It's not going to hurt you if you make mistakes. And even if you do fall on your face performing, it's not going to physically hurt. That's how we learn. We need to understand and accept that for some nights and for some sessions something can go wrong and will go wrong. It's the same for every musician, no matter how talented."

"We're a lot better off going in relaxed and letting things happen. When you do this, the music will come to you…You can try something and it may not work, but that doesn't mean it isn't good music and people won't like it. I used to think that if I made a mistake, the entire set was messed up and horrible. But, if you really break it down to the first song, then the second, and so on, some will be good, some less so, and you suddenly realize that out of two hours, maybe only 5% wasn't that good. But that 5% shouldn't be the only part that you remember and therefore make you feel bad about your playing. The memories of that negative emotion can carry over to the next gig, and after a while you're in trouble."

"People are going to listen to what they want to listen to, and even if there was a part that wasn't that good, they will fly past that with their memories and remember more of an overall feeling for performance. The more you focus on yourself and worry that you'll make mistakes, you won't be positive and that's what the audience will leave with; not that you played bad, but you weren't positive and confident about your music."
http://www.saxontheweb.net/Jazz/KenFornetran1.html

We need to understand that no one is perfect. Mistakes and setbacks are a normal part of the performing processes for even the most talented and experienced. Mistakes provide valuable feedback and are opportunities for future improvement. For example, professional comedian Chris Rock says that he “routinely bombs” but that’s the nature of the creative process; it’s how he eventually finds out what works and what doesn’t; how he refines his timing and technique. It takes a whole series of mistakes to achieve something great.

K. Anders Ericsson, http://www.psy.fsu.edu/faculty/ericsson.dp.html. a prominent authority in this area, states that “Deliberate, focused practice” is a key component. This means working on a technique, seeking constant critical feedback, and focusing on improving those areas that require improvement. “Feedback” includes having a positive attitude that allows you to objectively evaluate your performance and then apply that feedback in your practice.

We may feel an expectation to be good right from the beginning. It doesn’t work that way. We get into trouble when we expect too much too soon. Allow yourself the time and patience necessary to acquire knowledge and experience.

Judging your performance with terms like “good” and “bad” accomplishes nothing. Those are emotions (e.g. disappointment, frustration, self-criticism) taking control. We can get caught up in focusing more on what we’ve done “wrong” rather than on the activity at hand, eventually leading to a self-defeating mindset.

Mistakes and setbacks help us to become familiar with these types of negative thoughts and emotions and to learn how to manage these distractions. Becoming aware of how one’s nerves and emotions respond to pressure and stress, is the first step towards learning how to manage them. In short, says psychologist Kimberley Amirault, it’s about “learning how to be comfortable while uncomfortable”.

How do we go about this? The website we’re working on this summer will provide a practical, step by step program. In the interim, here are a couple of good places to start.

http://www.saxontheweb.net/Resources...-NSharpe1.html

And from the great jazz saxophonist, Mel Martin:

“I practice a simple form of meditation for twenty minutes, once a day, usually in the morning. It has nothing to do with religion, purchasing a mantra or following a guru…The first ten minutes is for concentration. It could be on whatever I'm listening to...my breathing or an upcoming performance. Being a very goal oriented person, I find that I might do the latter for a week or more prior to my performance using the technique of positive visualization.

The second ten minutes are spent … allowing my mind to think whatever thoughts come up. As they emerge, I acknowledge them and then attempt to bring back the basic focus of my concentration of the first half…

If you are readying yourself for performance, this will help you to maintain your focus so that when you hit the stage, you can be totally relaxed and confident. During the meditations…you can mentally rehearse the music you are going to perform. Then, before you go onstage, you can clear your mind of any clutter and all of the mental work you have done will pay off because you have embedded it on the subconscious level…

You will be surprised at how liberating this can be. “
http://www.melmartin.com/html_pages/Articles/zen.html


No paradise of the East,
No paradise of the West-
Seek along the way you have come.
They are all within you.

Haiku
R.H. Blyth (Trans.)​
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Neil,

Thanks, a great post...
 

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Kenny Werner's Effortless Mastery is pretty good.

I just read the "Inner Game" and it seems more directed at a classical musician than a jazz musician, but it wasn't too bad.

"Free Play" by Stephen Nachmanovich has not been mentioned, and it is very good.

But for me, the best works on this subject are by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Check out "Flow" and "Creativity." Awesome books by a leading psychologist.

"Zen and the Art of Archery" by Eugen Herrigel is another good read.

On related subjects, "Music, the Brain, and Ecstacy" by Robert Jourdain was highly enlightening.

If you were going to read just one of these, I would recommend "Creativity." Get it. It's awesome.
 

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Jon B. Bop said:
it's practice that gets you to the point where you can stop focusing on mechanics and just let it happen.
Practice is a mysterious thing isn't it? They say the only way to eat an elephant is to take small bites. I find that taking daily little bites of practice doesn't just add up serially -- every once in a while I'll make a breakthrough without even thinking about it. I'll wonder "Where did that come from? Was that really me who just played that!?" It's moments like that which make it all worthwhile. But then the next day I might sound like dog poop. I tell myself the barometric pressure wasn't right that day and don't let it bother me.

Is it true that barometric pressure can affect your horn?

Don't answer that.
 

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Mickey Hart,Grateful Dead drummer, wrote a book titled DRUMMING AT THE EDGE OF MAGIC. In it he relates a ritual that he and his band members do just before playing.That is they get close and in quiet union predispose their miinds,being ,will,energy to look for the magic to almost as if in the course of performance opportunity will arise in playing their usual songs to connect and flow in a profound way because as a band you are all looking for it and have made yourselves ready to take it where it may go
Mickey made it sound like more than just musicians extrapolating but rather a mutual spiritual band focus they would ride through their material looking for those moments brought about by their receptivity to one another.
These musicians have toured extensively for years and when I read this it really is the heart and soul of being in a band with a group of guys on a search for meaning not just playing a bunch of songs as individuals,hoping for the night to end.
 
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