Updated: Aug 22, 2019
In the first post of this series I defined two ways of thinking/perception that roughly correspond to the commonly understood left-brain/right brain distinction. I call them L-Mode and R-Mode:
L-Mode: L-mode is linear, sequential and cannot multitask. It goes from A to B to C in order. It cannot perceive patterns; pattern recognition is R-mode. It is concerned with naming and defining things. It understands things in a literal, concrete sense.
R-Mode: R-mode is parallel processing. It is visceral, that is, emotional. It is intuitive and holistic; it can recognize patterns...It is associative and delights in discerning relationships between things. As such, it understands things in terms of symbolism and analogy. It is not aware of time. It is visual. It is experiential, not abstract. It doesn't care about names, definitions, chronology or the order of things.
I said, "Integration is the goal!"
The 2nd post of this series talked about the integration of L-Mode and R-Mode and how, when playing, L-Mode is sublimated and R-Mode is dominant. I described, as best I could, how I experience that.
By far the most common malady I see in students is L-Mode dominance with an inability to cognitive-shift at will into R-Mode.
This happens because everything about our culture and education systems reinforces and rewards L-Mode. R-Mode is ignored and therefore is not nurtured and developed.
L-Mode intensive occupations are held up as the ideal; computer science, medicine, engineering etc. Of course, there is an "art" to even the most L-Mode of occupations but those who "got it" are considered "talented." R-Mode-intensive occupations; art, music, acting etc., are generally low-paying if even that. Many are subsidized. The rare R-Mode-type individuals who become extremely successful usually have L-Mode-types taking care of business; accountants, lawyers, managers. The professional musician who is horrible at business is so common it's a cliché.
Keep in mind that any method that claims to facilitate R-Mode is a METHOD - and therefore, by definition, L-Mode.
Ultimately, each person has to figure it out for himself. All good musicians do it; very few can tell you what they're doing. It's intuitive; they just do it.
However (big surprise!) I have a few thoughts on the issue.
First I'll talk about the various stages I went through over the years on this issue and also some things I suggest to students to try and facilitate the cognitive shift to R-Mode.
The anecdotes from my early years are all viewed in hindsight from my current understanding. At the time, I wouldn't have used the same language or conceptual framework for the issues. I just floundered around, usually out of control, until things resolved somehow.
Regarding my relating positive aspects of drug and alcohol use: my stated perspective is after-the-fact (decades after-the-fact) and is, as I mentioned in the last post, the result of the process of redeeming those experiences and integrating them with the Who-I-Am-Now. I am in no way advocating for ANY drug or alcohol use as tools in this process. It's true that they are important aspects of the way I happened to do it but are not necessary to the achievement of the goal. So I do not want the telling of my experience and the lessons taken from it to be considered an endorsement.
I'm not giving you the perspective of the negative aspects of my drug use - and there are plenty! Just the fact that they had to be accepted and integrated indicates their nature. It's not a struggle to accept and integrate positive experiences.
Relaxation, being comfortable, feeling safe - these are necessary ingredients for R-Mode. It just so happens that the concert stage, a nightclub or any kind of a performance situation is not a relaxing, comfortable and safe place. Sometimes shifting to R-Mode can be an uphill battle - and if there's a battle, you're not in R-Mode.
Anything you can do to facilitate relaxation and a feeling of well-being is beneficial; breathing exercises, meditation, warm-up exercises, prayer, some kind of ritual, whatever.
This is where many, many musicians fall into the alcohol trap. Alcohol in moderation will relax and lower inhibitions - which can improve performance. It's a fine line; too much and it affects your fine motor control and then you are in a world of hurt.
I've known many musicians who became dependent on alcohol use - they couldn't perform without it. That's bad. Fortunately for me, alcohol was never a substance of choice - with the exception of a brief period which I will relate later.
I bring up the relaxation issue because it was the first lesson I remember learning. In hindsight, I categorize it as a lesson on shifting to R-Mode.
In a previous blog I related how 13-year-old-me discovered what I would later come to know as the Minor Pentatonic scale. I practiced it 8 hours a day and had it down stone cold. I had this particular lick - it was a super-fast lick that I used as a climax to my solos. I played it in multiple songs every gig. It was 13-year-old-me's shining moment of glory.
Fast-forward a year or so. My band was playing a gig and I was having trouble with that lick. I flubbed it up several times. "Why is this happening?" I asked myself. "I know I can play this lick, I've done it a million times! Why am I messing it up?"
I had a flash of analytical insight. I realized I was very nervous. I was tense and gripping the guitar neck with a choke-hold. I needed to relax. I had this thought: "Here is a paradox: I have to relax my muscles at the same time that I am using them!"
I started to mentally talk to myself, telling myself to relax. I took some deep breaths; I shook the tension from my arms. I concentrated on relaxing my arms and hands. The next time I attempted the lick I nailed it! Lesson learned: RELAX!
The relaxation lesson is one of which I constantly remind myself. I think of it on almost every gig.
The Inhibition Barrier
The second issue I became aware of that negatively affected my playing/performance is what I call "the inhibition barrier." It's a psychological/emotional issue. Performance anxiety and stage fright are in this mix as well.
Anytime you allow insecurity, tentativeness and second-guessing yourself to show in a performance - it's over. You've sabotaged yourself. All experienced pros have what I call, "bullshit-ability." Even if you have no idea what you're doing, you act like you do. Cop an attitude. No hot-shot lead guitarist hangs back and kind of ...tentatively... plays a solo. If he makes mistakes he makes them with authority and attitude, then repeats them on purpose just to prove he meant to play them the first time! Whatever you play, play it with authority and attitude!
Ultimately, the inhibition barrier is best dealt with through experience and the confidence gained from it. There's no substitution for jumping into the deep end!
The conviction that my job is to lay the music out there and I have no control over whether it's liked or not was very helpful. It helped me let go of the fear of being judged.
Speaking of judging, constantly judging yourself is also a big problem. I call it, "diseased introspection." It contributes to the inhibition barrier. I've talked in detail about this in other blogs: I'm In My Way! and I Trust Myself And Keep Playing.
Judgement of any kind is a hallmark of L-Mode. R-Mode doesn't judge!
One night in 1979 I was on a gig and a monster guitarist that I highly respected came in. "Oh my God! It's Blah-Blah!" I could feel myself getting tense, nervous and frightened. I was going to have to play in front of a guy who was way better than me! I leaned over to the band-mate next to me (who was also a guitarist) and said, "Oh crap! That's Blah-Blah!" He replied, "Blah-Blah don't pay my fuckin' bills!"
Bitch-slap! I got it; Blah-Blah was one guy and didn't matter to the bottom line. The bottom line was 99.9% of the people in that club loved us and were buying drinks. That's what pays the bills. Blah-Blah's judgement didn't matter. I was no longer nervous and consequently played better.
BTW - Blah-Blah praised my playing...and I was affirmed and gratified - because his opinion mattered to me! (L-Mode rears it's head!)
In my early years, the inhibition barrier was a greater or lesser problem depending on how consciousness-altered I was. Inhibition goes out the window when you're trippin' your brains out - and it helps if the audience is too. "The more you drink, the better we sound!" Fortunately, as far as I know, no recordings from that era survive. Even though I thought we were playing what had never been played before, I can't imagine what it actually sounded like!
I had to consciously deal with my inhibition barrier after I went straight (1973) and no longer had the short-cut of mind-altering substances. (You can read about the early years here.)
I now have had years and years of being onstage almost every night - I estimate over 10,000 gigs from the early 70's to now: that would be about 40,000 hours onstage. I'm playing 2-5 gigs a week still - and I'm an old guy! I've been at home on the stage for a long, long time. I am totally comfortable there and have no nervousness or inhibition. I can't remember the last time I was nervous or ill-at-ease onstage. That's part of how I overcame the inhibition barrier. You just rack up as many hours of experience as quickly as you can. You screw up (I could tell some humiliating stories on myself! Fodder for a future blog, perhaps) and you get back up on the horse. You learn what it takes to get through the gig. As that happens you gain the confidence to do what you do with 100% commitment and no inhibition. Go for the throat every time - if you hold back or try to play it safe you sabotage yourself.
So these two issues; relaxation and the inhibition barrier, I consciously dealt with in the early years - the '70's. This was before I had any concept of L-Mode and R-Mode or was aware of any deficiency, dysfunction or imbalance in myself in this area. I was just trying to survive and learn as a player and a performer. I now know that being in R-Mode involves relaxation and no self-consciousness. Being self-conscious means you're judging and judging is inhibiting. Self-consciousness, judging and inhibition are L-Mode characteristics.
Self-confidence is not self-consciousness. Self-confidence is good - assuming it's based in reality, that you are not self-deceived, and you can actually deliver what you are confident of. Generally speaking, self-confidence is the result of experience.
After 1973 I dealt with these issues without any aid from drugs or alcohol.
Concerning alcohol, I am not, nor was I ever, a complete teetotaler. I'm definitely not an alcoholic, and was never into drinking the way I was into other substances. The only time I drink is at work! - when somebody else buys it; I draw the line at buying it myself! I've worked with guys who drank up their paycheck an owed the bar at the end of the night. There was a short period in the '90's - a few months - where I consciously experimented and used alcohol as a tool in relation to L-Mode and R-Mode, which I will recount below. Do not take my story as, "This is the way to do it!" It is not. It's just the way things played out for me. There are aspects to my life that help explain why it worked for me. A lot of people don't have those aspects and using alcohol for ANY reason would be disastrous. I've known many, many musicians for which alcohol was a HUGE problem. Some have died because of it. I hope I've qualified all this enough.
Cognitive Shifting To R-Mode
In the 2nd blog of this series I spoke of the discovery that I was R-Mode deficient:
As a result of certain situations in my life I came to the conclusion that I was cut off from R-Mode. I didn't think in those terms at the time; I was thinking in terms of Masculine/Feminine. The Masculine corresponds to L-Mode; The Feminine corresponds to R-Mode. I was cut off from conscious access to my Feminine side. That is, R-Mode...This dysfunction was the reason I was so obsessed and drawn to music and playing the guitar; it was the only way I could, at will, access R-Mode. As a matter of fact, the realization of this dysfunction explained almost everything - including my foray into hallucinogenics. My Feminine - my R-Mode - was stunted, under-developed, immature...The question then became, "What can I do to fix this?"
I recounted that I started dream journaling as a way to access R-Mode:
One answer for me was dreaming. Dreaming is an R-Mode language. If you learn your dream-language, that is, learn to interpret your dreams, you are accessing your R-Mode and using it for data acquisition - data that L-Mode has no direct access to. Thus the dream-journaling.
I would say that delving into dream journaling and dream interpretation was one of the most important things I did - and it resulted in significant personal insight and growth. As I said,
This had nothing directly to do with music or my guitar playing (I was making a living as a musician all this time); the impetus concerned a different area...but it spilled over into my playing, as I hope to show, and led to the application of the L-Mode/R-Mode concept to my playing, performing and teaching.
As I learned more and grew concerning L-Mode and R-Mode I began to see how this could relate to my playing and performing. I realized that I was already accessing R-Mode when I played, whether in private or onstage - I knew what that felt like; it was a different quality of time, the music flowed effortlessly, the band was tight, the expression was pure, there was no inhibition or self-consciousness, and I wasn't exhausted and drained after the gig - I was energized and fulfilled.
The problem was I didn't know how I did it. And so when it wasn't happening I didn't know why and didn't know what to do to get it to happen. I realized that I wasn't aware of the shift when it happened, I didn't know what the shift itself felt like, I just knew it was a good gig.
Through a series of random circumstances and a little trial-and-error I discovered that a moderate amount of alcohol would facilitate the shift. The key word is, "moderate." As I said before, it's a fine line because too much and your fine motor control goes down the tubes and playing guitar requires fine motor control.
So, I decided to experiment. The goal was, by using alcohol, to be able to consistently cause the cognitive shift to R-Mode. By being in control of when the shift happened, I could figure out what the shift itself felt like. Then I would work on being able to do it without the alcohol.
Previously I said, "There are aspects to my life that help explain why it worked for me. A lot of people don't have those aspects and using alcohol for ANY reason would be disastrous."
Here are some of the aspects:
I did this little experiment with the full knowledge, understanding and support of my wife. She knew what was going on with me, she was participating in my dream journaling and exploration. She was involved throughout the whole process. I was not on my own; there was a more objective perspective involved that I trusted.
I am not an alcoholic and had no history of alcohol abuse. My substance abuse issues, which by this time were more than 20 years in the past, had never included alcohol.
This experiment was being done at the same time that I was dreaming therapeutically. I'm not going to go into detail as to what that means but I was dreaming lucidly at will during this time. Lucid dreaming was giving me conscious access to R-Mode data not available to L-Mode.
This "experiment" lasted several months and the short story is that it was beneficial - I figured out what the shift felt like, and then I quit using alcohol to facilitate it.
As I recounted in the previous post, I've integrated my past experiences with hallucinogenics into my present life; I accept them as part of who I am now and they've proven useful when conceptualizing the shape, color and texture of the music and the sound I'm creating or want to create.
You don't have to do what I did, I would strongly recommend that you NOT! Nurture and use your imagination. Imagination is a wonderful and powerful tool when creating, well, anything. You can bring imagination to reality. You can imagine the shape, color and sound of the music you want to create. Any Creative understands that the process of creation begins with imagination. Imagination is R-Mode; visual, holistic, not fettered to time. I can't emphasize this enough:
Imagination is a deep and powerful thing.
Find things that will trigger, nurture and inspire your imagination. Learn how to follow it instead of controlling it. You might be surprised where it takes you - where you take you!
If you have a philosophical bent and enjoy reading as I do, there is a whole genre of writings that are concerned with the syncretization of the recent discoveries of quantum physics with the centuries-old teachings of eastern philosophy and mysticism. The modern, Western quantum physicists are left-braining their way to the same conclusions right-brained Eastern mystics have been teaching for centuries. The ideas in these books are fascinating and can very much apply to making music and playing the guitar - if you follow the implications. Just off the top of my head (you'll have to google this stuff if you're interested):
The Tao of Physics
The Man Who Tasted Shapes
The Holographic Universe
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Jonathan Livingston Seagull
Drawing From the Right Side of the Brain
Carl Jung's commentary on the Tibetan Book of the Dead
Autobiography of a Yogi
The writings of Carlos Castaneda, especially,
The Teachings of Don Juan; A Yaqui Way of Knowledge
The Holotropic Mind
The World is Sound by Nada Brahma
The Mysticism of Sound and Music; the Sufi Teaching of Hazrat Inayat Khan
These writings and many others (Science Fiction, Fantasy, various "holy" books and religious, contemplative and mystical writings, etc) as well as movies, art, nature etc. can spark the imagination and can affect how you perceive, think about and experience music. There's a famous anecdote about Jimi Hendrix's inspiration for writing Purple Haze to be not from an LSD trip as is commonly presumed, but from reading a science fiction story.
Shifting to R-Mode is really not that big of a deal. You do it all the time, it's just not consciously done. One of the things I discovered was that the 2 issues I dealt with in the early years, relaxation and the inhibition barrier, were key aspects of shifting to R-Mode and I was already doing that intuitively. The difference now is that I can do it consciously - pretty much at will.
So what does it feel like and how do you do it? (L-Mode talking!)
Sorry to be anti-climactic but I can't tell you. Any "method" is L-Mode. R-Mode language is not defined. It's personalized to each individual. My feeling is my feeling, yours is yours. I have no way of knowing what that shift would feel like to you, I only know what it feels like to me. You've got to figure it out for yourself.
Can I help you figure it out?
Yes, I think so.
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