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Jahriel Rivera

ADD and Musicality

July 13, 2008 at 12:18 PM

Imagine a violinist with a super power called "hyper-focusing." (If you have seen the movie "Wanted", think of that blurry slow-mo effect that happens to the main character.) Now visualize this particular violinist, alone, on stage, in front of thousands of people, and about to play an incredibly difficult solo piece. He/She has never played in front of an audience of this size and the pressure is building. Then, right as he is about to draw the bow for the first note, he forgets everything! In a moment of panic, his heart starts racing, hands unsteady, and heavy breathing take over him. The audience begins to chatter quietly, wondering what has happened. It lasts a few seconds until finally, everything around him slows down. Any noise from the audience is canceled out and the only sound the violinist can hear is the slow and relaxed beating of his heart. All of a sudden he can hear the music within him and visualize the musical score for it as it is playing. The violinist has entered an extreme state of focus, where the mind and body are truly joined as one. He begins to play while the active portion of his brain is visualizing and hearing the music in his mind at the exact same time, and the subconscious portion is retrieving and scanning through the information a little bit ahead of time. Thus creating a constant flow of form and function. To the violinist, every detail of his playing technique is exact and every second seemingly takes forever- giving him enough time to make even the most subtle adjustments to ensure the prefect performance. Before he knows it, his first piece is done.
The audience is in complete awe of his mastery.

In real life, hyper focusing is an actual trait exhibited by some people with ADD, where they completely focus on something, at times unaware of what is going on around them, until they achieve perfection or satisfaction in what they are doing. In the times it has happened to me, it has never taken the extreme form that I painted with words earlier. However, I only wish it would happen more often whenever it comes to music. Unfortunately, ADD also comes with many negative traits, such as lack of time management, impulsiveness, inability to focus, and the feeling of paranoia over unfinished tasks. The irony with the paranoia thing is that often with ADD, there is a lack of motivation to complete any task especially if it is not immediately interesting or exciting. This is often perceived as "laziness."
There are good things about ADD as well though. Such as being able to hyper focus, but even the good things almost always take a form that has a negative effect at some point or another. Such as being brilliantly creative. Even though ideas can often come out of no where, and be highly original and exciting, often, a new idea will pop up before the person has finished acting upon the previous one. This cycle continues, and can eventually lead to mental fatigue once you've realized you've never actually completed anything. (From my experience.)
If you'd like to learn more about ADD, go here:
ADD Website Article

That article will explain what it's like to live with ADD and perhaps bring to light the characteristics of people that you know or perhaps, maybe even yourself. (Since there are many forms of ADD ranging from mild to extreme.)
It's actually some pretty fun reading, don't be shy. : )

So now, here is my problem. As an aspiring musician, I feel as though something is holding me back. Throughout school, I was always the last one finished during tests (not the worst, just always last) and I was always terrible at math, since I could never hold numbers in my head long enough to do anything with them. Sometimes the simplest things would seem difficult to me, however, I was an academically good student as I somehow managed to get by and make it into a University. But now, whatever this thing is, is affecting my ability to concentrate on music. At this point, I have self diagnosed myself with a mild form of ADD coupled with working memory deficiency. It is not a spur of the moment thing either. This is something that I feel has affected me, my entire life, and now that it is affecting my relationship with music, I feel that I must take some sort of action! Growing up with it, I have managed to correct many social issues related with ADD. In other words, it takes serious effort to be around other people and seem normal. I have done it for so long now, that when I bring the issue up in conversation, no one ever suspects me of having a form of ADD.
But the symptoms are there, and I can feel them, even when I control them. Such as interrupting people as they are talking. That was probably the hardest to get a handle on. I am better at it now, but there was a time where it was seriously out of control and for some reason I simply could not control it. It was this pressure building impulse that just had to come out, and often got me into trouble in grade school. Also, I tend to prefer studying in places filled with people, or that are noisy. At times, I prefer peace and quiet like anyone else, but in college, I could never focus if I was alone or in silence. But, being taught that, that is how you are supposed to study, I would go through with it, often not even being able to sleep through the night due to lack of focus and being unable to learn material.

Try to apply these symptoms to situations involving learning music and the music society/life in general. Theory is always interesting, but at times can be boring and hard to pay attention to.
Since I am best at piano currently, I tend to go after piano sheets to play songs that I like, however, I only "know" a few songs. "Know" meaning, I know them from beginning to end and with proper technique. I have knowledge of plenty of songs but can only remember having practiced a couple bars here and there and never actually finishing them. Before I can ever finish one piece of music, I feel that I have to move on to something new. This can get really annoying, as it transfers to violin study as well.
Due to being a perfectionist, sticking with whatever is familiar happens a lot. After learning to play a couple measures of a piece, I end up playing them over and over and over again, until they are perfected, but never seem to move on. It kills me, because then there is the "satisfaction" feeling and thus, lack of motivation for moving forward.
Just imagine how it is trying to play in a practice room at night! Without other people around, playing and making sounds in the rooms around me, I am unable to focus, and feel lacking in concentration.

I hear that making sure to have plenty of iron can increase mental stability. I'm willing to try almost anything. Reading from a sheet of music is absolute chaos. I know what all the notes on the treble clef are. I don't use the EGBDF, and FACE things. I actually hated those. I preferred learning the lines and spaces for what they were, instead. And I know how to read the bass clef as well. But when the music is put in front of me, having to play them, the notes turn into some unreadable language, making no sense, and having no meaning what so ever. It becomes gibberish. It makes me want to cry. It's like knowing you know how to do something, but being unable to do it when the time comes. It's a terrible feeling. I wish I could focus better. During my finals for piano II course in college, it happened during a sight reading test. It just became this alien language and I completely blanked out and was unable to play. It was the most embarrassing moment of my musical journey. Not to say I won't ever have any, but it seemed like a simple sheet to play from, and I blew it. I still passed though, having done well on everything else. (A little shaky from nervousness though.)
In recent news, the music minister, and piano player from my church has died. The man was a piano virtuoso, a funny guy, and a great friend. It was very hard to realize that he was gone, but now, being the only one who can push some keys and actually make a pleasing sound result from it in my church community, everyone expects me to take his place. It's hard to even think of the term "replace." It makes me angry inside, but that doesn't help. I could never replace him, but I would have very big shoes to fill if I did start playing. There has been a lot of stress lately due to that, plus, I love to mingle on guitar but haven't found time for it, it makes me sad. Violin progress has been slow, but I love it equally as much as piano and guitar, if not, maybe a little more. It depends on what I'm in the mood for I guess. There goes my ADD again, trying to tackle too much at once again...

You could probably guess that I am a person of many talents, but with no mastery in any area. It is because of this, I still don't know what I want to do in life. I have never become very good at any one thing enough to pursue it as a career. I feel very lost. Could ADD be to blame? Could I get help?
I have a doctor's appointment coming up shortly and I shall make mention of all of this...

If anyone finds that they can relate or have ideas, comments, advice, your posts are welcome. I'm sorry this blog was so long. But, I have been so frustrated lately and needed to empty out my thoughts.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on July 13, 2008 at 7:04 PM
My brother has ADD which he has trouble controlling. He can be difficult to deal with. Are you on medication and/or doing therapy?
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on July 13, 2008 at 7:54 PM
I think you need professional help.
Ask your doctor to refer you to someone who treats ADD patients. Psychiatrists often prescribe drugs for ADD, but they are sometimes good people to talk to, with or without drugs. I don't know what kind of specialist you should see, but your primary care doctor and/or someone on this site should know. I hope you get the help you need soon.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on July 14, 2008 at 11:22 AM
I was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. Like you, I was also a good student in school and made it all the way through college and graduate school before being diagnosed. I have a high IQ and that helped me compensate; even now many people find it difficult to believe that I have it since I have advanced degrees, a family, a job, and so on.

But what other people think doesn't really matter. What has mattered to me is getting treatment. I have a good therapist who helps me with behavioral strategies to manage the ADHD, and I take medication which, among other things, helps me sleep better and helps me be more reliable during the day. I don't think it's a complete coincidence that I started playing violin and viola again (after quitting for a long time) soon after I started treatment, and have stuck with it for nearly two years since then.

You might find this thread, ADD and the musical mind, interesting.

Also, here are a couple of my other random thoughts that you might find helpful: 1. Try to let go of perfectionism. It's especially hard on ADDers. Perfection is out of our reach, but excellence is not. 2. Don't be proud, make technology work for you. Get a system--calendar, Palm handheld, GTD, whatever works. Try a bunch, find what fits your style and discard the rest.

I am continually amazed at how much adults these days expect of their memories on a daily basis. The expectations are actually a bit ridiculous, whether you have ADHD or not. Instead of driving yourself crazy trying to remember things that you think you "should" be able to remember, just write it down and move on. For your music lessons, keep a written practice log. Record your lessons if you can get a recorder. Recognize that learning things from memory is going to be hard for you and work at it, don't just expect it to come "naturally."

Feel free to email me off-list if you want to talk more, but I think the other commenters here are right on: see a doctor, get a diagnosis and start working on a treatment plan. It may or may not be ADHD. There also may be anxiety or other mental health issues that need to be teased out and a health professional is the best person to help you do that.

Best of luck!

From NeaL Brooks
Posted on July 16, 2008 at 1:31 PM
I remember back in the mid-90's when I first heard of ADD. I think it was a new diagnosis, at the time. I read over the symptoms and thought, "This is no disorder. This is completely normal."

And, yes, the descriptions fit me perfectly.

Is our world going to eliminate every trait of individuality through medication?

Maybe I'm a genius. Maybe I'm a bit crazy. I'm happy with my life and how I am. I don't discourage anyone from seeking treatment if it will improve their lives. I do wish people would embrace the fact that we are all different in out own ways.

I'll take YTD over ADD any day, though:

Take Care,

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