Thinking, Joseph Hague, and confused centipedes

December 14, 2009 at 09:32 PM ·


This subject has been bugging me since the Sevcik thread came up. Is it really a good thing to think of what we are doing all the time? The Joseph Hague recordings, where the great Heifetz acts the part of an overcautious music student, gave more fuel to those doubts. And then there is Whitehead:

It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in a battle--they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments.

Alfred North Whitehead, An Introduction to Mathematics (1911)

And Prof. Dr. P.F.A. Martinez-Martinez, who taught neuroanatomy:

"When you learn to play the piano, you use your cortex. When you play the piano well, you use the globus pallidum."

(the globus pallidum is a brain center involved in automatic movement patterns.)

Obviously, we need to think, and plan, at least some of the time; otherwise we would not know what to do. But when I start studying a piece that I can sort of play through, there is a purgatory of clumsiness that I have to go through before the piece improves -- or not. And I feel there is a danger of falling back into that clumsiness during performance.

If this makes sense to you, my questions are:


Replies (6)

December 14, 2009 at 11:07 PM ·

Well, how can one not respond to a discussion thread with this title?  

Yes, I think I do recognize the conundrum.  A meditation book that I once read likened the mind to an elephant.  If you try to lead an elephant through the marketplace and its trunk is free, it is going to swing its trunk all over the place and knock everything down, break it, and generally make a mess.  But, if you give the elephant something to hold in its trunk, it will become lead-able and controllable.

So, the trick is to give your elephant-trunk mind something to "hold."  Memorizing the piece and playing it from memory seems to help me with this. I don't get too distracted thinking about anything else, if I just play the mental tape from beginning to end.  But it's very hard for me to get to that point where I can play something from memory.  I've only been able to do it a handful of times.  

December 14, 2009 at 11:23 PM ·

This is the natural path from ignorance to mastery known as The Competence model. 


  • Unconscious Incompetence
    The individual neither understands nor knows how to do something, nor recognizes the deficit, nor has a desire to address it.
  • Conscious Incompetence
    Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, without yet addressing it.
  • Conscious Competence
    The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires a great deal of consciousness or concentration.
  • Unconscious Competence
    The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it becomes "second nature" and can be performed easily (often without concentrating too deeply)

December 14, 2009 at 11:33 PM ·


its not a conundrum and yes, as the above poster said its about the competency model which is now a generic standard taking obne a sfollows:

1) Unconscious gnorance.

2) Conscious ignorance.

3)  Conscious competence.

4) Unconscious competence.

Basically every skill belongs in ahierachy of modules some higher some lower.  In order to move from 1-to 2 we have to look at a model, be it recording ,  book or teahcer. In order tomove from 2 to 3 we have to isolate the faulty section and pracitce it abolsutely correcly many times until it becomes automatic.  Wemove into the last stage as we integrate the problem into the whole.  We then repeat the prcedure.

If you are not achiveing level 4 then ther eis a problem in the isolatyion and corretc repetition done an adequate number of times. Done correctly this procedure will help one to bypass stage fright too;)



December 16, 2009 at 09:54 PM ·


Thank you all. I like Karen's elephant better than the idea of my incompetence, conscious or not. But it's useful all the same. My clumsiness phase would correspond to stages 2 and 3 of the competence development model, and that would mean that some more patient practice is called for, and trust that the clumsiness will pass. The run that occasioned this thread, the thirds in Rode #5, is now steadily improving.

Having too much to coordinate fits my experience better than having too little, as Karen's elephant.
Often, when I have practiced enough, no separate memorization is required; and the passages that prove difficult to memorize are often the technically difficult ones. So memorization as a separate task will probably not do the trick for me.

Cheers, (I like your greetings-cheers brackets, Buri)


December 16, 2009 at 10:09 PM ·


>Often, when I have practiced enough, no separate memorization is required; and the passages that prove difficult to memorize are often the technically difficult ones. So memorization as a separate task will probably not do the trick for me.

I think you have advanced an important insight here.   Although we often, and quite rightly, talk about learning difficult passages by `destoying them` with rythms, bowings and accents (from conscoius to unconscoius competence) perhaps the most significant factor is often only paid lip service: memory.   If the destruction is carried out from memory then any so calle dproblems with memorization will disappear as a matter of course.  The mind really is extraordianry if really made to focus.



December 17, 2009 at 03:20 AM ·

So true!

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