First Chair violin, MidWestern City Philharmonic orchestra. Child prodigy from a village in Scotland. Trained classically from an early age at the national institute of music. She excelled. Now midlife and anxious about her yearning to play her village folk tunes but unable to because of the traumatizing classical musical training. She could only play what she could read in front of her on a music stand. I know this condition. I had it too when I was a preteen drummer. I was amazed at a friend in the sixth grade who could improvise on the drums. And the girls really liked it. I needed to do that. Only I could not understand how somebody could just start tapping with drumsticks and make it sound good. I could only read what was on the paper on the music stand. I could sightread any difficult percussion music with ease while also playing to a metronome. But I could not swing. The next few decades I spent in the Deep South. There I learned to get out of my head and into my heart, and feel the music. That saved my life. So now with this virtuoso, I was being asked to open up a new inroad into her creativity. Her husband had brought her in and she had accepted his invitation after witnessing his shifts and improvements in his condition using the drum in this specific healing way.
“Just hit the downbeat. Steady and relaxed.” I intoned,
We got a groove going that was slow. Although her intellect wanted to interfere and judge, I stated simply,
“Don’t judge. Just follow the groove. Single note in the middle of the drumhead, like a heartbeat.”
Soon she sunk into a deeper state of relaxation which was safe for her, because she was creating it herself. Her husband sat at the back of the room and enjoyed what he was sure would be a positive outcome.
“Okay, Now while you’re hitting the drum, make a sound. Any sound. Just open your mouth and make a sound while you are hitting the drum.”
She was torn between her critical mind forbidding her to do such a thing and her childhood desire to sing her cultural folksongs.
“It’s not a note. It’s not music. It’s just a sound.” I reassured her.
“Nothing to get worried about…”
Her mind was trying to regain control over her heart, so I reminded her gently,
“Keep the downbeat going, nice and laid back.”
Soon her groove settled in again and she was stable enough in her heart to open her mouth and make a sound while she hit the drum in a steady relaxed pulse. Her husband lit up like a christmas tree.
“Good. Keep the groove going…” I waited until I sensed that she was ready.
“Now, do it again.” I asked her.
She made a vocal sound again. It was slightly stronger and not so suppressed. The downbeat groove was keeping her critical mind occupied. She sensed an opening in her belief system. There was suddenly hope. Her breathing deepened. She smiled.
Soon we had her singing a phrase that she made up of several tones. Not notes, just tones while she kept the groove going at a safe tempo for her. This was her first improvisation, maybe in her whole adult life. It is terra incognito for many classically trained musicians. But it is also the way music has always been handed down through the aural tradition of hearing it and learning how to play it. Her belief system saw that it was safe to explore musically, even make mistakes, that are not really mistakes but clues. So it shifted it’s survival agenda to include improvisation. The steady laid back pulse of the downbeat played by her, kept the critical mind in check, in stasis, while the realization could take place and the belief system could realign itself. It only takes a moment sometimes.
She was then able to give herself permission to sing and play her favorite folksongs on her violin, by ear, not by reading off of sheet music. To explore music again safely.
This protocol creates a new belief pathway that does not go through the Judgmental Forest. When we learn, we also remember the emotional charge of that lesson. It will interfere if it is not from a place of joy.
excerpt: “History of the Groove” Russell Buddy Helm©2015