A Lydianstream Handbook for Musicians
E.Q. for Musicians by Mark Smulian
(Don’t forget to register with us to receive the audio files that accompany this book)
Before we start, some background. I have been working as a professional musician for forty years and have had the great good fortune to be involved in many exciting and often ‘out of the box’ projects.
I have performed internationally, some very high profile gigs and some very private and intimate.
I am a producer; I have produced dozens of albums as well as teaching music for nearly as long as I have been a working/performing musician.
Some 20 odd years ago I began to recognise that the emotional balance between the performing musicians was having a greater impact on the group’s ability to make great music than the individual technique of the players.
I wanted to understand how this works and if it was something that could be quantified, analyzed and taught. To teach someone how to play a major scale is basically easy, and then it is all about physical practice. To teach someone how to be emotional with the scale and how to share this with other musicians is much harder…but this is what we do when we perform music together; We bring our skills to the gathering and have to combine them as one voice in order to generate a powerful single message, in real time, in front of an audience, who are there to be touched and transported.
That’s our job.
I had, as the co-producer of WhiteFlag (The first Palestinian Israeli band in the world) and other similar projects, the opportunity to check out my theories in practice, in one of the toughest musical neighbourhoods in the world: The world of conflict confrontation, fear and suspicion. We passed the test with flying colours. See
Following is a short ‘handbook’ for musicians, that hopefully will open up this emotional world, offering practical tools and exercises that will support the performing musician in finding their ‘inner’ voice. For this is the key, we all have a powerful musical voice, we just need to be determined to find it, nurture it and love it and then it is ours for life.
The high level of emotional behaviour that musicians MUST employ in order to make great music, is more important and relevant than any level of practical technique and training we have. Or in other words…our heart speaks louder than our mind.
By recognising, understanding and practicing these emotional behaviours and incorporating them into our overall playing and performance techniques, the doorway to the ‘Zone’, that magical place where music leads, is always open.
I call these tools ‘E.Q.’ (emotional quotient):
The ‘Codes of Behaviour’: What’s this got to do with me?
The thing is, all musicians absorb and incorporate these codes into their playing and performance technique over the years, mostly through trial and error.
If they didn’t intuitively learn the codes, they would become more and more frustrated as they would be forever chasing the music, and the door to the Zone would open and close in a seemingly random manner.
By recognizing the Codes we can:
- Speed up the band/group awareness process
- Improve our individual and group musicianship
- Our self-confidence is heightened
- Our technique is more fluid and relaxed
- We enjoy one and other’s uniqueness
- We consistently make great music
- We discover our own voice; We are in the Zone
- Music Leads
So how do we practice upgrading our E.Q?
Many musicians appreciate that our brains love repetition. This is how we practice. This is how we improve. It is a wonderful lifetime journey of discovery and reinvention.
The new ‘science’ known as mindfulness, a mix between neuroplasticity (also known as brain plasticity) and ‘spirituality’, teaches the same thing…repetition. The brain loves repetition. The basis of meditation is repetition. Practicing well is a form of meditation. With meditation comes enlightenment.
The codes of Behaviour are pro-active mindfulness exercises for musicians. We practice them knowingly or unknowingly whenever we ‘make’ music, by ourselves or as part of a group.
In music, to pass through the doorway to the Zone and make consistently great music your professional E.Q must be tuned to its highest potential.
The 3 codes of behaviour are the basis of professional emotional (E.Q) skills for musicians.
The Codes of Behaviour
Following are the three fundamental codes with accompanying practice routines that incorporate the use of sound-bytes, small MP3 files that you use in the practice session.
These exercises break down into 2 distinct parts.
A short preparatory exercise without sound-bytes.
A three part interactive exercise with dedicated sound-bytes that focus directly on recognizing and internalizing the Codes of Behaviour and their application in performance.
The sound-byte cannot possibly represent another musician, but is a good way to help us ‘hear’ ourselves while paying attention to what is going on around us and train us, in a live situation, to be sensitive to what the other musicians are playing.
NOTE: Please try and listen on an adequate sound system if you listen on dinky internal mobile phone speakers it won’t cut it. Also please, NO headphones unless you have no choice and can ‘feed’ your playing into the headphones together with the sound-byte.
Part A: Me, Myself and I
Sit or stand comfortably with your instrument (I close my eyes as it really helps me focus). Relax your mind and body.
Play any single ‘ONE’ note (your ‘ONE’ note stays the same throughout parts A and B) play it ‘short’ (mildly staccato). This is your ‘note’ for the duration of the session. If you are a drummer/percussionist strike a single drum, stick to that drum. If you are a vocalist, choose a comfortable note.
This is not about ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ notes; there is only self-discovery. This note is YOU. It is your individual energy being expressed.
Continue slowly/repetitiously playing the single note until you and the instrument are ‘one’.
Have patience. Sometimes I rest my head on the instrument and physically feel the sound vibration. (This will also work on non-acoustic instruments).
Play with the dynamics of the note…louder, quieter, with more intensity, less intensity. Feel in your body that you are playing really loud but physically play it quietly. Try doing the opposite; feel quiet, play loud.
As you work with your ‘ONE’ note and the dynamics around the note you will start to recognize that you are the source of the sound and not the instrument.
You will be discovering your ‘sound’ so to speak. You will feel more strongly about some ‘moods’ that you create than others…all in one note.
Part B: Explore and Discover (Working with the sound-byte)
RESPECT: Enjoying the individuality of others and your self
A performing musician walks a balancing act between asserting their individuality while maintaining the integrity and importance of the group as whole.
All the separate parts become one glorious whole:
The better you are; the better I am
The specific meaning of the word ‘respect’ in our context is all about recognizing and enjoying what the other musicians are bringing to the mix. This in turn empowers you to feel creative and generous about what you bring to the mix, creating a powerful emotional feedback loop between the musicians.
This is about working with our feelings through our instrument.
Exercise 1) Respect
The first sound-byte is a chromatic scale (1) with a very simple rhythmic pulse. The sound-byte cycle repeats 3 times you can simply restart at the end. If you wish you can load the sound-byte into an audio sequencer (2) The B.P.M (3) is 60 and is designed to loop easily. While the sound-byte is looping play only your single ‘ONE’ note…same note as before.
- Play your note without dynamics. Hear the consonant and dissonant relationship. Don’t try to make it sound ‘good’ simply play along.
- Change the dynamics as you play the notes. As you change the dynamics the chromatic scale will start to develop a voice of its own (It ain’t a human being but it is sound and is vibrating and challenging)
- Experiment! Be extreme!
- Have fun with the rhythm
Important: Don’t rush it, be patient and the doors will open.
When you are ready play the sound byte:
RESPONSIBILITY: Understanding ones own positioning as an individual within the group at any given moment
Performance is a real time, fluid event, which demands balance between the performing musicians; this revolves around recognizing when and how to ‘support’, when and how to ‘lead’ and the massive space in between.
One does not exist without the other.
In ‘Respect’ we recognised the uniqueness of what each musician brings to the ‘mix’. ‘Responsibility’ is the way we interact with one and other during performance and respond to the input coming from the other musicians.
Exercise 2) Responsibility
This sound-byte continues with the chromatic scale as its theme but with some twists and the same rhythmic pulse.
This is also a loop at 60 B.P.M or stand-alone.
Contrary to the first exercise the chromatic scale in this exercise is ‘impulsive’…sometimes repeating phrases, has pauses between notes, is
seemingly random in its motion.
This is about intuitive response…it is about keeping us on our toes.
Here the challenge becomes about responding, anticipating, playing through or above the sound-byte while trying to ‘flow’ with what you are hearing.
Remember there are no good or bad notes…we have recognized this from the first exercise…nothing is correct or incorrect…
Be pro-active, have no fear, and explore the potential of your ‘ONE’ note opposite what you hear:
- Respond rhythmically and dynamically. Try not to ‘think’ it through, let the sound/rhythm lead you
- Anticipate, get entangled, be patient. Don’t have expectations, allow discovery to be your light
- Explore these ideas individually, don’t try to play everything in the first 10 seconds…approach each idea as its own perfect treat. Let things unfold and come to you
- Remember: Music is a ‘Magical Mystery Tour’
LISTENING: Stepping back and observing/hearing the collective and self as a single ‘event’
Contrary to what many of us think we don’t listen only through our ears. Anyone who has stood by a sub woofer or even by a loud drum knows that we feel the sound in our body more than hear it in our ears. Sound is a sound wave pushing through the air and that creates vibrations. All bodies alive or inert resonate when sound ‘touches’ them, including human bodies.
When we are performing, surrounded by sound, we are ‘hearing’ through every cell of our body, everything is resonating like crazy. If we relax and trust and follow our emotions and intuitions, all becomes clearer.
It is as though a mist has been swept away and the sounds of each instrument come into focus and then we can really understand how to position ourselves within the music. We are both completely immersed in the music and its creation and able to hear the whole at the same time. We are totally ‘present’, committed and yet apart.
Listening is the key to consciously incorporating ‘Respect’ and ‘Responsibility’ into our playing.
By actively maintaining a high professional E.Q our interaction with the other musicians becomes more fluid and intuitive and opens up a space were one can step back from ones own playing and hear the performance of all the band in all its clarity.
Paradoxically when we concentrate less on our own performance and focus on the performance as a whole it becomes easier to professionally execute our ‘job’ while defining our own uniqueness; our own ‘voice’ within the whole.
Exercise 3) Listening
Staying with the Chromatic theme this third exercise is about incorporating what we practiced before and trying to disengage from our playing in real time. We are still with our ‘ONE’ note.
Learning from exercise 1 and 2 we understand that we need to feel free and confident in what we play, while enjoying and supporting the uniqueness of the other musicians. We have learnt to trust the way we deliver our ‘ONE’ note. Now it is about hearing the sound-byte more than hearing what we are playing.
- Listen to the sound-byte without playing at all and with eyes closed (seems to help with focusing on ‘hearing’) don’t try to ‘understand’ the sound-byte or analyze it. Let it wash over you. Try to simply hear it for what it is
- Take your ‘ONE’ note and using the same techniques from exercise 1 and 2 play along with the sound-byte with all your attention focused on the sound-byte (as much as you can, it takes practice). Try to hear the sound-byte with the clarity that you heard it when you only listened to the sound-byte
- When you begin to feel a little removed from your own playing then you are moving into the realm of true listening7-10 minutes
Listening- Chromatic 3
A few thoughts…
If physical technique were the only element behind creating music then most of us would more or less sound the same. With consistent and organized practicing almost anybody who has regular motor skills can learn to technically play an instrument well.
We all know though that this is not the case. I am sure every musician has come across a situation where a musician who seems to have limited technique and limited knowledge of formal music can move us to tears due to their emotional commitment to their performance.
We have masses of tools for teaching playing techniques unfortunately there are very few places, if at all, were one can access information on how to practice the emotional skills that are an integral part of making music.
The past 15 years have seen major advances in neurology and neuroscience; with modern technology it is now possible for scientists to ‘map’ the brain and follow those parts of the brain that are ‘triggered’ when doing any physical and emotional action. Through these scans it is possible to begin to recognize the influence of music and sound on the brain or more correctly on us as individuals and the clear physical/chemical relationship between motor skills and emotional behaviour.
Listening to music ignites many areas of the brain, playing music makes it light up like a fireworks display…and the more we practice and perform over the years the bigger the brain ‘firework show’. What is exciting and relevant about this is that both our technical and our emotional skills grow.
The exercises that come with this handbook and other exercises that can be downloaded from our website, aim to strengthen the emotional side of music making. Like everything we do it is about practicing and implementing in a consistent way…no different from practicing a scale or a paradiddle every day.
Finally a word about meditation; Along with other new understandings about the brain it is now fairly clear and acknowledged by many neurologist that meditation has a powerful impact on our brain functions and specifically on our emotional behaviour and that the more one meditates the more that is reflected in brain plasticity (4) and this continues throughout our life.
The exercises in this book are a little bit meditative in approach. It is possible to think of them as pro-active meditation.
These exercises are about freeing ourselves for thirty minutes every day from improving our physical technique, wrong and right notes, correct rhythmic feel and all the other elements that make up a strong physical technique on our instruments, and practicing our emotional technique, learning how to allow the music to flow through us, helping us to focus on being emotionally connected to the music we are making. Expressing, our ‘oneness’ our ‘uniqueness’ begins to become part of our everyday playing experience.
By incorporating these exercises into our daily practicing routine our emotional technique, a vital part of all good musicianship, will grow together with our formal technique and will enhance the group playing experience beyond recognition.
I recommend that every time before you start the exercises you go and re-read the explanation that accompanies each exercise. With time, you will discover a greater depth within each idea that will reflect itself in the way you both approach the exercise and how that is reflected in real time during a performance.
Let the music lead
1) Chromatic scale: The chromatic scale is a musical scale with twelve pitches, each a semitone above or below another. Pitch number 13 is called the octave in Western music theory.
2) Audio Sequencer: Computer software that records plays and edits audio data.
3) B.P.M: Beat per minutes.
4) Brain plasticity: The brain’s ability to change throughout life. The brain has the amazing ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells (neurons)