Ear training is something that we have been working on as a band more than you are probably aware. Whenever we sing something together, it not only helps us understand our rhythms, but also helps us dial in our melodic understanding and tone.
Here’s a helpful musical observation Bulletproof Musician:
“There’s a short passage about 5 minutes into Robert Schumann’s Humoreske, in which for just a few lines, a third staff suddenly appears, along with the phrase “Innere Stimme” (i.e. inner voice). The implication being, these notes are not to be played, but merely to be thought, as one plays the notes written on the other staves. Listen here: https://youtu.be/ps8rBGbNQtA
Presumably, the piece sounds different when you think or hear these notes in your head, versus when your mind is filled with other things. And Schumann clearly knew something I didn’t, because it never occurred to me that what I thought about during a performance would make such a difference in what came across to the audience.
Indeed, I once played a whole concert while daydreaming about He-Man episodes (…and the Maaasters of the Uuuniverse!!!). I have no idea what piece I played, but I do remember my mom being less than thrilled with how distracted I seemed during the performance…
Attention control is of course a big part of technical consistency and execution as well. Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson once remarked that just as the physical part of a 90-second routine had to be choreographed, it was critically important for her to choreograph a mental script as well. To make sure her mind was kept busy enough in those 90 seconds, that her brain didn’t have the opportunity to interfere with her performance with irrelevant or self-defeating thoughts that could lead to mistakes or freak-outs.”
So, a few things here. Maybe the most obvious is that where you focus your general attention will have a vast effect on your performance. I know I act like Skeletor sometimes, but don’t think about He-man when we are playing music.
The second thing is more razor’s edge. Michael and I are always saying to think with inner syncopation and groove. If the tune is a 4|4 don’t think:
1 2 3 4
1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a
We know this makes our rhythmic execution more accurate. Night and day contrast. The same can be done for pitch. When we have an attack, conceptualize the E in your head before we play it. You’ll find that when you do, it’s not a surprise where your pitch lands when you sound the chanter, so instead of searching for it, you hit it dead center. When you play practice chanter, keep a drone pitch going in your head so you have a reference for how a tune sounds against it. Some of us already do this and don’t even think about it. Do you?
What this all leads to is faster learning and higher accuracy in performance. It matters.