A Memo from Mr. Brain

I just had an interesting experience that was also kind of encouraging. The more I think about it, the more I would classify it as “life affirming.”

The experience itself began with a dream, but there is a back story that needs to be summarized first.

I am an “occasional musician” who has gone through more than 60 years of life vacillating between periods of total absorption and total neglect. In general, the last decade has been one of neglect. I spent so little time playing and studying my instruments during those ten years that I lost confidence. I believed I had forgotten so much of what I had learned that, at this stage of life, it would be almost impossible to get it back.

With that context, we can come back to the dream.

It was a very simple dream, and unusually clear. I was sitting in a darkened room with a bass guitar. Bass is not my main instrument but I do dabble. The bass line from a well-known tune that I don’t think I have ever played popped into my head. I thought “I can play that,” and proceeded to play the first note. It was a little too high, so I moved down a key. Much better. I was able to play the line exactly as I was hearing it. The notes and fret positions were clear, and I was able to remember them after I woke up.

Fast forward a half hour or so, past the usual morning routine. I’m in my office/studio where a bass guitar is conveniently perched on a stand beside me. I pick up the instrument and play the line exactly as I had done in the dream. Straight off. Perfect.

That might not seem like a big deal to some, but it taught me an important lesson that I intend to keep in mind and nurture. My brain, it seems, still knows how to correlate sound with fingering. That is without doubt the most important skill required to play an instrument. Hear it, play it. Imagine it, play it. Same thing. If you can do that, the details will fall naturally into place. Speed and accuracy can take time to develop, but if you can hear it and play it you’re halfway there.

I don’t believe there is anything magical or spooky about this. Just the brain doing what it does. I am a little mystified as to why it chose this particular time to remind me that I should probably just let it do its thing without throwing up unnecessary obstacles, but I’m sure there’s a good reason. To me, nature can be spiritual while simultaneously being grounded in science and fact, and I am perfectly happy with the symmetry that implies. This makes me happy, and gives me reason to carry on.

So I will do just that, and try not to get in my own way.

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