The Attention Conundrum

You crumple up a piece of paper, throw it across the room and it goes right into the bin. Wow you think, that was impressive. So you do it again and… of course you miss. Why is that? Short answer: you were thinking about it the second time. So… you must not have been paying attention the first time right? Yet, it wasn’t an accident and it wasn’t luck. Part of your mind knew exactly how to throw the paper, its weight, air resistance, the necessary angles, velocity muscle groups etc… and part of your mind (the part that got involved on the second attempt) hand now real idea about any of these things.

If we apply this to guitar playing, the obvious inference is: don’t think about what you’re doing and you’ll play better. This is undoubtedly true when you’re actually improvising, playing live or recording. But when it comes to practicing, it begs the question: how can I practice when I’m not thinking about what I should be doing and not concentrating my attention on getting it right?

The answer is that you need to learn the skills of controlling your attention. There are different ways of paying attention to something. There are different parts of your mind which can pay attention. You can be aware of more than one thing at a time. There are parts of your mind which need to be kept out of the process or they’ll get in the way. There are other parts of your mind which need to pay attention if you’re going to play well and practice effectively.

This is one major area of study and practice. This is one of what I call the Three Cornerstones which we look at in detail in private teaching as well as  workshops.