There are 3 fundamental ways of thinking and being while performing music. These thought processes are not just in performing, but in life itself. They are:
Linear thinking is typical of Western thought. In fact it is expressed best in scientific method in which chains of facts and observations are strung together methodically forming theories. Most of us think linearly most of the time because we think with words which by their nature force you to think from one point to the next forming a line of thought.
Eastern thinking is sometimes exemplified by meditation which can be described as pure thought. Westerners think of it as clearing the mind since you have to stop the internal dialog. Yet just because you are not forming words in your head doesn’t mean there is no awareness or thought. You are still taking in the world, but you are not trying to define it. This is a random thought process of all thoughts merged into a kind of oneness.
Before I explain how all of this relates to musical performance, I want to bring up the third type of thought. Unlike the two preceding types of thought, cyclical thinking is generally destructive. By its nature it goes nowhere and is akin to a feedback loop. Like a sound system in which the microphone picks up the sound of the speakers and quickly escalates into a loud noise, sometimes thought patterns can cycle through creating an escalation of negative emotions. An extreme example of this is compulsive obsessive disorder in which a person may irrationally keep repeating an action over and over again beyond any logical reason. Another common example of cyclical thinking is insomnia in which you may lie in bed thinking about how you need to go to sleep and just when you start to fall asleep, again you think about how you need to fall asleep repeating the cycle.
So now how this relates to musical performance is this:
Linear thinking is absolutely necessary in the successful performance of music. After all, you must get from point A to point B and so on. A great performance of an etude for example may be one in which everything is perfectly planned out and executed with confidence having achieved consistent results through every section of a piece again and again. However, a perfectly planned performance can sometimes lack in spontaneity.
Random thinking can at best be electrifying keeping the audience on the edge of their seats wondering what will happen next. The performer doesn’t rely completely on planned skill sets of getting from one note to the next in a perfectly planned way, but allows himself to create something new at that moment. It is necessary to have some sense of where you are in the piece or you could take a wrong turn or try something in a performance that you aren’t capable of playing!
Cyclical thinking during a performance can be a nightmare. After preparing for weeks or months for a concert, some unfortunate event happens perhaps from a momentary distraction or finger slip, and from that point on you start thinking about the possibility of it happening again. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy as each mistake leads to the next.
So in a successful performance you must forgive yourself for not being perfect if something unfortunate happens and keep a sense of enjoyment in the moment so you avoid the possibility of getting into a negative cycle of thought which can ruin a performance. Ideally, you have a blend of linear and random thinking so that you let the spontaneous, playful spirit inside you carry on while the linear part of your mind keeps things in order and allows you to express yourself freely while maintaining excellent control.