In my practice and recording of my solos and duets, where I am recording each part non-stop, what I am finding is that the ability to do this is beyond the technical and musical, but is really a process of controlling my mind.
One : The obvious part, I need to really know the music, these solos are new, they use different scales than I have in my finger memory, so actual attention to the right note (tone) takes a little time. Along with that are the usual things: tempo, rhythm, volume, style, phrasing and all the mental choices of music making.
Two : Once I have learned the path of the music, then I am faced with the problem of getting through it without mistakes and musically.
First, I had one very important experience back in 1987 right about the time I was in finals for first horn of Victoria, B. C. Symphony. I was rehearsing with my friend Ken Durling for a recital of horn and organ. We were doing an arrangement of Bach arias which was quite high, we rehearsed over and over. One rehearsal, Half way through the movement, Ken spoke out; “wow, that’s great!” I wasn’t really paying attention, I was essentially day dreaming. This was important to me. When I am focusing on the notes etc. or really thinking about what I am doing it isn’t as good as when I am focusing on something else.
Second, I have this other problem, often in my symphony concerts somewhere in the program I end up thinking I haven’t missed a note yet. Every time this happens, within moments I crack something.
Really what I am doing in my “one-take” recordings is working on the mental process. There are a number of aspects to what I am doing.
In the music there often is a “hump” ; a point that is exceptionally hard, It is difficult not to think about: “Here comes the hard part.”
For a while I tried day dreaming. I would prepare: start the tape, put down the right fingering, exhale, inhale, think about a nice place and play as I thought about something like being on the beach, or some other happy place.
For a while I found a point in my brain (head) which I could focus on that took my concentration away from the music.
I think one of my most famous teachers really just puts his concentration in the musical expression. This is good, but it still is conscious. My best performances are when I start to think about something unrelated to the music and my horn playing. This is a mental place beyond thoughts of the musicality.
Currently in my process, I am working on counteracting negative thoughts and finding positive thoughts that help. If I do think, I try to keep it positive, such as: “ I’m doing well”, “this is the best recording yet”, “I feel good” etc. If a negative word such as: “clam”, “tired”, or “hard” pops up, these can’t be responded to with “I’ll never clam” or “it’s not too hard” they must be followed by positives. or things like “concentrate”, “play the notes, each one now and fully”, “make the phrase” etc.
Once I am over the hump, I find that I think I made it, then I go into thoughts such as play “each tone”, “concentrate”. This must be done all the way to the end. If I can’t stay in the day dream my thoughts must not have negativity.
This is a work in progress, I expect this to change as I do but the Idea of focus from the unconscious mind instead of having my thoughts get in the way is really helping me in my pursuit of flawless one-takes.