You may remember the article on Centering, where I wrote about left-brain and right-brain processing differences, and how these differences can dictate success and failure in high-pressure situations.

Watching a video about neuroanatomy and hemispheric lateralization is not most folks’ idea of a good time. However, I recently came across a video on brain anatomy/function which is rather emotional, and worth watching.

What makes this video so special?

The speaker is a Harvard neuroanatomist who had a stroke – and was aware enough to experience first-hand the inner workings of her brain and mind.

Click the video below to watch a 19-minute presentation by Jill Bolte Taylor, author of the New York Times bestseller My Stroke of Insight.

Take-home points

There are two important points in this talk that are of particular relevance to musicians and performance.

One is the idea that left brain processes information serially, while the right brain processes information in parallel. Playing your instrument requires the activation of many different muscles in very precise, highly complex, coordinated movement. What happens when you try to control everything, force things, and manually override the natural automaticity of complex muscle movements that you cemented into place in the practice room?

We “choke.” Things feel unnatural, stiff, tight, and inevitably, we make more mistakes. Someone once called this phenomenon “paralysis by analysis.”

The second important point concerns that voice inside our heard. The one that tells us not to make a memory slip, not to let that high note crack, or asks us why we always screw up that particular passage.

This voice can be an asset in the practice room, as it keeps track of what needs to be worked on and how we can improve. In performance settings however, it causes all sorts of chaos, because it becomes critic, coach, and our worst enemy all in one. It just won’t shut up and let us do our thing.

Speaking of voices not shutting up, let me end things here and let the video do its own talking…