Tom Metzger on the Inner Game of Music

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Back in October, Tom Metzger published this post on Owning the Stage about the Inner Game of Music – or at least, about the first part of the book. Inner Game principles have long been near to my heart. I used them as an undergraduate to help conquer a serious performance confidence problem (at its worst I used to get nervous even *practising* anything more expressive than scales), and have built a lot of my teaching, coaching and rehearsal practices on them since.

So, I thought I’d respond to some of Tom’s points, because, while I think his critique makes some useful points, I think he’s also being somewhat hard on the book.

His first point of contention is the division between Self 1, the nasty inner critic, and Self 2, the honest musician who would do a much better job if Self 1 would only shut up and let them get on with it. Tom finds this device unhelpful, and thinks a more holistic, rather than ‘schizophrenic’ approach will be better for performers. But I think that’s actually the Inner Game’s point: the Self1/Self2 idea is presented as a way to describe an essentially dysfunctional state that the book aims to help us leave behind. Describing the split is necessary if people are to diagnose that they have the problem.

Having said that, I do think it might have been better to label the Self we want to keep and nurture as number 1, and the one we want to send packing as number 2!

Tom also takes issue with the range of things that the Inner Game book suggest as points of focus to get the performer living in the now: on the instrument, on the sound, on your feelings etc. The substance of his critique is this:

What you focus on in order to quiet your Self 1 negative self-talk is *critical* for a stage performer, and the only thing that makes sense as a focus is *the scene* - any mental cycles that you waste on your instrument, the sounds in the room, or your feelings, is a distraction from the scene, pure and simple. The audience does not care at all about your feelings. They only care about the scene they are creating in their heads, and the emotions being evoked. They care about their own feelings.

Now, in one dimension, I love this approach. It’s very Creating Passionate Users: it doesn’t matter what the audience thinks about you, it matters how they feel about themselves.

But the focus on the ‘scene’ betrays a very character-based, verbally-defined performance context. Plays have explicit scenes, songs evoke scenes: the performer has a concrete persona to inhabit in these artworlds. But instrumental performers (who are the ones who might be focusing on their instrument) often have a much more intangible set of musical ideas to communicate to their audience. The soloist who is going to build the long, highly structured stretches of musical time in a Brahms sonata into coherent experience needs focal points that will take them into that abstract imaginative world. It’s not ‘navel-gazing’, it’s an important mental skill for that artistic world, just as the ability to focus creating scenes is an important skill for the singer.

Finally, Tom takes issue with the need to be in a state of ‘relaxed concentration’. All very well for tennis players, he says, but only good for music that expresses state of relaxed concentration. Music that deals with other emotional states needs to be performed with other emotional states.

I think the problem here is one of terminology. In 1985 when the Inner Game of Music came out, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi had yet to publish his Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Now that he has done, we know that what the Inner Game folk are calling relaxed concentration is actually a flow-state. And yes, that is exactly what we need to find to perform well. Indeed, excellent methods for getting into a flow state feature in many of Tom’s articles about coaching and performance.

Mind you, I think the most useful bits of the Inner Game theory are the trio of Awareness, Will and Trust that Tom doesn’t get onto in this review. So I’m not surprised to find him in a state of what WS Gilbert would call modified rapture about the earlier part of the book.

[...] quote a few paragraphs from her article, and respond.  First we talk about Self 1 and Self 2: [Tom's] first point of contention is the [...]

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