Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome


“Old habits cannot be erased. They must be replaced with new ones.”

“If a brass player does not play by sound awareness, they will attempt to play by the awareness of feel. That’s like trying to drain the water from a swimming pool with a straw.”

“Feel and fail are four letter words to a brass player.”

“Your mind is like a flickering candle as it fluctuates between sound awareness and feel awareness.”

“Your ears cannot function like lips and your lips can never become ears.”

“Two musicians are sitting in your chair. There is conflict between the one who is mostly successful when they perform, and one who usually fails. If either player is a possibility, the one who fails will always win the battle.”

“The brain normally prioritizes the senses in the following order: sight, hearing, feel, smell, taste.”

"Awareness of feel motivates sensory systems (input). Awareness of sound motivates motor systems (output).


"We cannot create sound through sensory systems, only motor systems."

"Sensory systems and motor systems travel down a one way street."

From the beginning, if a brass player does not learn to play by auditory awareness, years will be wasted trying to substitute feel awareness. For the following reasons, the result will inevitably be failure

1. Feel is a lower level sensory input to the brain. Far less information is communicated by feel than with the senses of sight, or hearing. If only two of the five senses were available to us in our everyday lives, we would function very well if they were the senses of sight and hearing. Humans would be almost paralyzed if we only had the senses of feel, smell, and taste. Some animals do function well within the limitations of these senses because they are more highly developed.

If our inner auditory awareness is weak, the subconscious brain immediately reacts by seeking information (input) another way. The brain doesn’t try to detect sound by sight (highest sense level) because that’s impossible. It moves to the lower sense of feel by trying to detect sound with the lips. Because that’s where the mouthpiece is. However, that never works because the lips cannot detect sound anymore than the eyes, nose, tongue, or fingers can.

If we put our lips on the receiver of a phone, we could feel vibrations but we could not tell what someone was saying. The lips are very capable of producing sound but they cannot detect it.

2. When the subconscious brain is forced into the “feel mode” as a reaction to the lack of auditory awareness, it desperately tries to receive auditory information from the lips. But it fails to receive specific input. With no auditory awareness, all playing mechanics cease. When the brass player instinctively tries to restore playing mechanics at the conscious level of thought. Failure is inevitable because all the knowledge and awareness is in the subconscious!

3. At the conscious level of thought, there isn’t enough intellect, awareness, or control of the mechanics of playing. It is no different than walking or talking. We don’t consciously order the mechanics of either function. The mechanics are motivated by our conscious awareness of the words we want to communicate with our vocal chords and where we want to go with our legs and feet.


“When we try to bring a subconscious function to the conscious level of thought, we sabotage the powerful symbiotic relationship that exists between the two. That relationship allows us to function freely every moment of our lives.”

Once playing by “feel” has been established as a habit, it cannot be eliminated. It must be replaced with something new, playing by sound awareness. However, the old habits will be dominant until new habits have enough time to establish dominance. Inevitably, the brass player will fluctuate between old and new habits. I refer to this condition as the “Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome”. It creates anxiety, self doubt,paralysis, and eventually results in a high expectation of failure.


“Inevitably, we always realize our expectations whether we want to or not.”

“The longer an old habit has been established, the longer it will take to replace it with a new one.”

We naturally want instant solutions to our problems, especially if they are causing deep emotional pain, physical discomfort, or both. However, Scott Peck, MD (The Road Less Traveled) tells us that finding solutions to our problems requires time. And personal need and discipline are necessary for us to allow the required time.


In the well known story, The Good Witch of the West tells the characters to, “Follow the yellow brick road”. In Emerald City, you will meet the Wizard of Oz who will give you what you are searching for. Along the way, they are detoured and ended up in the Witch’s Castle, where unpleasant experiences occur.

They eventually got back on “the yellow brick road” and make their way to Emerald City. They do find what they were looking for by discovering that it was within them all along. They were successful because they didn’t look for a red or blue road, or some other incorrect path.


“When you have found a method that brings you success, embrace it like you would a life preserver.”

“A brass player can find success only when they finally liberate themselves from the powerful influence of the mindless tubing in their hands.”

“The instrument has no intelligence or sound of its own. That can come only from the mind of a musician.”


As a brass player continues to search for reasons for their failure, they will continue to fail. It is only when the searching ends that they can be free to focus all their energy in one direction. Without an effective method, there will be no history and expectation of success.

The frustrating fluctuations between success and failure of the Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome, is an unfortunate condition that causes anxiety, fear, and paralysis. Ideally, the syndrome should be avoided from the beginning, but it occurs much too often in most of us.

Unless, a brass player learns how to create and maintain the good Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde will dominate. Once a new history and expectation of success has been established, Dr. Jekyll will emerge as the dominate personality. However, Mr. Hyde may recede but he will never be completely dormant.


“Being chased by a tiger is fatal only if you can’t outrun it.”


For over forty years, I have found SBP to be an effective methodology to create success with my students and myself. I also learned that self analysis was not only unnecessary but that it is very destructive.

There are no mirrors or breathing devices in my studio. There is only the sound of music coming from vocal chords, a mouthpiece, or a brass instrument. The production of sound must always be our ultimate objective.


“Go for the product.”

The product is never blowing, fingering, or feeling. It’s musical sound.


“The most powerful element motivating playing mechanics is not a conscious awareness of mechanics. It’s the conscious awareness of sound. The highest level of sound awareness is achieved by mentally singing as we play.”


“I sing the notes in my head as I play them.”


“Transfer singing and buzzing to the instrument. Add words to enhance your singing.”

"Sound is the criterion for how we do this and that."


"Sound motivates function."



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