Today we’re joined by Diane Allen, a former concertmaster violinist with the Central Oregon Symphony for 15 years. Diane speaks on the topic of flow and finding your own personal “flow strategy” to reach your full potential, in music and anywhere else in your life.
In the past, “peak performance” and “performance psychology” were the exclusive realm of top-level professional performers. Now these ideas are becoming more accessible and applicable to everyday learners and musicians. Diane brings a unique perspective to to the world of performance.
In this conversation we talk about:
- How Diane rose to great success in the classical world, then put aside her violin completely – and returned to it later in an innovative way.
- The specific practical steps you can take to find your own connection with a piece of music.
- The three components of getting into the “flow” state – only one of which is normally covered when you hear about flow.
You’ll be excited to apply Diane’s fresh ideas to your own practice and performance. Dive in to this episode and learn how to be at your best!
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Diane: Hi, I’m Diane Allen and I’m a former concert master of the Symphony Orchestra and currently a corporate speaker and I’m really grateful to be here today on Musicality Now.
Christopher: Welcome to the show, Diane. Thank you for joining us today.
Diane: Thank you Christopher.
Christopher: You have, probably, a combination of the most interesting backstory and most interesting expertise that I’ve seen in a long time. So I’m really excited to dive into it all with you and I wonder if we could start by just sharing a little bit of your own musical journey, how you got started in music and what those early years were like.
Diane: Oh, I’d be happy to. I have parents who were very active in visiting different cultural institutions. My brother Andrew and I grew up in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. And even though people joke about Cleveland being the mistake on the Lake, there’s all kinds of negative things about Cleveland. It’s a hotbed for world-class organizations, incredible Shakespeare festivals. They have an outstanding art museum. And then of course, the Cleveland Orchestra, world class organization. And so, my parents would take us, as little kids. We would, oftentimes, be the only children in the audiences. And I remember very specifically sitting way up high in the seats at Severance Hall in Cleveland. I was so little that my feet were dangling. I couldn’t reach the floor and they performed Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev.
Diane: And I remember the force of the music being so strong, it pinned me to the back of the chair. I mean, it was just so strong. I also remember this feeling of having chills all over me and my hair was raising, it was just the most amazing experience hearing that. And I loved watching the violin bows go up and down and up and down. And I loved hearing the super, super high notes that the violinists could produce. They would just cut through everything, you could have the entire orchestra be playing fortissimo, but those high notes would just really carry through.
Diane: And it’s funny because, fast forward, I was playing at a music festival, here in Oregon, and one of the bass players is the son of, I think it was a trombonist in the Cleveland Orchestra. And at this summer festival, we’re playing the very same Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev. And, this is decades later. So, this bass player friend Dave, I said, “Dave, this is a moment that I remember. I remembered being a tiny little kid, leg swinging, being pinned to the back of my chair. They were playing Prokofiev, Romeo and Juliet.” He goes “I know exactly what you’re talking about. That was Lorin Maazel’s first recording with the Cleveland Orchestra and they worked really hard to make that riveting. And that was the concert, the live concert that you went to in preparation for their recording.” He knew exactly what it was. So anyways, it was a powerful experience. And then to have it validated years later was pretty cool.
Christopher: Absolutely. So clearly you felt a real connection with music from a young age. Were your parents musicians? Was it obvious to you that you would be doing that music stuff yourself one day? Or…
Diane: Parents were not musicians, certainly not my dad. My mom played some piano. And, I think that most of the cultural things that we did were led by my mom, who was also a painter. And then my dad grew to love music. He used to wake us up on Sunday mornings with John Philip Sousa marches because he would make pancakes or some special breakfast. And he’d wake us up by playing marches. It was kind of fun. So yeah, it became a big part of the family activities that we did as a family together.
Christopher: Gotcha. And when it comes to actually making music yourself, when did that begin?
Diane: I wanted to play the violin, obviously I was impressed with the Cleveland Orchestra and they said, “No, you can’t play violin until you’re eight years old.” And my mom was like, “No. Well, we start at six.” And, none of the violin teachers would take anybody. And this was at the Dawn of the Suzuki era. So Suzuki was, this tiny little radical thing going on that, if my mom had known, she probably would have found us a Suzuki teacher. But it just wasn’t prevalent at that time. So I started on piano because there was a teacher that would take my brother, sister and I, when we were six. And as soon as I was eight, I started violin. And it was such a relief because I struggle visually and to look at two staffs, the treble and the bass staff, as soon as I only had to focus on the treble staff, I was like, “Oh, this is so much easier.” Even though the violin was one of the hardest instruments to learn. I experienced relief, like okay, this is much better for me.
Christopher: Gotcha. And so there was clearly a contrast from piano, but in the grand scheme of things, did you find it came to you easily? Was it something that you were able to enjoy from the outset? I speak to various people and some of them, it was a grueling first few years before they really got the hang of it and others, it was just joy and peace from day one. What was it like for you?
Diane: It’s hard to remember. I do know that my mom, I think her rule was, however long your lesson was, that’s how long you had to practice. So if you had a 30 minute lesson, you had to practice 30 minutes and then if you grew to 45 minute lessons and you had to do 45 minutes of practice. And so, I do remember being alone in my room going through the motions of practicing and feeling like, “Ah, I have to do this.” But because my mom made it so that we were consistent practicers, it paid off.
Diane: And then when you get to middle or junior high school, when it becomes a social thing, and you’ve got some practice under your belt because it was forced on you, I don’t want to say forced, but it was part of the deal, if you’re going to take lessons you had to practice. So the accumulation of the practice done by the time junior high school, then you compare yourself to other people and you’re like, “Oh look at that. I’m actually doing okay.” So, I think it became more fun, definitely when you got to play with orchestras and do other things and as you progress through school.
Christopher: Sure. And you have this very popular TEDx Talk, which you open with a violin performance and it’s clear you are, these days, a very creative and innovative player. Unfortunately, violin is an instrument where it’s almost redundant for me to ask. But was that kind of improvisation and creativity part of your violin playing from early on or was that something that came later?
Diane: Ah, big question. You know that. This whole thing, with playing an electric violin, for those of you who are seeing the video, you see my violin behind me, it’s called The Copper Dragon. It’s an electric violin. It’s carbon fiber. It’s hollow on the inside, which I like, a solid body doesn’t produce much sound, you could hardly hear it. But I can play it without plugging in and hear it. So, if I’m in a hotel somewhere, I can still play it and practice. So, it gave me an opportunity to have a violin that was light weight, wasn’t heavy, and that I could still hear it like I’m used to playing violin. And so, this is all really new to me. And I’ll come back to that in a second. All of my training was strictly classical and in all of it there was no improvising at all.
Diane: I remember once having a teacher say, “Write your own Cadenza to this Mozart concerto.” And, it was like being a fish out of water, to suddenly write a piece of music. That’s the only experience I remember in all of my classical upbringing. And so, I had taught so many students for over 30 years. It was like the violin factory over here. And produced some amazing recitals and standing room only recitals. The reason why I mention this is because, I taught my students how to get into the music at a very early age. Because I thought, if they’re going to play this really, really, really difficult instrument, they’re going to need a carrot. They’re going to need a reason why they’re playing. So I taught them as soon as possible, how to get into the music.
Diane: So the violin recitals I had, were always standing room only. Even if I got a bigger venue, it would still grow into standing room only because there’s nothing cuter than a bunch of little kids getting into the music. So, I was the queen bee violin teacher here in Bend, Oregon. I was the concert master of the symphony for 15 years, playing the same symphonies over and over and over again. I mean, between high school and all the way through my college training and then the professional playing, it was just the same symphonies over and over and over again. And I burned out. I had burned out. I was sitting in symphony. I was getting grumpy teaching. Students were leaving, they were departing and I didn’t know why. I didn’t know what was going on.
Diane: I published some books, which we could talk about later. As soon as I published them, I felt like wow, I’ve done it. Those books were really important for me to get out. We were playing a symphony. It was Beethoven and I’m sitting in the orchestra and I was thinking, I need to take a leave of absence from the symphony because I’m just not feeling this. And during this performance of Beethoven, I said to myself, and I was like, well, what if this is the last Beethoven symphony that you ever play? Oh no, here come the tears. And at the time not even that riled me up on the inside. I was like all right, whatever. So I took a leave of absence and a year later I was like, I’m done. I sold everything, sold the violin, sold all my music, stopped teaching, done.
Diane: And so fast forward. I should look at the time line, I don’t know if it was four or five years. But it was just, what say it would be, so it’s 2020, so it was October of 2018. My husband and I went to a film festival and there was a documentary on creativity and it was about a bunch of counter-culture artists pushing the boundaries, figuring out their own standards for what they call art, even though famous art galleries in Santa Fe or New York City would say, well that’s not art. They were declaring, no, this is art. And it was a fascinating documentary. I came home that night and I couldn’t sleep and I was like, oh no, here comes the violin, it’s coming back.
Diane: And so I called my friend and I said, “Got any violins in the house? She goes, “Of course.” And so she brought over this purple violin and it was a pretty trashy violin, but I played a little Bach and I was like, “Can’t do it, can’t play the classical music.” I didn’t know why that was happening, could not play the classical music. And so I started the Cohen’s Hallelujah. I thought, okay, I like that song. I can connect with that song. So I played that song. There was a couple of Hans Zimmer pieces, for those of you who don’t know, Hans Zimmer is the composer for most of the movie music that you hear. The Epic, super epic movie music that we hear. And so there’s a couple of pieces by Hans Zimmer that I really liked.
Diane: So I downloaded the sheet music and it’s like, okay, I can connect with this and play it with this. And my husband, who teaches the base, knew somebody who played electric violin. And I asked him if I could borrow his electric violin. And that was, oh my gosh, this is it. And I had no idea what I was looking for. No idea. And I’m leaning towards the Hans Zimmer style of music. So after some discovery, I had a jazz singer friend who plays piano. She helped me just to say, okay here we’re going to play some chords and now just kind of noodle around and play with this. And it was very similar to the course that my brother Andrew created, the Circle Mastery course, I took that. What’s the name of that course Christopher?
Christopher: Circle Mastery Experience
Diane: Oh okay.
Christopher: And we should probably just address that. The Andrew you refer to there is Andrew Bishko from the Musical U team. At the Andrew you grew up with earlier, is in fact the Andrew, some listeners and viewers of the show would know quite well.
Diane: So I said, it’s funny because I’m an impatient person. And I said, “Help me write some music.” And he goes, “No, you have to experiment.” And I was like, “No, just help me.” And the Circle Mastery course is very helpful. And I still was kind of frustrated. I ended up just Googling or I think it was YouTube, but it’s like chord structures. I kept going back and forth between, do I start with a melody, do I start with chord structures? Like how do I do this? Like once I have chords I can make things up, that’s not hard.
Diane: I think that what’s really hard about creating your own music and being new to a instrument is you’re doing two new things at the same time. For me, I could think of a, oh those are the notes in the chord? I can play those notes all over the violin because I think I’ve played violin almost 50 years now. So I’m not dealing with doing two new things at once. But it is, like I said, very confronting, like being at this beginner level.
Diane: So I did a YouTube search of, I think I was just looking for how to create music that sounds like Hans Zimmer or something like that. And there was a video on there with a whole bunch of chord structures that they laid out and I think, I don’t know, there’s like 20 of them, maybe more like 15 of them that I started messing with and playing some baselines on the looper. Doing some arpeggiations that okay, what’s melody? Listening to the music and saying, those melodies aren’t very developed. They’re just maybe a couple measures long then over and over again, but just layered. And so it’s been fun. I’m still struggling with the looper and how to use it. That was a very long answer to a very short question.
Christopher: That’s a very good answer and I will definitely have a link in the show notes that Ted Talk I mentioned, where you opened with an amazing looped violin performance. And I’m hoping you might treat us to a bit of violin later in the conversation. Part of the reason I was keen to ask is that, I fear on this show sometimes we conflate improvising and playing by ear and writing your own music with expressiveness in musical performance. And I never want to give the impression that one can’t be a dynamic expressive performer full of musicality if you’re reading from sheet music. Obviously that’s nonsense to anyone who’s heard a really compelling classical performance.
Christopher: But given that you have this new kind of era of your music making, which is tied to that improvising and creativity in a whole new way, I think that’s helpful for us to kind of put that over there and say that’s one way that you are really in touch with the music. But actually if we circle back to something you said earlier, you were helping your young students get into the music as you put it, very early on and I wonder if we could loop back in your story to that kind of period and what getting into the music and connecting with the music means, if we’re not improvising and doing all kinds of dynamic nifty things with a looper pedal.
Diane: Yes, because the violin was so, it’s just such an uncomfortable instrument to play and it’s a high precision instrument. I would help them to hold the instrument and hold the bow and make a good sound, as fast as possible. I did use the Suzuki method, the Suzuki method is touted as learning by ear. But coming from my training as an orchestral musician, reading music was equally important. So I would just start them by ear, enough to learn how to play the instrument and then we would start in on reading music. But at the same time, for those of you who are familiar with the Suzuki books, the very first real song or a real piece of music by Bach is called Minuet One. And let me go grab my violin.
Diane: So the flow state that I talk about in the Ted Talk is the second step. And so what I’m talking about here when I taught my students to get into the music, was kind of like a preliminary step, it was like a stepping stone for them to be able to get into the flow state with their music later. And to feel really, really, really expressive. So it’s just crazy because I don’t remember in my upbringing, anybody ever telling you how to get into the music. I do remember my brother Andrew and when he was in, I think he was in middle school or high school, I can’t remember. But he had a friend who played the piano and I think he played jazz, and they would get together in our living room and do these jazz sessions or they would just play music together. I can’t remember what they were playing.
Diane: And I remember they would just get so into the music and it was just such a different level. I don’t know how he got there because I was never taught how, I think he just instinctually did it. I don’t know if his teachers taught or maybe because he was playing the flute and you’re using your breath, it was a little more connected. He started on piano and then played flute, was his secondary instrument. So nobody said anything, like how to get into the music. And it’s just crazy because in college, I’m at the Manhattan School of Music, New York City musical training. And this teacher, he talks about this concept of how you start a race, we count one, two, three and then you go and you start racing. And he says, okay, music is filled with one, two, three. It’s like, oh, okay.
Diane: So I would take my little four and five year old Suzuki violin students and we’d be Minuet One and I said, “Okay, we’re going to look for one, two, three. And so it goes like this, one, two, three. So simple. Anybody could hear that, but yet I didn’t learn that until I was in college. And so being able to suddenly hear that in music is pervasive. And when you hear yourself playing, you’ll hear that you yourself do that. Or maybe you want to incorporate it more. But when you become aware of it, then you start to shape it. Because we know how we count races, one, two, three.
Christopher: Gotcha. And just to make sure everyone’s following along, we’re talking about a very transferable mental model for how the music is kind of building tension and release or how it’s creating a shape. The idea that you would do something then maybe you do something similar and then do something different. Is that right?
Diane: I’m trying to think. There’s one spot in one of the Minuets where it somehow gets reversed. I’m a little rusty on this, but basically those Minuets, all of them do that. You have one, two, three. Over and over again. One, two and then the next phrase is super long.
Christopher: Interesting. Okay. So maybe I misunderstood. So is it more about the duration of the phrases than the similarity, would you say? And that’s why it’s compared to the race start?
Diane: Yeah, because you’re like two measures, two measures and then four measures.
Diane: And so the teacher in college that talked to us about this, we were listening to symphonies, we would hear this within the symphonies. So just a really easily assimilated way for a tiny little kid to hear the phrasing in music. Then we would take a look at, there’s an A section and a B section and whether you read music or not, we know that there’s different forms of music. And so the A section might be you might call that a paragraph. The B section is a whole paragraph. And then the whole thing together might be the chapter or the whole piece, in classical music we have different movements. So each movement would be a different chapter and the whole thing would be a story.
Diane: So showing little kids all of these little breakdowns were things that they could connect to and to start. But the real bridge that I want to talk about was being able to get into how you express your music on a more granular level and which at the same time, when you get into that granular level of focus, deep focus and putting your intention into the music, these are the things that can get you into your flow state. And the flow state, we need to get into this right now, is that moment when you lose all sense of time and you feel one with the activity. You can be practicing and come out of it and realize three hours has gone by and it felt like five. It’s that kind of a feeling.
Diane: And you might have ideas and insights that come from out of the blue. You might feel completely uninhibited, alone in your practice room, where you could just let it rip and things happen in magical ways. Maybe things come together really easy out of the blue and you just feel like you’re in this state. So there’s a lot of things that are known. This is all been studied by an organization called the Flow Genome Project. They have done all of the neuroscience background behind all of this art. Literally when we get into the flow state, our prefrontal cortex shuts down, which is where our inner critic lives.
Diane: So that’s why we get uninhibited. It’s our prefrontal cortex is also where we store sense of time. So when that shuts down, that’s why we lose the sense of time. And then the neocortex amps up and this is why we get more creative and these things come. It’s like a physical thing. It’s a literal thought process that we could get into. It happens in the shower, it happens when you’re driving and you don’t know how you got home. So, in all these places we’re in the flow state and when musicians are deeply into the music, they’re in their flow state. Now there’s personal ways that you can get into the flow state.
Diane: And that’s what my Ted Talk is all about. And I don’t know if we’ll have time in this particular conversation to get into that. Because what I’m trying to do is build the pre-steps to that Ted Talk for musicians. So, understanding the structure of music is, it’s a language, it’s got scent, it’s got words, it’s got the notes together, create words, the words create, the groups of notes is a word, those create sentences, which we call phrases. Those phrases build up together to become a section and then, like I mentioned earlier. So when we get so focused on the granular level with intention of how we want to express the music with our deep listening and our deep focus. Okay. Intention, deep listening and deep focus are all proven ways by the Flow Genome Project, that we access the flow state. Okay. So it’s kind of interesting because I’m going to come at this from a technical level, but it’s a stepping stone to get in. So does that make sense? Am I talking English?
Christopher: Yeah, absolutely. That makes a lot of sense. Thank you. And what was it in your own life that made you start thinking about flow or start looking up what the Flow Genome Project might be up to?
Diane: It was a performance fail that I had late in my career and I couldn’t get into the music at that concert, it was like I lost it. Which meant I went through the motions during that concert, I was not able to get into the music and it was really disturbing. And so that was the impetus for me to break down, well how do I get into the music? What is it that I do? And so that’s what the Ted Talk is all about. It’s all about that experience and how I broke it down and the system that I created so I could guarantee that I could get into the flow state at will anytime, anywhere.
Diane: And so let me, if you don’t mind, let me go back to these three steps to get people into flow, because we want to talk about how do you express music on that granular level? And so in the end of the Ted Talk, I play a line of music, which I’m going to play right now, okay? So basically you could say it’s four note groups. I’m playing a lot of four note groups, all that whole line of music is made up of four note groups. So it started off with… those are four notes. Okay. So the whole thing is made up four note groups. And in music, when it’s written like the top line here. And so for those of you who are listening, it’s basically four equal notes. They’re the same size, the same shape and if I were a beginner music student, and I didn’t know anything about how to phrase music, I’d never heard about words or putting notes together, I would play every note, they’re all the same tempo.
Diane: I would play, they’re all at the same rhythm. I would play… I’m just going to stop now because this is super boring. So if we have the same rhythm, how are we going to make that interesting? How do we get that to sound like it’s a phrase or that it’s not mechanical, how do we interpret that, I guess is what we’re really saying. So if I played four notes equally… Sounds like that. I could also play it like this… Just emphasizing the first one. In fact, actually, let me add the first note of the next group. So I’m going to play five notes. We have four notes and then we have the first one of the next group because it’s an arrival. So if I play…
Diane: I don’t know if that’s audible through technology, but I tried to play the first one louder, then three in a row quieter and then land back on the first one louder again. I could do like one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four. Where we’re at gross. We start loud, softer, getting louder. So if I took that idea with that scale, I’d play… It’s starting to have shape, but it’s also sounds a little nauseous, of doing the same thing over and over again. So that’s one suggestion. You can also do, let’s see, we could do groups of two. So we can have… So that’d be one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one, two. So earlier I had one, two, three, four, one. So I could do that and then maybe the next group I did the one, two, sorry. I can’t play and talk at the same time.
Diane: But the one, two, so that would be… Kind of a rough version of it. So you could emphasize any of those notes. And this would be something that my brother would say to go and experiment with. And in a group before, what notes are you going to emphasize more? Or what are you going to do less? So with a little kid, I would say if we go to the peak of that scale… There’s the arrival. But now we have this whole… That whole part. So this the arrival… So I would say to a student, I’m going to play one note, doesn’t belong to anything. What if I play two notes in a row? Oh those kind of belong together.
Diane: So we could put a circle around them in the music. We’d take a pencil and just circle those two notes. Okay, well if those two notes belong together, let me play the next one. That one doesn’t belong to anything. But what if I play two notes? Oh, that kind of belongs together. So you could circle those two. And those might be like the syllables in a word. Each note is a letter and then we’re just trying to find out what belongs together. So if I take both of those syllables, that kind of sounds like a word. So I do that scale. Arrive. Then we have… Okay, that makes sense?
Diane: So I would go through with students, we would go through entire pieces of music in this fashion and they would decide, oh, I like these two notes together and we would circle it. Or I like all of these notes together. And the funny thing is, is that in written music, and of course you can do all this by ear, but in written music you have so many lines. You have the stems, you have the bar lines and then you have beams that connect groups of notes. And when you do this circle exercise, what happens is, is all of those beams and those bar lines, you’re just doing circles all around them. It’s like they had nothing to do with the expression of music. Bar lines and beams visually look like you’re supposed to group those things together. But they have nothing to do with how you express music.
Diane: And so when you go through this exercise of circling what belongs together, that becomes for them, how they want to interpret those at a very granular level. So I’ll just finish this phrase, I’m stepping on my cord here. So this whole last thing, if I play it without any expression, super boring. And so I had decided that I liked, here’s the arrival, I liked this. But then I wanted more momentum. So instead of doing another four group, I did eight. So, and then I did another eight, and that’s how I decided to interpret that.
Christopher: Tremendous. I always like to speak for the engineers and scientists in the audience because I can relate to them a lot and just to make sure their curiosity is satisfied. What we’ve literally done there is make our own decisions about the volume and the timing of the notes in order to convey that grouping. Is that right? Is that what we’re playing around with in order to put those phrases in?
Diane: We’re basically taking a microscope and looking very closely at every single note and what notes belong together in what makes sense to us. And it’s that act that gets you into that deeply focused listening so carefully. That’s what’s going to trigger you to get into the flow state where you get so focused and you’re so one with the activity and it literally trips that physiological response in your brain to turn off the prefrontal cortex, amp up the neocortex and that’s where that creativity comes in. You can look and act, people can play really loud and they can move their bodies a lot and it could look like you’re into the music. But this is literally like no, when you look at it in this way, you decide how you’re going to connect all these things. Or if you’re in the middle of improving, you’re always looking to see what belongs together, how do you connect things. That’s what’s going to get you into that deeper level of focus.
Christopher: Wonderful. I love that so much and I can’t help but think of how I was taught or “taught” this stuff back in my school days. And as you point out, the visual representation of music can be so misleading. When I was growing up, I was taught a little bit about dynamics and phrasing and how to convey that, but it was in the context of this swoopy line goes like that. So that is one phrase. What can you do to convey that phrase? And it never crossed my mind and maybe not even my teacher’s minds that I might get to choose where the phrases were in the music. And, obviously there’s a conversation around respecting the composer’s intent and that kind of thing. But what I love about what you just demonstrated is you’re starting purely with the listening and you can relate it back to the sheet music. And I love that you use circles to distinguish from those kind of straight strict lines we normally go by. But you’re starting from the sound and you’re starting from the listening and you’re placing your own phrasing and expression on that, I just think is tremendous.
Diane: And once again, this was a different professor, but it was the violin teacher that I had at the Manhattan School of Music. He was the one of painstakingly we would go through every single note in a Concerto like this. You’d have to buy two copies of the music because you’d have one completely trashed copy because of all the pencil. The thing is, its like any other technique. It’s hard at first, but then the more you do it, the easier it gets and the more engaged you feel with your work. And I think that’s really ultimately when somebody experiences somebody else who’s into the music, what they’re experiencing is, as they’re witnessing somebody being deeply engaged, deeply engaged, which is why I’m doing corporate speaking now because that’s a huge problem. Employee engagement.
Diane: And so I bring this, literally, I bring this, it’s like how do you get engaged and how do you trigger into being that in to experiencing your potential through the flow state? But the fun thing is, is that when you are a spectator, we can all think of those artists as those musicians that just knock us out. And it’s just so riveting to watch somebody whose so into the music. It’s contagious. Bobby McFerrin. I heard Bobby McFerrin at Carnegie Hall when I was at the Manhattan School of Music. And we’re talking New York City, okay. When you’re in the subways, you don’t look at anybody, you don’t talk to anyone. Everyone’s in their own zone.
Diane: And after Bobby McFerrin okay, I go down to the subway to go home. Everybody in the subway, because it was late at night, had just come from this concert. Everybody was friendly and happy and singing. Like you never see that in a New York City subway. And so it’s contagious and there’s even information about that. The heart, the electromagnetic field of your heart reaches out 15 feet around you. So if you are deeply engaged in your music, you are in that heart space, you are projecting it out 15 feet. So group flow, now we’re getting into group flow, is that then becomes contagious to those people around you. And then they get into their heart space and then that reaches out 15 feet. And this is why it ripples through, why you could have a riveting musicians on stage that inspire everybody in the audience and then everybody gets into that state. It’s called group flow. That is also proven in many ways.
Diane: The 15 feet, the electromagnetic field of the heart comes from the heart Math M-A-T-H Institute, where they study in depth the heart and all of the things having to do with the heart. And so there’s neurons in our heart, we have memory in our heart. And so the feeling memory is in our heart, a lot of our emotions are in our heart. So when we get to interpreting our music on that granular level and we get engaged in the music, we get deeper into that feeling memory of our heart. We’re in our heart space, it activates the heart. People 15 feet around hear it. Then it ripples throughout the audience. Does it get any better?
Christopher: That’s so fascinating and as you said before, we couldn’t recreate your Ted Talk here and I’m sure everyone watching and listening is already eager to run off and watch it, if they haven’t already hit pause and done so. But I think you said earlier that flow comes from deep listening and deep focus and intention and I feel like the scientific literature around flow talks a lot about the deep focus. And I’ve heard a lot about that and I loved what you just shared about the stepping stones of getting into deep listening. And I think you just touched there on the third aspect, which is what I’ve heard you talk about but almost nobody else talk about, which is the kind of emotional or heart side of getting into flow. Like I said, I’m not going to ask you to deliver your Ted Talk here, but maybe you could just give our listeners, our audience a little sense of what that’s about and why it’s important.
Diane: Right. So the day that I couldn’t get into music was horrifying because I had obviously, I let the audience down. It was embarrassing, it was humiliating. And it was something I had taken for granted. So, so I basically sat on the couch that night just trying to deconstruct it. And because I had so much experience getting into the music of my life, I could just sit on the couch, close my eyes, and recreate it. And I realized that I basically deconstructed it and it ended up highlighting purpose on what I’m doing and the purpose for it. So which, once again, is another known way to access the flow state, which is to serve a higher purpose. This is why in people who are developed in their religions and if they have a group service or something like that, it’s always something outside of yourself.
Diane: Something a lot far greater than yourself that you’re reaching for. It’s a bigger purpose. And so purpose, you don’t have to have religion to have purpose. But I’m just saying that’s an example that I think is easy for people to, yeah, we know what that’s like. So I had figured out that what I’m doing is I’m sharing. So when I’m thinking about those granular construction of how I get into the music, I’m sharing it, I’m sharing that message to the audience. That’s what I’m doing.
Diane: But why? Why is it so meaningful? Because there were some concerts, I’d be in the middle of performing a concert and I would be moved to tears, I could not hold it back. So then I would say, okay, I’m sharing in these concerts. Well why is it so meaningful? What’s going on here? And I realized it was unity. It was that act of having an entire auditorium, thousands of people combined together in one activity. That’s what would just move me. And then I just found other places like, oh yeah, anytime I had done the two or three times I did some sort of race for the cure of whatever. When you have thousands of people fundraising through doing a walk or a race or something like that, I’d be the one crying.
Diane: And I was like, it’s unity. That’s how I was able to figure it out. So the more ways you know how to access your flow state, we’ve talked about many today. Deep listening, focus, the having purpose, all of these things are different ways to get into the flow state. Did I answer your question? I think so. So that’s the next level, is the information that I shared on the Ted Talk. So I can guarantee if I know what purpose I’m serving, I can guarantee I could get into it, because I analyzed it.
Christopher: That’s really valuable. And I think you talk about having your flow strategy, it’s not this is the strategy of how people scientifically get into flow. What you just described is really about that personal gateway that can be combined with the listening and the focus to get you into that state. Right?
Diane: What is your personal flow strategy? And I gave some really funny examples. Thomas Edison had a pipe organ in his lab. Albert Einstein, he was known to not be bothered on his daily walks. Every day he would walk to Princeton and to home and everybody knew, do not bother him. That’s him when he gets into his flow state. They didn’t call it that at that time, but they just knew to honor that. And then Nikola Tesla, he insisted on squishing his toes when 100 times a day. So we had like these quirky behaviors, and you think about athletes and people who are highly esoteric as having these crazy habits that they do, but they do them. Meditation is another one, there’s just so many different ways. They do them because they know that when they get into that flow state, they’re in their best self and they’re in their highest creativity and innovation. For musicians it’s getting into music.
Christopher: Well, I love the clarity and frameworks you bring to this topic because I know that the flow state is something everyone can kind of instinctively relate to a little bit. And the idea of getting into the music and having that level of expressiveness is something everyone craves. But it’s rare for someone to say, oh, this is how it works, or this is how to get there. So I really applaud the deep thought you’ve clearly put into this. We did something a bit different for this episode, which is I guess partly, because you’re Andrew’s sister and you’ve very kindly dropped into Musical U to chat with our members a little bit. But we asked our members at Musical U if they had any questions for you and I’d love to just throw a couple of those out there.
Christopher: I’m going to paraphrase for brevity and to relate it to what we’ve been talking about more directly, but one of our members, Alynn was curious to know about this relationship between flow and improvising and practice and essentially she was using her music practice time to work on improvising and recognizing that part of getting into improv is getting into flow and that seemed to go together, but then getting lost in it. The way we sometimes talk about flow seemed anathema to diligent practice where you’re carefully thinking about what to work on. And what advice would you have for someone on that one, how to think about flow and improvising and practice?
Diane: I have a close friend, a psychologist who she calls it fused thinking. And I’m not going to do this justice the way she does it, but basically you have critical thinking skills and then you have creative creativity. And I’m sure that they figured out, okay, well when you’re in your creativity, these are the things that light up in your brain. And when you’re using the critical skills, these are the things that, it’s accessing different parts of your brain. And so if you think about those dreams that you have, that you remember, and then and they’re always a metaphor for something and you have to interpret what it meant. And so maybe you remember a dream. Okay, so the dream happened in your sleep, in a flow state.
Diane: But then when you wake up, you remember it. And so then you think, I want to interpret that. I want to learn what. So when you’re in the dream state or you could think about that as being in your creative mind. I’m just loosely doing this, it’s not exact. And then when you’re waking up and you’re interpreting it, you’re in that critical thinking. Okay. And so what happens is, is you start to become adept. Maybe you have a dream and you wake up and you already know what it meant. So that meant the time spent in each of those kinds of thinking, was much quicker going from one to the other. And so I think that just like anything in music, you have to practice everything. So yeah, you might structure part of your practice is, I have to do this technical thing and then I’m going to have free time where I just let it happen.
Diane: And then maybe it just happens out of the blue and then you’re like, woo-hoo, it’s happening and then you just go with it. Somebody else I had a conversation with, and I’m blanking on his name right now, was saying that he would get so lost, that his band mates would be making funny faces and that’s when he realized that he had gone on too far and he had lost so much track of time that he couldn’t figure out the form, yeah I think was the problem. So they would give him funny faces when he over went beyond or whatever in the form. So that meant that he was so heavily in the creative stage, he couldn’t access the critical thinking part. So being able to weave back and forth between the two, is a practice that you have to practice, and that’s what my friend calls fused thinking. Being able to quickly change from one to the other so that you can gain as much as you can from both aspects. Did I answer that in a-
Christopher: Absolutely. Yeah and you touched on the second question I jotted down there from Nikko, which was about getting so into flow at a jam session that you kind of lose your place and then you’re jolted back into reality. And he was asking for advice on that. So I think that’s really helpful.
Diane: And the other thing I don’t know, sometimes you answer intuitively. Because Nikko is also a violinist, as we put our violins up next to our necks, we breathe shallow and because we forget to breathe past the violin. So part of me sense that he might’ve also not been grounded. You have to breathe deeply to get beyond where the violin is and I felt like the deeper breathing and feeling like his feet were planted would give him that sense of being grounded at the same time as being in your flow stage.
Christopher: Tremendous. Well, I want to be respectful of your time because I said to you before we hit record, I could happily talk about this stuff with you for hours on end. And I think we’ve packed a lot in there and given people a real taste of what they can expect in your Ted Talk if they run off now to the show notes at musicality now they’ll come to get the link directly to that talk. Before we wrap up, I did want to ask about your book series because that’s something we haven’t really explored, but you said it was really important to you to get it out there into the world. And as far as I know it’s not related to the stuff we’ve been discussing or at least not explicitly. So what was that book series?
Diane: Well actually you could say it was, because if you’re playing on a fretless instrument and finding where the notes are on the instrument, it’s hard. It really is. And I had put together a series of books that are kind of like crossword for finding notes on the instrument. And they are ways for you to visualize where the notes are, to get really accustomed to half steps, which on a stringed instrument, everything is built from half steps. You become an expert in knowing what the half steps are and just in case you don’t know what a half step is, it would be like going from D to D sharp. That would be a half step.
Diane: If you go from D to E, that would be a whole step. I mapped out the entire fingerboard, so there’s seven books on violin, seven on Viola, and we did one cello book and one bass book. Once again, the goal was to teach my students as quickly as possible the technical aspects, because I knew that they had to get into music if they were going to continue with violin and most of my students, I taught K through 12 because of that. I mean I had longterm relationships with my students.
Diane: So these workbooks were a way to get them into knowing all of the notes, all over the violin at a really early age. I sent you Christopher, a list to include in the show notes, I also have a bow arm bootcamp, which is a phenomenal exercises that gets people really comfortable with the bow. And both the bow arm bootcamp and the fingerboard workbook series for any violinists, just email me and I’ll give you a really good deal on these products. Like really good deal. If you’re curious, you could learn more at the website, so we’ll include that in the show notes and I included my email address so we could have a conversation.
Diane: You can check it out if you’re curious. I could just email you the book and the bow arm bootcamp. But in my journey, I said that I had burned out and what happened was is I created these course, the bow arm bootcamp course and the books very close to the end of my career and it was kind of like the final thing that I needed to do to complete. To put these products out there and to feel complete with my entire classical music aspect of my music career.
Christopher: Tremendous. Well as somebody who first tried learning electric bass on a fretless, I’ll just underscore what you said there, about it being harder than one might expect to find them. I thought I had a pretty good ear and I wanted to be just like Rick Kemp on a couple of tracks where he plays the fretless bass and sounds incredible. Turned out it was pretty tricky. So-
Diane: That’s how I feel about writing my own music now. It’s like, what am I doing? So I get it.
Christopher: Cool. And I realize we’ve touched on, but not really talked about, what you do full time now, which is professional public speaking or addressing groups of people. And outside the world of music, we’ve obviously been talking specifically about music here today for musicians and music learners. But maybe just so that everybody is aware and we can point them in the right direction if they’re interested to know more. What do you do as a public speaker?
Diane: I have a really good time.
Christopher: Good answer.
Diane: Because I bring my Copper Dragon on stage with me. I open up with a piece of music. I get the audience involved, I give them a rhythm and a melody, make them play along with me. Then I tell them how to access their own excellence through the flow state and there’s a huge need. There’s a lot of corporations that are realizing they can’t treat employees like machines anymore. And how do we bring the humanity back? Innovation is a really important thing right now. And so getting into the flow state is what gets people so deeply engaged with what they’re doing. It gets them into that innovative stage. It gets them into having purpose. It’s cultivating the humanity. So I do a keynote that is multisensory and yeah, there’s going to be information. I have my brother and I also have a sister, she has some animation in there. She’s a visual artist. So there’s some pictures, there’s animation, there’s music and then there’s the message. And then hopefully people leave knowing their own flow strategies so that they can access their potential.
Christopher: Amazing. So you’ve been so generous sharing today, both from the very practical nitty-gritty through to the theoretical and high level concepts and I’m sure it’s been just as fascinating for everyone watching and listening as it has been for me, myself. Just wanted to end with a huge thank you again, Diane and a applause for the work you’re doing, because as you touched on at the end there, it is so important both for music learners and everybody out in the world. And I feel like this status quo in what we hear about flow actually isn’t all that helpful for helping us get there. So I really applaud the work you’re doing and thank you again for joining us today to share some of that.
Diane: Thank you for having me. I really want people to feel free and to have that sense of freedom in their expression. And it’s a huge part of my why and my purpose and like I described, to give people the opportunity to be the ones who start that chain of getting a whole group of people into that contagiousness state of being in your flow.
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