Brain, Hormones and Performance

Cortisol a friend who is also an enemy!

Our body is a fabulous machine. With the evolution through the centuries, it is capable of the greatest achievements and is designed to enable us to cope with all situations. Stimuli around us trigger a multitude of chain reactions in the depths of our being. These reactions are what allow us to survive our environment.

Cortisol is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands. Very important for several metabolic functions of the human body, it allows among others to regulate glucose in the blood, controlling blood pressure levels, to secrete insulin, stimulate the immune response and inflammation. Normally, this hormone is present in the human body in greater quantity in the morning and in lesser quantities in the evening. It was named by some researchers stress hormone, not because it is secreted in times of stress, but because it is secreted in large amounts by the body when it is subjected to intense stress.

A slight increase in cortisol may have several positive effects on the human body. For example, it gives us a boost of energy for survival reasons. It increases the ability to memorize and immunological capacity, reduces sensitivity to pain and maintain homeostasis (balance) of the body.

Cons secreted by high dose during periods of stress or chronic stress related to lifestyle, cortisol is a real poison. It reduces cognitive performance, suppresses the thyroid function, causes blood sugar imbalance, reduces bone density and muscle mass, reduces immunity and may cause higher rates of abdominal fat responsible for several diseases such as heart disease and metabolic syndrome. It is therefore, important to limit the action of cortisol at times when it can really be helpful. To do this, we must learn to stop the secretion of this hormone. Before and after a stressful event, it is important to charge our batteries. It must then be fundamental to take a time buffer before and after it.

Several activities can reduce the level of cortisol. Include breathing exercises, yoga, Tai Chi, Qi-Gong, moderate physical activity (according to our fitness), meditation, listening to slow music, to sleep and all activities that enable us to feel present and in harmony with ourselves. These ways will be developed in depth later in this blog.

© Jean-François Desrosby (D.Mus.)

Basic Concepts

The majority of musicians are sensitive to correct positioning of the main body axes (vertical and horizontal). For cons, the optimization requires a more in-depth and knowledge of key physiological mechanisms that lie behind every little move of a musician. The avowed aim is to optimize the position of each member to facilitate movement of the fingers that is unconstrained.

The number-one  rule of my approach is to use each muscle for the work for which it was designed. In this way, the stronger muscles will take care of tasks requiring strength, such as the continued rise of the left arm and supination or pronation of the right hand.

The small muscles, that are more agile, will take charge of movements requiring lightness, precision and speed.

If you are afraid that my writings contradict your beliefs, immediately put this blog on your black list and look no further into.

Please return to the Cave of Plato. ; )

If you are curious, and if you want to understand how physiological principles come into play when you execute a particular movement, it will be my pleasure to introduce you to the biomechanics applied to music…

I’m officially no longer part of school of thought… Like for all great thinkers of this world, all the guitar schools contain mostly the correct answers, but biomechanics can help us in making micro-adjustments that are helping us to unlock our guitar technique in the respect of our morphology, which allows us to improve.

© Jean-François Desrosby (D.Mus.)

The importance of mental preparation in music performance

In my research on the optimization of the guitar technique, Iquickly realized that an element had to muddy the waters. I could greatly increase my potential, but unfortunately, the performance was not always there under stress. Then I recalled a quote that my karate master repeated to me endlessly: ” Who dominates the other one is strong. Who dominates himself is powerful. ” ( Lao-Tseu)

As I drew a lot of information for my research in the field of sport kinesiology. It was quite normal for me to look to the athletes and their mental preparation to performance to see if there were elements applicable to musical performance. The high-level musician compares easily to high-ranking athletes by his physiological performance (endurance), long hours of training and development, work in precision, need of constant concentration, high stakes (pressure), and no second chance. Finally, one mistake, however, small it may be, has the potential to ruin performance. There are many examples of problems caused by performance anxiety as tremors, forgetfulness, physical cramps, lack of saliva, rhythmic problems, problems of auditory and visual perception… Many musicians are reluctant to seek psychological help to overcome their own limitations. Many mistakenly believe that their physical preparation is sufficient, others believe that the one who needs mental support is a weak person. In our society, there is a negative bias against the use of a psychologist or a mental trainer. Brain’s functions are poorly understood by the population, and using the help of psychologist remains taboo. ” It is easier to disintegrate an atom than a prejudice. ” (A. Einstein) However, the effectiveness of mental preparation is unequivocal.

The great virtuoso we all admire also relies on techniques of psychological optimization to overcome their fears, their beliefs and all forms of deadlocks. The performance equation: Performance = potential – mental interference. We often tries to increase our level of performance by increasing our potential, but we can significantly improve performance by reducing our level of mental interference. The next few posts will address how the brain and hormonal system react during the stage performance and practical ways to transform performance anxiety into a positive thing. Then we will discuss how biomechanics can help overcome our technical problems. I am  giving master classes and lectures on the subject. If you are interested in having a master class on the subject, leave me a private message in my mailbox.

© Jean-François Desrosby (D.Mus.)

Why Biomechanics

If you read about my work, you already know that I am passionate about science, and you know what I think about mental optimization. During my doctoral studies, I also studied human biomechanics. Following an internship with Marc Papillon (music specialized kinesiologist), I after deepened my knowledge on the subject, and I have undertaken extensive research on ways to optimize the technique for guitar thanks to scientific knowledge made in the field of biomechanics.

Before continuing, please feel welcome to suggest me your corrections about the translation or typo of this text, because English is not my first language. Younger, I was curious and wanted constantly to improve. I was the first to observe all our great virtuosi in action, trying to understand their hidden secrets. I was fortunate to work with teachers from all guitar schools, whether the Carlevaro school, the Shearer school, the Romeros, the one of David Russell, Presti-Lagoya, Barrueco, the Assad and so many others!

Each had his recipe to explain what he was doing… Surprisingly, all these exceptional virtuosos managed to prove to me that they knew the best recipe for arriving at all great results, but though very different paths!!! Although the observation is one of the steps of scientific reasoning, I was not completely satisfied. I asked many questions in master classes on why a particular technical approach. I would often receive vague answers based on the perception of the virtuoso. He explained that he felt good, and it was easier for him, this or that way…My answer: Yes, but … Is there a perfect book, a perfect school? All my colleagues were trying to sell me their approach, their school … I also note that some did not hesitate to denigrate another school, but when I asked them why, their answers were empty and baseless…

I was lost like a homeless man. I started to think: ok but what about the great virtuosos of jazz, rock and all other music styles such as Asian and Indian traditional music, flamenco and gypsy jazz? What about Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, all the Paco’s , the Rosenberg, Joe Pass, Tuck Andress, Pat Metheny, Lagrène… What a huge mess it was in my head…I quickly realized that no approach was complete, and they were sometimes far from perfect. Hating the idea of becoming dogmatic and abandoning my rational side in favor of a boundless idolatry to a master and leaving all the wonderful ideas that could bring me another one. I was looking for the easy answers … Why did I stop playing blues? In that music, I just had to play with my soul…

What is the answer that humanity has given to dogmas and beliefs in the past: Science. Science has the wonderful power to respond rationally to our questions. There is much research  that was conducted in the field of human biomechanics, and they help the great athletes of this world. The guitarist can be compared to these athletes? Absolutely! Can he learn from that research  and applies this to his own technique? Absolutely! The idea that many masters can perform feats using different approaches is proof that we are partly wrong when attempting to copy them. These virtuosos could play with one less finger, and they would be better than most of us … Do they have technical limitations? Absolutely! Can they overcome them? For sure,  yes! However, do they need?

By cons, for the guitarist seeking the answers to his limitations, he will find them in science. Will he be as good as Russell, Barrueco, Segovia, Pierri, Yamashita, Romeros, Assad, Williams, Bream, Presti (there are so many others in the new generation!) of this world, maybe never. Nevertheless, he could, with the help of science, to be certain to reach his maximum.

© Jean-François Desrosby (D.Mus.)