Book Review: The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green

Wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it. ~David Star Jordan, The Philosophy of Despair; US biologist, educator, ichthyologist (1851-1931)


The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green, with Timothy Gallwey

15 chapters
225 pages

Barry Green’s book is based on Gallwey’s quite successful title, The Inner Game of Tennis. What is striking and admirable is that Green didn’t just write a knockoff cribbed from Gallwey’s book. After meeting with Gallwey about the project, they decided Green should live with (and teach) the principles and then write the book. Three years later, Green was ready and this book is the result.

As you might guess, the book is about how to think about- and approach playing music and music practice. There is a lot of useful information in this little book, and it’s clear that Green–a professional symphonic bass player and university teacher–knows what he’s talking about and writes clearly about it.

He starts with an overview of Gallwey’s approach, namely using the “Self 1” and “Self 2” aspects of our thinking. Green immediately points out that this doesn’t necessarily conform to the popular “left-brain/right-brain,” and other ideas from psychology (for more on this, read Pinker’s good book,  A Whole New Mind). S1 and S2 are simply a conceptual tool to help “describe the ways in which the incredibly complex human being is ‘wired and programmed.'” (p. 17). Self 1 is the rational, analytical, judgmental self, while self 2 is more holistic, body-centered and emotive. Green shows how both selves are essential, but each has its place and role. Our culture focuses much more on S1, and Green takes us through ways to bring out the strengths inherent in S2. The first part of the book introduces us to “Inner Game” principles and how he’s applied them to music.

One of the most valuable parts of the book for me was the advice throughout the book on awareness. Awareness not only as a musician, but especially as a teacher (Chapter 10), and the teacher’s role in evoking deep awareness in students by avoiding the “Do this” approach and adopting the “Be aware of…” approach .  Other valuable chapters for me were CH11: The Inner Game Listener; CH8: Coping with Obstacles; CH9: Improving the Quality of Musical Experience; and CH7: Letting Go.

The weaknesses of the book lie in its classically oriented, Western-art-music-is-best approach, though this is a minor concern as most of the principles in the book can be applied to any type of music. To be fair, this bias is, I think, not a result of any overt agenda on Green’s part, and I’d bet his musical tastes are far-ranging and varied, but because of his own immersion in that tradition, his writing is bound to come off with a bit of this flavor. I found value in all but one of the chapters, CH 15: Improvisation, Composition, and Creativity, which gave shallow treatments of each subject. Putting all three of these complex and useful musical tools into one chapter does a disservice to the topics and the thoroughness of the rest of the book. In fact, each topic could easily support an entire chapter (or book!) of its own.

Despite these minor flaws, it’s a great read for anyone interested in playing music, or anyone with a child interested in music. The book is rarely dry or pedantic and makes frequent use of real-world anecdotes to illustrate points. Using examples like this make the book an enjoyable read and may help the reader to apply these principles and philosophies to his or her own situation.  The book has something for everyone: players of any level,  parents of players, and teachers at any level. Highly recommended.

Have fun, and good luck with your practice!


11 Comments Add yours

  1. Undeniably consider that which you said. Your favorite reason appeared to be on the web the easiest factor to be mindful of. I say to you, I certainly get annoyed even as folks think about worries that they just do not recognize about. You managed to hit the nail upon the highest as well as defined out the entire thing with no need side effect , people could take a signal. Will probably be again to get more. Thanks

  2. This one book, and specifically the whole “self 1 vs. self 2” concept is the one thing that completely changed how I play music. Getting out of the mental space and trusting in your ability to play is so vitally important, and I think Green goes into this really well.

    1. yeah, I agree, this book was a game-changer for me, too.

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