Athletes call it “The Zone,” Billy Ward calls it “Playing with the Creative Side of the Brain,” and samurais call it “Mushin” which loosely means “mind of no mind.” If your brain is a band (metaphorically) then Mushin is when the improvisation guy gets to take a solo. Every one shuts up and he does his thang. There’s no miscellaneous thoughts to impede improv guy from expressing himself. It’s just him, the music, and the instrument.
Victor Wooten said that we learn technique and theory so that we can forget them… this is where that happens. If you haven’t truly ingrained your fundamentals into the way you play then they will disappear when you go into improv mode. You aren’t worrying about “is my grip right?” in Mushin. You do your best to get rid of bad habits and incorporate useful techniques into your playing, in the practice room. Just like how all you’re bad habits will return when you’re under pressure, they’ll come out in Mushin. Improv guy is like the kid in the back of the class. If you don’t say something roughly 27 times it won’t stick with him.
If I’ve managed to pique your interest in learning how to do this stuff, read on!
Billy Ward was the first guy (that I know of) to talk about how to exercise the improvisational part of your brain. He calls it practice playing and the details how it’s done in both of his DVDs. If you don’t own one or both of these DVDs, then you need to change that now. As in stop reading this, go to amazon.com or your favorite vendor of drum instructional DVDs and buy at least one of them. They are called “Big Time” and “Voices in my Head” respectively. Go get them now!
Go on… I’ll wait.
You done? Then let’s continue.