JAVS Summer 2023

These conditions have previously posed barriers to my musical growth: my ways of perceiving, understanding, and describing sound are uniquely my own compared to what most teachers can anticipate, and in previous years, I was unable to make musical progress past a certain point. For this article, I want to focus on the aphantasia. I’ll describe past experiences which contribute to my present understanding of sound and describe adaptive strategies I’ve adopted to compensate for this condition, and how these adaptive strategies affect my musicianship and even my work as a therapist. Again, the insights I mention here are the ideas I have derived over the past two years, practicing viola in isolation while working as a telehealth therapist. … the inability to visualize, otherwise known as image-free thinking. People with aphantasia don’t create any pictures of familiar objects, people, or places in their mind’s eye. Not for thoughts, memories, or images of the future. We [people with aphantasia] lack this quasi-perceptual ‘picture-it’ system completely. 1 A frequent metaphor used: an aphant’s mind is like a computer that does not have its monitor plugged in. The computer is still working and accomplishing things, but the monitor does not display pictures. How do you assess it if you have aphantasia? If someone asks you to imagine, let’s say, a bottle of soda, and you can actually see something in your imagination that looks real, then you’re not affected. If you are unable to conjure any image, or you only see something faint, then you may have aphantasia. The mind’s eye’s ability to conjure imagery exists within all five of the senses. Each person has their own internal way of reproducing mental imagery, with some perhaps favoring one sense over others. For example, I spoke with an excellent cook who said that they can taste ingredients in their imagination as they go food shopping and can imagine the mixing of ingredients for recipes. In my estimation, that would be an example of the gustatory mind’s eye. For musicians, many of us can reproduce real-sounding music in our heads, which helps to inform musicality and performance. Oftentimes, I’ve had teachers (including The Aphantasia Network defines the condition as

Ann) suggest that I hear a phrase in my head before playing it or use my visual mind’s eye to rehearse a performance before the date. Because I have aphantasia, I physically cannot mentally practice in this way. I have never heard any music in my mind, nor have I ever seen a picture in my imagination. All five of my senses are affected; therefore, I have multisensory aphantasia, or total aphantasia. Thus, mental practicing as others describe it registers to me as quite foreign. This is not to say that I have no imagination. Just that all my thinking and memories occur in the abstract realm for me, the place where my ideas are formed, feelings are felt, and inspiration is received. For others, perhaps the sensory mind’s eye connects them to their intelligence and abstract imaginations. But for me, it is a sense of knowing that I cannot see. Image-free thinking. For many years, I could not finely control my musical interpretations because I had not developed a way to mentally rehearse. Yet, with awareness about aphantasia (for a few years now), I am developing alternative ways of mentally understanding the instrument in my mind. The strategies I employ include developing an internal and kinesthetic understanding of intonation, physically feeling the vibrations of in-tune intervals, then intellectually focusing on the concept of Pythagorean intervals with creating perfect ratios. In the past, I was only able to derive understanding of music and sound production mostly by what I externally saw and heard. By hearing recordings, watching videos, and of course playing the instrument myself, I learned through direct experience. In childhood, I recall my first lessons to be quite concrete, with the first challenge being “put your fingers on the tapes so that you play in tune.” After a certain point, the tapes were removed. However, my intonation was never quite good in my youth. fixed on the “external demand” of hitting invisible tapes in the right places. I experienced a renaissance in understanding intonation when discovering historically informed performance practice. For the last two years of studies at IU, I opted to play in the school’s Baroque chamber orchestra on a modern replica of a Baroque viola. Even in my conservatory studies, I never gained mastery of intonation. My understanding of intonation remained

Journal of the American Viola Society / Vol. 39, Summer 2023 Online Issue


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