Posts Tagged ‘default mode network’

Don Henley and Lissie use the same approach to writing songs—don’t force it and wash the dishes!

October 4, 2020

I enjoy listening to songwriters talk about their creative process—how they approach the task of writing a song, the kind of strategies they use.

How Don Henley writes his songs

I recently watched a 92nd Street Y interview posted on YouTube in 2015. American Rock royalty Billy Joel and Eagles drummer and singer-songwriter Don Henley covered a lot of ground in 85 minutes. One of the things Joel asked Henley about was what does he do to get himself into the space where he can write songs.

Don tells Billy how he may hole up in a cabin, or somewhere where he won’t be disturbed, and shuts out all electronic distractions. He also says he doesn’t just sit there and write; he can’t force the words to come. He says he follows the zen-like advice to do a simple task first.

He tells the audience, “I’m dead serious. I’ve written some of my best stuff loading and unloading the dishwasher! Because you’re distracted and yet you’re not. I don’t know how to explain the thing. But I’ve read about the zen masters saying the same thing—if you can just do a menial task instead of sitting there with a pen and paper, in front of you going, (he clenches his fists and grunts).” The embedded video may play from the beginning, but that part of the discussion starts at 57:14.

How Lissie writes her songs

That reminds me of the exact same thing Lissie said in The A-Sides Interview. She discusses how she is learning to balance art with commerce, and spontaneity with structure. Describing her creative process she usually comes up with a melody, sometimes working with other musicians, then later writes the lyrics alone.

When writing lyrics, she’s “careful to not force it” and is always surprised when rhyming phrases pop into her head “when washing the dishes, not focusing hard on the lyrics.” That’s when she’s presented with newer better word choices she hadn’t thought of.

She emphasizes finding a balance: “being spontaneous, yet structured.” The embedded video may play from the beginning, but that part of the interview starts at 4:58.

How Colin Hay writes his songs

Another singer-songwriter I had discovered and recently wrote about is Colin Hay. When it comes to writing songs he says he likes to have as empty a mind as possible and puts himself in a space where he won’t be interrupted. He emphasizes that time is important, to give himself enough time to fail. He describes a scene where he’s all alone for 3 or 4 hours without any distractions, just sitting with his acoustic guitar doing nothing, just idling, coming up with musical ideas.

At other times, a friend may drop by and mention something in passing that will act as a catalyst to what he’s been thinking about. It triggers the melody, and then the words spontaneously come out in one take. In those cases he’ll quickly finish a song in under an hour. That’s how he wrote Waiting for my Real Life to Begin.

He explains all this in a 2011 CNN interview with Brooke Baldwin when she asks him where he was when he wrote that song, then quotes some of the lyrics to him. The embedded video may play from the beginning, but that part of the interview starts at 3:52.

TM, creativity, and the default mode network

Our minds are usually working on a particular problem, consciously and unconsciously. I’ve had the same thing happen to me when I’m writing a poem or a blog post and reach an impasse. I give up, let it go, and, surprisingly, the right solution later presents itself when I least expect it.

Science calls that place in our brains the default mode network (DMN), a.k.a. the imagination network or genius lounge. It’s activated when the mind is daydreaming, not engaged or concentrating on anything, just “idling” as Colin Hay put it. The key is to be easy. Focusing or “forcing it” turns it off.

Interestingly, the DMN is also activated during the effortless practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique as practitioners experience a state of “restful alertness.” Sometimes great ideas may show up during, but more likely after TM, what David Lynch calls, “Catching the Big Fish.” He often tells students, “TM is a boon for the filmmaker.” It facilitates access to one’s inner resources to create and think out of the box.

Jon Bon Jovi says washing dishes brings on hit songs

Addendum: Jon Bon Jovi, who loves doing TM, shared the same experience as Don Henley and Lissie on Monday night’s A Late Show with Stephen Colbert when they discussed the events that influenced his new album, Bon Jovi 2020. He told Colbert how the song Do What You Can came about when he was washing dishes in one of their JBJ Soul Kitchens during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bon Jovi concluded, “Washing dishes brings on hit songs, Stephen.

Related: Lissie @lissiemusic and her connections to Twin Peaks, Fairfield and #TranscendentalMeditation

TM activates DMN, the brain’s “ground state”

March 4, 2010

A new EEG study conducted on college students at American University found they could more highly activate the default mode network, a suggested natural “ground state” of the brain, during their practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique. This three-month randomized control study is published in a special issue of Cognitive Processing dedicated to the Neuroscience of Meditation and Consciousness, Volume 11, Number 1, February, 2010.

Specifically, the study found the TM technique:

  • Produces a unique state of “restful alertness,” as seen in the markedly higher alpha power in the frontal cortex and lower beta and gamma waves in the same frontal areas during TM practice.
  • Creates greater alpha coherence between the left and right hemispheres of the brain suggesting the brain is working as a whole.
  • Enhances an individual’s sense of “self” by activating what neuroscientists call the “default mode network” in the brain. (This is considered the natural ground state of the brain, glimpsed by neuroscientists during eyes-closed rest but more fully activated during Transcendental Meditation practice.)

“The finding of significant brain wave differences between students practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique and those simply resting with their eyes closed is especially convincing because subjects were randomly assigned to conditions, and testing was conducted by a researcher unaware of the experimental condition to which the subject had been assigned,” said David Haaga, Ph.D., coauthor and professor of psychology at American University.

“Research has already shown that simply closing one’s eyes and relaxing increases the default mode. A significant additional finding of this new study is that activity in the default mode increases during TM compared to simple eyes-closed rest,” said Fred Travis, Ph.D., lead author and director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management. “Different meditation techniques entail various degrees of cognitive control. Thus, activation patterns of the default mode network could give insight into the nature of meditation practices.”

Previous published research, funded by the NIH, shows TM practice decreases high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, cholesterol, stroke, and heart failure.

Comparative EEG Tracings

These raw EEG tracings during eyes-closed rest (left) and Transcendental Meditation (right) represent 18 tracings over 6 seconds. The top tracings are from frontal sensors; the middle tracings are from central sensors; the bottom tracings are from parietal and occipital sensors [back]. Note the high-density alpha activity in posterior leads during eyes-closed rest, and the global alpha bursts across all brain areas during Transcendental Meditation practice.

eLORETA Images of Significance Differences

These are eLORETA images of sources of alpha EEG during TM compared to eyes-closed rest in the default mode network (the white areas).

Images credit: Cognitive Processing, Volume 11 (2010), Issue 1

Article title: A self-referential default brain state: patterns of coherence, power, and eLORETA sources during eyes-closed rest and Transcendental Meditation practice, DOI: 10.1007/s10339-009-0343-2

Laboratory Note: The work of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management is summarized and featured in this same issue:


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