Each of us has a model of the world built up during our life from our own unique experiences. Our sensory perceptions determine how the world appears to us - sight, sound, smell, taste and touch are the building blocks of our own 'reality'. People think very differently about the same experience - activity/food/film/piece of music. We focus on only a small amount of all the senses available to us at any given time - we tend to take for granted sights and sounds that are all-familiar to us; it's the 'new stuff' that grabs our attention and focuses the mind.
This is where I get my 'let's write a story/make a drawing/paint a mental picture' ideas from when practising a piano piece. Pupils use memory recall to recreate known sense experiences, but they can also use their imagination for sensations they may not yet have come across. It's identifying the preferred one(s) that's the key (pardon the pun).
So, if we take Serenade Espagnole, that I touched on in my last blog, I can imagine the square in Ronda, sitting in the in the shade, listening to the cicadas in between the refrains from the guitar. I can smell the midday heat as I look at the haze over the distant hills and so on, from my memory. However, I may have to help a pupil build a picture using other resources, maybe photos, books, my Eugen guitar CD etc. and I would hope that any one or all of those will help to bring the piece to life.
Some senses are more acute because they have been trained - a chocolatier's palate for example. Musicians typically have well-developed auditory sense - the inner ear. Aural training helps to develop this, but some are very lucky and are born with perfect pitch or the ability to recall a multitude of sounds. Look at Mozart...On hearing Allegri's Miserere for the first time, he was able to write it down afterwards. Later on he could write down even more complex works after hearing them. A more visually-orientated person would have captured the scene in the church and drawn it afterwards, perhaps with specific details of where particular people were sitting and the décor etc. Every person has their most-valued system of representing experiences, so we have students who think mostly in pictures, while some talk through things to make sense of them (or write them down!) and some recall their feelings.
Knowing our pupils' preferred internal senses, those things that help them imagine things they can't recall for themselves, is important when tackling new techniques and those pieces outside their own experience - whether it be wrist staccato, the legato pedalling, stately baroque dances or waddling geese. Oh, and here's a lovely photo of Ronda....