Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians

Mindfulness and Music

Mindfulness is a buzzword in modern society, but what exactly does it refer to?  I love Vietnamese zen master Thich Nhat Hanh'ss definition of mindfulness, "keeping one's consciousness alive to the present reality."  For me, that means being aware of my body, my breath, thoughts, actions, and interactions with the world.  That may sound simple, but we live in a time of mindLESSness. 

When we walk, we are often so distracted by thoughts, feelings, the past, the future, etc., whereas we could be aware of the walk, the weather, the scene, etc.  This is very true in the practice of music, performance, and preparation!

When we walk, we are often so distracted by thoughts, feelings, the past, the future, etc., whereas we could be aware of the walk, the weather, the scene, etc.  This is very true in the practice of music, performance, and preparation!

Ex. People walk, drive, and eat while looking at their phones or tablets, ignoring people around them, other cars, the food they're eating, or where they're walking.  We go out to eat and people put their phones on the dinner table.  Our phones are also getting more and more distracting- more "updates," "reminders," "notifications," and so forth.  Our digital distractions prevent us from interacting with the world around us wholeheartedly, or at least noticing when things are happening.

Mindfulness is brain training- refining your ability to pay attention, to stay focused, alert, and adaptable, things musicians need!

Mindfulness is brain training- refining your ability to pay attention, to stay focused, alert, and adaptable, things musicians need!

Musicians are by nature, training mindfulness, attention, and mental focus when they practice their instrument, rehearse, and teach others.  When you perform a recital, play an audition, or even play in studio class, you are probably quite aware of your body, the music, the space, and your breath.  What if you could apply more of that attention on a daily basis?  We've seen musicians who have astounding attention and mental focus- conductors who conduct hefty works without a score, pianists playing challenging works without music, singers sustaining difficult operatic roles, and performances of contemporary music.  We've also experienced the opposite- when you can't focus on practicing, when you're attention is on your email inbox, your to-do's, cleaning, eating, or just about anything else. 

If you're a wind player, you're probably aware of your breath, but for the rest of us, we only notice it when we're nervous, performing, or auditioning.  Can you become more aware of your resting breath?

If you're a wind player, you're probably aware of your breath, but for the rest of us, we only notice it when we're nervous, performing, or auditioning.  Can you become more aware of your resting breath?

In yoga and many meditation disciplines, the study of mindfulness is called a practice.  The daily practice of musicians is very similar- it's an exploration of mindfulness in application to creating sound.  Mindless practice might be running through repertoire without really noticing what happened, or repeating a passage over and over again with the same objective, playing scales while watching TV or reading (something many kids, including myself did), or just being unable to focus on the task at hand. 

I'll talk a bit more about this next time, but can you "keep your attention focused on the work," whether it is practicing, orchestra rehearsal, teaching, an admin task, or listening?  How often does your mind wander while practicing?  While at rehearsal?  How can you bring your attention back?