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Mindfulness for Musicians: The Process of Practice

by Jonathan Flowers

"Music, the most abstract and uncanny art, is an eternal river of sound moving through time. We can free ourselves from whatever may be holding us back, and join that flowing river. "

             - William Westney           

Music is an art that so many love but so few pursue. Many people stand on the banks and listen to the river of sound, but so few stay in the water to play, sing or create music, either through independent practice or studying with a teacher.

What holds people back from exploring their musical potential? Four common obstacles are:

  • Self-Consciousness: “I lack talent. I’m too young/old/undisciplined. I’ll choke in performance!”
  • Impatience: “Practicing is tedious and lonely. I don’t have time or desire to correct errors.”
  • Closed-Mindedness: “Learning new techniques will stifle my musical creativity.”
  • Pragmatism: “Practicing music is impractical and self-centered. Children’s time is better spent on school work, sports, family and socializing. Adults need to focus on their jobs, homes and families.”  Musicians can overcome these impediments by realizing that they are just mindsets. They are not real—they exist only in the mind and can be set aside by focusing on process before product. This mental shift occurs when individuals suspend self-judgment and pay attention to what is happening inside and around them each moment.  How can musicians reclaim their powers of attention in today’s world of multitasking and digital distractions? Mindfulness meditation has received extensive press as a way to improve mental focus, relieve stress and enhance creativity. The following five-minute meditation can help musicians to tune the body, mind and spirit before practicing.
Meditation Before Practicing 1. Sit still and tall with eyes closed. Enjoy the full length of your spine and limbs. 2. Place your hands on your abdomen and count 10 slow breath cycles as follows: inhale-exhale-1, inhale exhale-2… 3. Continue breathing deeply as you listen to the sounds around you with curiosity. Which sounds are closest? Which are furthest away? Which sounds fade in and out with no clear end points? 4. To conclude, place your hands on your heart, and mentally recite the following intention: “As I play, I will listen with patience and curiosity and allow the music to breathe through me. I will embrace each challenge as food to nourish my creativity.”

Practice is not just a price musicians pay in order to perform—it is a rewarding journey of creative and self-discovery. When musicians learn to savor their process, they gain trust that their music will express their heartfelt intentions.

JonathanFlowersJonathan Flowers teaches piano, voice and music theory/composition at his studio, Mindful Music, LLC, in Bala Cynwyd. He holds music degrees from Yale University and the Eastman School of Music.

September 2016

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