Around a year ago, I began meditating as a way to regain focus and perform more intentionally (both onstage and in the practice room). Meditation has helped me grow creatively and artistically, and I’ve noticed its effects both in music and other aspects of my life. Meditation is completely risk-free, and I strongly believe that all musicians should consider incorporating meditation and mindfulness into their practice and performance routines. (Edit: It has come to my attention that some may experience adverse reactions to meditation, so please consult with a licensed professional or discontinue should you experience any adverse reactions.)
Here’s everything you need to know to get started:
What is meditation?
Meditation is the practice of focusing on a word, image, activity, or other prompt to increase awareness of the present moment. The goals of meditations are to achieve awareness and mental clarity, which has many scientifically proven benefits, both mental and physical. Meditation is often synonymous with mindfulness, and both aim to increase focus on the present moment. There is a misconception that the goal of meditation is to rid the mind of any thoughts; instead, meditation helps train yourself to observe your thoughts without any judgement.
What are the benefits of meditation?
Meditation is absolutely risk-free, and there are zero negative consequences to incorporating it into your daily routine. Practicing meditation and mindfulness can optimize both practice and performance by lowering stress and performance anxiety by reducing the stress hormone cortisol. They improve concentration and allow you to develop relaxation techniques and focus on breathing (which is a huge plus for wind players!). Meditation and mindfulness have been scientifically proven to help boost optimism and creativity, which is crucial for musicians.
How do I meditate or practice mindfulness?
The great thing about both mindfulness and meditation is that there are no steadfast rules, and you can individualize these activities to fit your lifestyle and goals. Meditation can be done at anytime from anywhere, and scientific studies have shown that even a few minutes of mindfulness or meditation each day boost cognitive function and reduce stress. Generally, you’ll want to find a comfortable position, close your eyes to block outside stimuli, release any tension from the body, and focus on taking deep restorative breaths. Think of any word, phrase, scene, emotion, color, or anything else and observe your thoughts without judgement. Try to remain in the present and avoid jumping to the past or future (which is where our mind tends to spend a majority of its time).
Mindfulness is a bit more general and just means focusing on the present moment. Anything can be made “mindful” by avoiding multi-tasking and remaining in the present. I like to enjoy a mindful espresso every morning, in which I only drink my coffee – I don’t browse social media, check emails, clean my apartment, or do anything else. I observe what I see, hear, taste, smell, and feel while I enjoy my first (of many) coffees of the day. Try to incorporate a few mindful activities each day to enjoy the present moment.
Mindfulness and meditation exercises for musicians:
- Pre-practice visualization. Like many others, I was running from commitment to commitment without any buffer time to transition into my practice routine – it felt like another item to be crossed off my list. Now, I take a few minutes before I practice to envision what I wish to accomplish during the practice session. I focus on taking deep cleansing breaths and ridding my body of any excess tension before I open the case. This is the time to leave any other thoughts outside the practice room so you can remain focused and clear-headed while you practice.
- Musical meditation and single-mindedness. I’ve written before about how I treat long tones as a type of musical meditation, and I use this single-minded approach to improve certain aspects of my practice session. Single-mindedness is a form of meditation in itself, and you can use it throughout your routine to focus on specific elements (such as articulation, fingerings, posture, or any other fundamentals) to practice more intentionally and achieve longer-lasting results.
- Key words and mantras. I create short key words or mantras for each piece I practice and perform to help me create a clear mental image of what I wish to portray in each interpretation. I focus on these mantras for a few seconds before I begin each new section or piece, and this helps me transition quickly and seamlessly from one piece/style to another (which is really useful for orchestral auditions!). I prefer words and text, but feel free to associate people, characters, emotions, colors, or any other prompts to help you achieve the appropriate musical characters.
- Audition and performance visualization. This is a specific type of mental practice in which you go over every aspect of a performance or audition. I try to be as specific as possible, from thinking about what time I’ll wake up, what I’ll eat for breakfast, what I’ll wear to the performance, etc etc until the audition itself. Take some time to imagine every detail you can about the audition day, and do this multiple times so that you can “practice” your audition through the sheer power of visualization. If you do this enough, the audition itself will feel familiar and much less intimidating.
- Post practice meditation. After you are finished practicing, take a few minutes to synthesize your thoughts and emotions so you can create a plan for future practice sessions. This offers a nice transition between practice and your reentry into the daily hustle, and you can even record your thoughts into a practice or thought journal to revisit later.
- Daydreaming. I believe that daydreaming is a form of meditation, and it’s important to take time to clearly imagine our ideal careers and lives. Think about where you want to be in 5, 10, 15+ years – be as specific as possible – and imagine all the steps you must take to end up where you want to be. Daydream often and regularly to increase motivation and optimism.
The mind is our most powerful force as musicians, and it can destroy hundreds of hours of diligent preparation with a single errant thought. Meditation and mindfulness can help you to master your thoughts and how you react to them, and it is just as important to train our mind as it is to train our technique, posture, or other instrumental fundamentals.