An idea for more focussed work in practice and performance.
Sometimes when I have performed in the past I don’t think or feel. I just am. I exist in the moment, experience the situation as it is, there and then. I am relaxed, free and very comfortable.
Great feeling.. I guess this is what is called being in “the zone”.
However, this isn’t the norm for me. I wish it was, but more often than not I am thinking unrelated thoughts (what should I eat for breakfast tomorrow type thing), or non-helpful related thoughts (is so-and-so in the audience, I think I saw them, I hope they like my playing, what if they don’t like my playing.. etc etc).
Being in “the zone” is a great feeling, but how can we make “the zone” happen whenever we require it?
And if it isn’t directly possible to do that, what can we do to allow our minds to be present in the activity we are involved in rather than syphon our powers of focus into multiple areas simultaneously?
Well, I do not have the ultimate answer to any of these questions, but I intend to spend some time getting closer to the answers of these questions and other related ones during the next few years.
So let me start with this one idea of helpful cultivated focus related to mental training in sports.
As humans we have a limited amount of focus capacity. Unless WE direct that focus where WE need it, our focus may direct us away from the task at hand and in turn create worry and anxiety and potentially bad experiences. As musicians (or athletes) our focus has to be related to what we are doing and where we are.
We have the capacity for broad or narrow focus, and internal or external focus. Broad focus will be more general, and a bit more like “seeing the forest but not the trees”, whereas narrow focus will bring us much closer to the trees, and possibly also the branches and leaves. In a sports setting this would be the difference between focussing on the whole set in a tennis match (broad) or the current point (narrow).
Internal focus will keep you inside of yourself and what is going on within you, whereas external focus will keep you aware of the environment around you. In sports again this would be the difference between calming your breathing before a serve (internal) or listening to the crowd cheering (external).
We have the ability to steer our focus (at least with practice) to the type of focus that we need for our own activity and to make improvements.
In a musical perspective this may be being able to focus more narrowly and more internally in order to stay within the here and now. I should add that this is also something that should be practised in order for it to become something familiar and that some elements of broad and external focus may be beneficial at certain times too.
Those few times I have been in “the zone” I have not been disturbed by anything that hasn’t been a part of my playing experience. I think also that my practice in advance has felt very good in terms of knowing exactly what I am working on and aiming for, and being able to work with clarity to reach said aims. Having a good flow in the practice room will inevitably result in a good flow on the stage.
So here is the idea:
Choose maximum 3 internal and narrow focus areas for the next week. At the end of the week perform whatever you have worked on and write down your experiences of the work process and the performance.
My internal/narrow focus areas will be:
Physically comfortable, and moving with balance (internal) one note/phrase at a time (narrow)
Direction of sound and bow distribution (internal) one note/phrase at a time (narrow)
Intentional character expressed (internal) one note/phrase at a time (narrow)
Let me know how it goes!