Distraction is a very real part of practicing and performing music. If we are distracted and don’t know how to work with it we are much more likely to have a haphazard practice session or a rotten show. Mental distraction takes many different forms, but it’s almost always some sort of thinking, as opposed to simply experiencing. We’re often caught up in some sort of inner gossip that separates us from what we are doing. Often, it’s only a thin gauze of separation but in music, as you know, that’s enough to throw you off.
Thinking is very slippery. We often don’t even realize we’re talking to ourselves in our heads until we’ve been lost in thought for awhile. Or we do recognize it, but we can’t seem to get free of it. Thoughts keep coming back as soon as we try to clear our heads, like swatting flies. What do we do once we notice that we’re distracted by our thoughts? We need something in the real world to hold onto.
Meditation practice uses three things that we always have with us as a reference point to help us let go of thoughts: our body, our breath and our sense perceptions.
The very first and most important part of playing music is to connect with the two things we use to experience sound and music: our sense of hearing, and our body. In order for this set of reference points to really work for us we need to connect with our body and sense perceptions before we start to play. This gives us a perspective from which to see our actions and distractions. Various things that we experience, such as tension in our bodies, wandering thoughts, self-criticism or praise, become reminders rather than obstacles. They let us know that we are on auto-pilot and then we can return to the sensations of our body in the room and the sounds that are in that room. This gives us a fresh start, an opportunity to start again whenever we think we are losing our way.
Sit or stand up with a straight back and relaxed shoulders. Look out about 12 feet in front of you if standing or 6 feet if sitting. Let your gaze be a soft, general gaze that doesn’t focus on anything in particular.
Let your arms just fall by your side and relax.
Feel the weight of your body being pulled down. Feel its contact to the floor and/or seat.
Take a deep breath and feel your breath going into your body and out into the space of the room. If you notice any tension in your body let go of it when you exhale.
Do that three times.
Take one to two minutes to do this so you don’t have to rush. You can afford one to two minutes.
Now, again, feel your body, then feel your breath and then
Then relax that listening and just
When (not “if”, but “when”) you notice you are thinking, just return to the four-step process of
Feeling your body
Feeling your breath
Relaxing into hearing
Hear. Just hear. Hear the room. Hear whatever is there. It may not be much, but there is certainly something there to hear. Let the sounds come to you. We never play music into a sonic vacuum, even though the silence before a song on a recording makes us think that we will. There is always something there. Is silence ever completely empty? Is it a void or does it have some kind of quality? What is there? Is it silence? Is that all? Is it noisy, humming, crackling? Does that silence have a mood? Is it calm? Tense? Fragile? Soothing? Clear? Claustrophobic? Glaring? Vast?
There is often more to hear than we realize. Ambient sound effects our body, our state of mind. It effects our level of tension or relaxation. It effects our sense of spaciousness and claustrophobia. How does what you hear right now effect you? How does it make your body feel?
Try this for 10 minutes. Set a timer, if you’d like.
If you feel inspired, please leave a comment as to what you experienced. I would very much like to hear your story…