Focus and presence are two qualities essential for any kind of music practice if you are to gain benefit from it.
Remember it is the quality of the practice that you do, not the quantity that counts and if being focussed and present in your practice means you will get the most out of it, you’ll have to be conscious that you are implementing these facets.
Let’s first explore what I mean by focus and presence and then I will suggest ways for you to implement them.
- Knowing what you are working towards (goal setting).
- Dedicating the allocated time solely towards your work (minimise likely interruptions).
- Awareness of your mind-state. (Are you wandering off into dreamland while doing your practice or are you giving it your full attention?)
- Listening to your instrument.
- Awareness of any thoughts that interrupt or take you away from focussing on your work; and
- Mindfulness of your body and breathing. (Are you breathing in a relaxed way? Are you holding tension in your body?)
Holding focus and presence in practice can be, at first, challenging and you’ll find that you probably won’t be able to practice for as long but you will feel that a deeper learning has taken place.
As you get more used to holding focus and presence in your work, you should be able to enter a meditative and almost “timeless” feeling which could see you practicing for a longer period and, again, with more beneficial results.
How to implement Focus and Presence
1. Goal Setting
- Set goals for your practice session (eg “I want to practice for an hour” or “I want to go through all my repertoire”).
- Set a goal for what you would like to achieve by the end of the week and let that inform what you will do in your session.
- Set a goal for what you would like to achieve in three weeks’ time and let that inform the meaning and content of your work.
2. Minimise Interruptions
- Don’t answer your phone if you don’t have to (or, heaven forbid, turn it off!).
- Find a time of day when you are least likely to be interrupted, eg, after children are in bed.
- Make sure you have drinking water close by as well as your resources, so you don’t have to leave your practice space.
3. Awareness of Mindstate
- Begin your practice session with a breath-focussed exercise. While you are doing this be aware of how quiet or busy your mind is and just watch your thoughts instead of wandering off with them. You can do this by remembering to focus on your breath.
- Continue your practice by doing scales with metronome and if your mind is particularly busy, slow down this exercise to 30 – 40 bpm. This will require more concentration and more energy, therefore less can be spent following arbitrary thoughts.
- When you become aware of a thought or statement in your head, just simply acknowledge it and return to concentrating on your breathing, a relaxed body, and listening to the sound of your instrument. Keep bringing yourself back to your work in this way.
- Being aware of your mind-state simply means acknowledging what is going on, not judging or reacting to it and then making a choice to come back to focussing fully on what you are doing in your practice. It is a continual process which you will get better at, and quicker at as you keep this a priority in your practice session.
If you want to make focus and presence a priority, then your practice won’t be about how much you get through in your practice session but about how much you managed to be fully attentive to what you are doing.
All your practice sessions are going to be different but I suggest dedicating at least one session per week to the persuit of focus and attention. In that way these qualities will soon become a natural part of what you consider to be a good practice. You will feel more energised and relaxed and you will also find that the more you practice them, the quicker you will progress.
One book I found extremely helpful and not only for music but for other areas of my life was Eckhard Tolle’s, A New Earth.
This book is interesting and easy to read. It really made sense to me and demonstrated clearly how to bring presence into daily life and reap the benefits of doing so.
Since reading this book and remembering to bring myself into an awareness of what is happening in the now, I feel my quality of life getting better. This is mainly because I have less of a feeling of not having enough time, or being stressed because I am thinking of a million things at once, or not being able to fully enjoy an experience because my mind is constantly wandering to the future or the past. If any of this sounds familiar, it is worth giving this book a read.
I would love to hear how you go with this, so welcome any comments on this topic and please don’t forget to RSS if you would like to receive articles as they are published.