In this post I want to address issues concerning concentration and focus. Much of what we as musicians practice, whether it be scales, an etude, a transcription etc. requires rote repetition practice, playing the same thing over and over again. But be careful not to equate rote repetition with mindless practice or what some call going on “automatic pilot“. Rote practice requires your full attention.
Athletes know this and like an athlete, musicians need continued focused practice on the fundamentals of technique and theory. The greatest golfers in the world practice their drive and their putt everyday. In many martial arts there are only a handful of basic moves and concepts which the student practices day in and day out for years on end. Mastering fundamentals is a must!
The mind is like a muscle, it’s not actually a muscle, but like a muscle needs to be exercised everyday. Use it or lose it as they say. Perhaps you can only stay focused on one thing for five minutes. That’s ok. By practicing on a regimented daily basis your ability increases over time. In a short couple of weeks you will find you can concentrate for 10 or perhaps 15 minutes.
One exercise that helps is practicing extremely slow. Take a scale or a Bach two-part invention and play it as slow as you can. Pay close attention to make sure all the notes are producing an even tone and that both hands are hooking up perfectly. Pay attention to the space between the notes. Not only will this type of practice increase your concentration abilities but will also benefit your technique dramatically. Playing slowly and softly increases your tactile awareness and with a heightened tactile sense your whole relationship with the instrument is taken to another level.
There are many activities one can engage in away from the instrument to assist in increasing your concentration powers. Reading, crosswords, meditating, yoga, sudoku, learning a language, learning a martial art, are all good examples. Even practicing away from your instrument can be helpful. Next time you walk to the bus stop, try walking in 5/4 or practice identifying intervals in your head while waiting in line at the supermarket. Have fun with this and let me know if you come up with any other tips or tricks that help you focus.