Have a concert coming up that you’re not ready for, but currently feel too tired to practice?

Want to practice but aren’t able to because you don’t feel well? Instrument in the shop? Only have 15 minutes, so it’s not really worth getting all set up to practice only to have to quit a few minutes later?

Don’t worry, there is a solution, because guess what? You can still practice and improve even while away from your instrument. This process is called visualization, and it involves imagining yourself playing as if you were actually at your instrument. You may be thinking, it can’t be the same as real physical practice, right? However, in one study, participants who mentally practiced a 5-finger sequence on an imaginary piano for two hours a day had the same neurological changes (and reduction in mistakes) as the participants who physically practiced the same passage on an actual piano. Some have suggested that this kind of visualization activates the same brain regions as physical practice, and has the same effect that actual physical practice does.

In other words, there is growing evidence that visualization (if done correctly), can definitely make a difference in your playing. Keep on reading, and you’ll find out why!

MAIN BENEFITS TO VISUALIZATION

  • Improvement of Physical Technique

    Visualization has a great potential to increase your physical coordination at the instrument and improve speed. If you can make your mental image control what your body does, your ability to regulate your body will be much better. This way, when you perform, your mental image will be slightly ahead of your physical one. You’ll be able to feel a mistake coming up before it happens, micro-practice it in that split second, and fix it before it occurs.
  • Help with Memorization

    Visualization can also greatly accelerate the speed at which you memorize a piece. The important factor here is to cultivate recall faculty along with mental practice. If you visualize playing through an entire piece multiple times, you’ll be able to remember it easier. At first, you’ll probably need to look at the music every now and then. But eventually, you should be able to get through the piece several times without looking at the score.
  • Dissolving Tension

    Visualization can also be very useful for dissolving both physical and emotional tension. During visualization, you may feel physical tension or a start to experience a strong emotional reaction. This same tension or emotional reaction may also occur when you actually pick up the instrument and start practicing. However, if you can employ relaxation techniques while mentally practicing, these obstacles will be much easier to dissolve when physically playing your instrument.

HOW TO VISUALIZE

Now that you know the benefits of visualization, here’s a step by step on how to achieve excellent mental practice! Additionally, if you want to streamline this process, you can use Modacity to create a playlist and populate the following as practice items for your practice session.

1. Pick the right time and place to visualize

Visualizing is somewhat like meditating, because it does require a fair degree of quiet concentration. Try to find time during the day when you can “switch off” for ten minutes without fear of being disturbed.

2. Calm down

Close your eyes and focus only on your breathing for a minute. Breathe in slowly and fully through your nose, then slowly let it out through your mouth. Then do a total body scan for tension, slowly relaxing every part of your body. Let any tension you find just melt away.

3. Expand your focus

Then, focus on one object. It can be anything – your instrument or the stand in your practice room. Picture it in your mind’s eye. You may have trouble bringing it into focus at first. That’s okay, your goal is to take something small and make it more vivid. After that, you can begin to expand that vividness into the rest of your imagined environment. You’ll get better with practice.

4. Use all your senses

Mental imagery is often labeled as visualization, but it’s not limited to the visual. “The most effective imagery involves all five senses,” says Michael Gervais, Ph.D., a performance psychologist in Los Angeles who has worked with numerous professionals. “You should be so immersed in a mental image that it seems as if it is actually happening,” he says.

Marc Gelfo

Marc Gelfo

Marc has been practicing music for 30+ years. After applying cognitive science & computer science to French horn, Marc became an internationally touring symphony musician. His experience includes teaching and performing with thousands of musicians around the world, including the San Francisco Symphony.