Musician’s Mind During Performances

Have you ever wondered what runs through a musician's head while they're performing? Some musicians try to get the best flow while they're on stage.

Inside a musician’s mind.

© Eti Swinford | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Ever wonder what goes through the mind of a musician while performing? I would guess not a lot of people who attend performances even think about that. It’s hard to tell most of the time because you are viewing a performance from a distance. What are the mental stresses and constant long hours sometimes it took to get to the level of being able to perform at such a high level of proficiency? Going over and over scales and parts to pieces of music can be so frustrating at times, making you want to pull your hair out. Musicians simply take a break and go back at it again until then get it, and once they get it the fun begins.

Get that mental state together and move forward. The art of becoming a good musician/artist is a tough road for some, and for others, they just seem to breeze right through the tough exercises. Greatness is 10 percent talent and 90 percent hard work! And there is no way around that.

One great quote by Woody is: “Anyone who’s ever desired to grow as a musician knows that it can involve a lot of effort. No matter how much you love music, practicing is work. At least, if you’re doing it right. But presumably the reason we work so hard in practice sessions is so performances will be – or perhaps appear to be – more effortless and natural.”

Another aspect of the mental state of performance is flow also known as zone, as stated in positive psychology. “It is when a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does,” according to Mikaly Csikszenlmikalyi.

Achieving flow is often referred to as being in the zone. That aspect of the mental state is achieved a lot of times during performances when everybody is on the same page and speaking the language of music in an effortless movement. According to Csikszenlmikalyi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the sense of performing and learning. In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized and aligned with the task at hand.

There are six factors when experiencing flow. According to Jeanne Nakamura and Csikszenlmikalyi, they have identified the six factors of flow:

  1. Intense and focused concentration or the present moment.
  2. Merging of action and awareness.
  3. A loss of reflective self – consciousness.
  4. A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity.
  5. A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered.
  6. Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience.

There are three more factors as mentioned by Kendra Chery, a psychology expert, that contributed to the flow experience:

  1. Immediate feedback
  2. Feeling that you have the potential to succeed.
  3. Feeling so energized in the experience, that other needs become negligible.

As a musician, I have experienced flow, but experiencing just one of the factors you cannot attain the full feeling of flow; you need all six to achieve that ultimate experience. It is hard to explain, but when the performance is done, the feeling is euphoric.

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