This simple trick can improve your musical performance

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According to a study by researchers at the University of St Andrews, musical performance is enhanced when musicians focus on the sounds they produce, not the movements of their fingers.

Dr. Ines Jentzsch and Yukiko Braun from the School of Psychology and Neuroscience studied the performance of 51 pianists and showed that the accuracy and quality of a musical performance depended on what the musicians were concentrating on while playing.

By focusing on something external – like getting a soft sound or creating a musical mood – instead of something internal like focusing on their fingers to hit the right notes, pianists played with more precision, offering interesting insight that could help musicians learn to overcome performance anxiety.

Music study participants with at least intermediate piano playing skills were asked to practice a tuned piano piece for seven days and then perform it to the experimenter according to different performance instructions. The researchers found that an external focus of attention resulted in more accurate performance compared to an internal focus instruction, as assessed by the difference in the number of pitch errors and pitch corrections.

Importantly, the study found that the advantage of external attention over internal attention was the same regardless of the skill level of the pianist, meaning the results could have an impact about the practice of music education and not just about musicians performing in front of an audience.

Encouraging students to focus outward rather than on their own bodily movements could make it easier for them to perform their well-rehearsed motor actions while freeing up their ability to focus on the expressive and interpretative aspects of music during performance. execution, and may help reduce the impact of performance anxiety.

Already recognized as a very effective tool in sports psychology, focusing on the result of our actions – like putting the ball in the back of the net – and not on the physical movements we make has a considerable advantage both for accuracy and the quality. performance.

Dr Jentzsch said: “We face performance challenges in all areas of our lives, from public speaking to high-level athletic and musical performances. Many of us have seen a public performance s “collapse, even after perfection in practice. Our research suggests that a very simple tool – focusing on the effects of our actions, not the actions themselves – could be an effective way to improve performance musical.

“It could be useful for music teachers or coaches to help their students improve their performance or even combat performance anxiety. For example, when commenting on a student’s ladder playing, a music teacher can, instead of commenting on the position of the hands or the transitions of the thumb, ask the student to focus on the softness of the sound produced.

The article, “Effects of attention focus instructions on amateur piano performance”, is published in psychology of music.

Why does performance degrade under pressure?

More information:
Ines Jentzsch et al, Effects of Attentional Focus Instructions on Amateur Piano Performance, psychology of music (2022). DOI: 10.1177/03057356221101431

Provided by the University of St Andrews

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