There are so many great benefits of mindfulness meditation for musicians, which is precisely why so many famous musicians meditate today [Here’s a beginners guide to mindfulness so you can try it].
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of focusing the mind on the present moment without judgment. Originally a Buddhist practice, it has become a holistic health approach with apps like Headspace and Insight Timer, and is used in therapy and counselling. Thanks to some wonderful meditation teachers like Tara Brach, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Pema Chodron, mindfulness meditation has taken the world by storm. And there are many benefits of mindfulness meditation for musicians.
Whether you’re a new musician or an experienced pro looking for a new way to play, you can get a lot out of mindfulness and meditation. Musicians who practise mindfulness are more aware, more conscious, more creative, and often more entertaining onstage. By bringing meditation into your music practice room you will greatly improve your musicianship. I personally believe that musicians should meditate as part of their performance routine.
My experience as a meditation teacher and as a pianist for more than thirty years has taught me that meditation is amazing for creativity.
And science proves it.
Let’s take a look at some of the amazing benefits of mindfulness for musicians.
5 Great Benefits Of Mindfulness Meditation For Musicians
There are many benefits of mindfulness meditation for musicians. Here’s a shortlist.
- Mindfulness makes you more creative, which is excellent when improvising or composing.
- Improves dexterity (good for playing an instrument)
- Helps you feel closer to the music (so you can play with more feeling)
- Makes you more intelligent (it improves cognitive performance). That’s good for… well.. everything, including music and especially composition.
- Makes you more confident (so you feel good on stage and don’t have to go through stage-fright.)
- It’s really easy to introduce mindfulness into your practice sessions. For instance, I like to mindfully play the musical scales when I’m warming-up.
Now let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits of mindfulness meditation for musicians.
1. Makes you more creative
It has been scientifically proven that meditation and mindfulness strengthen the creative part of the brain according to research by Danah Henriksen et. al. Arizona State University, who states that although the relationship is complex, there is a definite link between meditation and creativity, and it shows the first time you meditate. In other words, if you meditate for twenty minutes today, you will immediately be more creative.
There’s an important caveat here because not all types of meditation are good for creativity. There is one specific type of meditation that makes you more creative. It’s called “Open meditation”.
Try this method
The following is an “open” meditation that will help you to be more creative.
- Sit comfortably with good posture. Make sure your spine is straight but relaxed and that your feet are approximately hip-width apart with the knees directly above the ankles. Slightly lower your chin to elongate your neck.
- Close your eyes.
- Take 10 deep breaths while focusing on the way your breath moves around your body. You want to observe your breath in a nonjudgmental fashion, and though you were observing something completely disconnected from yourself. This will stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system to help you to relax.
- Listen to your environment. Tune in to the sounds around you. You want to let the sounds around you enter your mind without restrain and without judgment. As you do this you will be reducing the impact of mental biases, which will open your mind to new thoughts and ideas.
- Aim to spread your consciousness evenly (so you are aware of everything without focusing on any one thing)
- Continue for 20 minutes. By the time you finish this meditation you will feel as though your mind has opened and you should be in a state of creative flow.
Science has proven that “Open” meditations make you more creative. Cognitive psychologists Lorena Colato and Dominique Lippelt at Leiden University conducted research and discovered that a brief meditation session could have a deep and lasting effect on the creative brain.
Researchers took 40 participants and asked them to practice “Open” meditation for 25 minutes. The scientists tested the participants’ divergent and convergent thinking both before and after the meditation session.
Divergent thinking refers to your ability to come up with possible solutions. For instance, if you’re creating a new song, if you are good at divergent thinking, you will generate lots of ideas. Convergent thinking relates to your ability to find commonalities. For instance, if you wanted to create a song that was like a mix between Kanye West, The Beatles, and Beethoven, your brain would find common ground between those three elements. I think you can see why divergent and convergent thinking would be valuable for your creativity and your music.
2. Mindful musicians focus better when they play
One of the most commonly known facts about meditation is that it helps you to focus. And this can be very important for musicians, perhaps especially when preparing for auditions (which can be nerve-wracking).
When you are practising music at home, distractions can prevent you from truly focusing on your music. And when you’re playing live, there are distractions everywhere.
I remember when I played the piano at home as a teenager, part of me would be thinking about what was on TV, what my family were up to, and so on. When you meditate, you gain more control of your mind. You are then able to tune out distractions so that you can focus exclusively on your music. Not only does that make you play better, but it also helps you to enjoy the music more. This is a truly valuable cognitive benefit of meditation for musicians because it helps you tune out distractions and focus on the music.
There is one technique that is particularly worthy of your attention. That technique is mindfulness meditation.
I highly recommend mindfulness for musicians. Mindfulness meditation is a type of meditation that is very easy to grasp, very hard to master, sort of like guitar. Principally, when you practice mindfulness meditation, you focus your mind on one thing. Frequently you focus on your breath.
Zen monks, for instance, will sit still for long periods and focus on their breathing. A simple practice. But it is very beneficial.
Mindfulness helps musicians focus on the music. If you spend twenty minutes sitting still focusing on your breathing, you won’t just train your mind to focus on breathing; you will train your mind to focus on any one thing, including the instrument you play or the music you compose.
Here’s a guide to mindfulness meditation for musicians.
Sit comfortably with good posture. Close your eyes and observe your breath entering through your nostrils and moving through your body. Observe the breath in a non-judgmental fashion.
While you are focusing on your breathing your mind will occasionally move to focus on different stimuli. For instance, you might experience thoughts or feelings, or you might be temporarily distracted by external stimuli such as sound. When you mind becomes distracted, simply label the cause of distraction. For instance, if you experience a thought, just say to yourself, “This is just a thought.” If you hear a sound say, “This is just a sound.” Then continue to focus on your breathing.
3. Meditation Helps Musicians Play Better
This is a point I find particularly interesting. Mindful musicians actually hear music more accurately. Now, of course, it is easy to see that when you focus, which meditation helps with, you will automatically hear better because you’re paying more attention. What’s surprising, however, is that meditation helps you hear the things that you do not want to hear.
Have you ever created a piece of music that you are 99% happy with except for one or two notes here and there? You know that you have to change those notes, but you’re just so happy with the rest of the tune that you keep playing the same thing over and over without actually changing anything, and you then start to tune-out the bad notes and only focus on the good ones.
That is basically selective hearing , a phenomena of the mind through which you tune out the things you do not want to hear.
Now, of course, we are all accustomed to this term “selective hearing” when we’re talking about selectively hearing other people (your wife or husband, for instance). But the term isn’t used as much with music. When you are playing music, selective hearing can make you tune out the bad parts of your music and only listen to the good parts. That can seriously interfere with your work, because you need to hear the bad parts in order to change them.
The Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studied the effect of meditation on listening skills in 2009. They discovered that meditation helps you to pay more attention to things that you do not want to hear. In other words, after you meditate you will be more able to focus on the parts of your music that need to be changed. 
When it comes to editing your music or patching up that piece, you might like to meditate first. It will make you more able to truly listen to what’s going on in that awkward verse. Simply put, mindful musicians are more able to hear the weaknesses in their music.
Speaking about performance, meditation also improves your breathing. If you’re s singer, wind player, or you use your breath in any way when playing your musical instrument, the improved breathing will help you to perform better.
Finally, meditation and mindfulness help you to learn faster, making it easier to learn new musical pieces. I even find it helps with my sight-reading.
With these benefits of mindfulness, musicians would be silly not to include it as part of their practice session.
4. Better Stage Presence
Another great thing about mindfulness for musicians is that it makes your performances better.
Huffington Post discussed ten reasons why meditation makes you better at sports and athletics . They discussed how meditation improves reaction times, prevents muscular tension, increases confidence, makes you better at communicating, and helps you focus. And I’m sure you, as a musician, will agree with me that musicians could benefit from all those things too. It is also proven that meditation heightens your mind-body connection. In other words, after meditating there is less of a divide between what is happening in your mind and what is happening in your body. This makes your performance more emotive.
You are playing violin and you are emotionally invested in the music. Some violinists would struggle to communicate emotions in the mind physically through the violin, because there’s a disconnect between the mind and the hands. Imagine if there was no divide. The emotions that you feel in your mind would be more quickly and more effectively communicated to your hands, where they will come out as music via the violin.
More scientific studies are required to substantiate this theory of mine. But from personal experience, and from related scientific studies, I believe that meditation will significantly improve your musical playing skills. And it also makes you a better performer on stage.
5. Makes you appreciate music even more
Let’s finish with one of the most important benefits of mindfulness meditation for musicians: sheer enjoyment. Sure, we love making music, we love playing music for other people, and for those of us fortunate enough, we love seeing our music selling in the stores or on iTunes. But our love of music is just that: love. And the most important thing is that we enjoy our music.
With mindfulness meditation, musicians get to enjoy music even more. How? Because it helps you to live in the moment.In other words, when you are playing or listening to music, you will be more able to just play or just listen to music. You won’t be thinking about the bills. You won’t be wondering what’s for dinner. You will just be in the music. And what better place to be?
Why not try listening to some meditation music while meditating.
Famous Musicians Who Meditate
It really doesn’t matter what type of musician you are. Whether you’re a classical guitarist or a DJ, an opera singer or a master on the didgeridoo, there is something in mindfulness for musicians of all sorts. One of the most famous musicians to meditate was the Beatles, who started in 1967. Since then, countless famous musicians have used meditation to help themselves to make better music.
Among the list of famous musicians who meditate are:
- The Beatles
- John McLaughlin
- Steve Vai
- John Frusciante
- Paul McCartney
- Sheryl Crow
- Jeff Bridges
- Thomas Cohen
- Jon Hopkins
- Sharon Isbin
- Al Jardine
- James McCartney
- Mike Oldfields
- Katy Perry
Clearly, all different kinds of musicians meditate. And the benefits we discussed above show why.
My Personal Experience Using Mindfulness As a Musician
Speaking from personal experience as a musician, meditation has helped me in many ways. I’ve played classical piano for thirty years. And I started meditating halfway through that period. It made a big difference to my own music.
When I was in my late teens I lived with my family in a loud house in rural England. I was a shy guy. And though I loved music, I found it hard to focus. Noises would distract me. I would be worried about other people listening (I love performing, but people listening while I was practising? No thank you). And when it came to composing I would often stifle myself by being too focused on results rather than enjoying the creative process.
When I learnt meditation I gained a valuable tool. It helped me to focus on the music, not worrying about who was listening. I was able to enjoy the creative process. And even though my performance skills were already good, I was able to take my playing to the next level.
If you are a musician, mindfulness and meditation will do wonders for you. And if you are artistic in other ways, you might like to try other artistic meditations like Mindful Writing.
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