There are so many benefits of mindfulness meditation for musicians. Indeed, there’s no wonder so many famous musicians meditate.
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 we now understand how meditation helps in many fields.
As a pianist and meditation teacher, I’ve long been aware of the 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.
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 there are considerable benefits of meditation for performers.
Let’s take a look. And you might also like my guide to meditation for singers.
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.)
1. Makes you more creative
Research shows that meditation and mindfulness strengthen the creative part of the brain according to research by Danah Henriksen et. al. Arizona State University. Dr Henrikson states that meditation makes you more creative in just twenty minutes.
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 Monitoring Meditation”.
- 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 ten deep breaths while focusing on the way your breath moves around your body. You want to observe your breath in a non-judgmental fashion, as though you were observing something completely disconnected from yourself. This will stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system to help you relax.
- Listen to the 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 will be in a state of creative flow.
Why this method works
Science has proven that Open Monitoring Meditation makes you more creative. Cognitive psychologists Lorena Colato and Dominique Lippelt at Leiden University discovered that a brief meditation session could have a deep and lasting effect on the creative brain.
Researchers took forty participants and asked them to practice Open Monitoring 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 and 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 music.
2. Mindful musicians focus better when they play
One of the most commonly known facts about meditation is that it helps you focus. And this can be 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. Those distractions only intensify when you play live.
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. I wish I could have just focused on the music.
Meditation helps us focus.
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. This improves your performance and helps you enjoy music more.
There is one technique that is particularly beneficial for musicians: mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation is an exercise that is easy to grasp, extremely hard to master, like guitar.
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.
Mindfulness helps musicians focus on the music. If you spend twenty minutes sitting still focusing on your breathing, you will train your mind to focus on anything, including music.
- 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 you will occasionally be distracted. For instance, you might experience thoughts or feelings, or you might be temporarily distracted by external stimuli such as sound. When your 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.
- Continue for 108 breaths.
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 according to the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison .
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.
This is basically selective hearing , a phenomenon of the mind through which we tune out the things we do not want to hear.
Now, of course, we are all accustomed to the 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. In turn, you prevent yourself from perfecting your composition. Meditation stops this from happening.
Better composition and editing
When it comes to editing your music or patching up that piece, you might like to meditate first. After meditating you will be more aware of weaknesses in your music. And then you can improve them.
4. Better Stage Presence
Another great thing about mindfulness for musicians is that it improves performances.
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 that musicians could benefit from all those things too.
Meditation also 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 the 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 division between mind and body. The emotions that you feel in your mind would be more quickly and more effectively communicated to your hands. The end result is more emotive music.
5. Makes you appreciate music even more
Let’s finish with one of the most important benefits of mindfulness meditation for musicians: sheer enjoyment.
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.
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’ll 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 started meditating:
- 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
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.
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 worried about 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.
Meditation helped me to focus on the music without 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.
Why not book an online meditation lesson with me today.