Interested in exploring mindfulness in music teaching? Here are my answers to questions from my Mindfulness in Music Teaching workshops given to members of the Oregon Music Teachers Association.
What are some benefits of utilizing mindfulness as a pianist and piano teacher?
Mindfulness can reduce stress, improve concentration and help us become a better musician overall. Learn more about the benefits of mindfulness for musicians.
It’s hard to not be distracted by bodily tensions when I’m sitting. Are there other positions I can use?
Yes! Traditionally, mindfulness is practiced in four different postures – sitting, standing, walking and lying down. (You may not consider “walking” a posture, but it’s a pleasant change after you’ve been sitting for awhile.) Lying down may be the most challenging posture since it’s easy to fall asleep.
Do you recommend guided meditations?
Guided meditations can be helpful, especially when you first learn how to practice mindfulness. I offer several guided audio meditations on mindfulness of breathing, mindfulness of body, mindfulness of emotions and mindfulness of thoughts.
Eventually, it’s well worth trying to meditate in silence without guidance.
Do I have to think about my breathing while I’m playing music?
First, mindfulness doesn’t mean thinking about your breathing (or thinking about anything in particular). Mindfulness is giving nonjudgmental attention in the moment to whatever is happening. That said, many pianists do hold their breath or breathe shallowly. Maintaining a degree of mindfulness on our breathing while playing can help us become aware when we are holding our breath.
Can mindfulness help students develop good piano technique?
Yes. Developing good technique requires body awareness. A major focus of mindfulness practice is developing this kind of awareness. Learn more about how mindfulness can help students develop good piano technique.
Should I keep a pad of paper near the piano so distracting thoughts can be “deposited” there and let go of?
If thoughts distract you while practicing, whether you’re practicing piano or mindfulness (or both together), yes, it may be helpful to take note of your incessant thoughts, especially things you’re worried you might not remember. You can quickly write them down, and feel secure knowing that you will remember them later. I do this myself sometimes, especially when I have creative inspiration or a good idea I don’t want to forget.
How would you introduce mindfulness practice to young piano students, since they can be so fidgety?
Try having your students walk around the room while paying attention to the sensations of walking. This keeps them moving but also builds their mindfulness. You could also try a SpiderMan meditation!
How can practicing mindfulness help with practicing piano?
Have you ever been practicing a piece and forgot where you were, or started making mistakes you don’t usually make? This is often due to a lapse of concentration brought about by a wandering mind. If you are able to maintain some mindfulness while practicing, you’ll more often notice when your concentration lapses from the music and goes to other subjects, and you’ll more often be able to bring it back before disaster occurs! Learn more about how mindfulness can help with practicing piano.
Is there an ideal time of day for practicing mindfulness?
The best time of day to practice mindfulness is the time of day when you are most relaxed, focused, and unhurried. For many people, early morning works well. For others, in the evening. It doesn’t matter when you practice, but it does help to practice regularly, so establishing a schedule for practicing mindfulness (as you may have for practicing piano) can be very helpful.
Does taking a nap count as mindfulness?
If you find yourself falling asleep while practicing meditation, you will be joining a very large club. Don’t judge yourself or beat yourself up. Just return to practicing. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve dozed off while meditating. Also, trust the body. Many of us are sleep-deprived. If you fall asleep often during meditation, it may be a sign that you need to get more sleep.
Does mindfulness facilitate achieving goals? I could be getting eight things done instead of sitting here doing nothing.
Practicing mindfulness is a good way of reminding ourselves that we are human beings, not human “doings.” Most of us are busy, but what is the point of getting things done if not to be able to finally rest and be? If you wait to get everything done before you allow yourself to rest and be, you’ll never experience the deeper peace and silence that mindfulness can lead us to. When we choose mindfulness, we prioritize giving periods of rest and being and stillness now, rather than later. It’s a wonderful gift to offer bodies, minds and hearts, not to mention those around us who are certain to be impacted by the positive effects we feel.
Does interspersing mindfulness practice with other tasks make you more productive?
It can. Sometimes reducing our stress levels and compulsive thinking actually make us more productive per unit of time. Of course, that’s not the best reason to practice mindfulness, but it can be a welcome byproduct!
How can mindfulness help with performance anxiety?
Learning the simple skill of paying attention and allowing everything to be in each moment can definitely benefit us when we experience the anxiety associated with performing. Learn more about how mindfulness can help musicians play and perform better.
Is it OK to listen to music while meditating?
I don’t recommend doing this. The point of meditating (practicing mindfulness intentionally) is to give our undivided attention to the parts of our experience we often neglect – especially breathing and the body. Just as we practice piano in “silence” (i.e. we don’t listen to recordings of music while practicing), it’s best to practice mindfulness in silence.
How should I start using mindfulness with my students?
First, establish your own mindfulness practice, if only for a few minutes a day. Just as you are more confident and knowledgeable in teaching piano by having practiced it, some experience practicing mindfulness will give you confidence and a deeper understanding of how to bring it into your lessons.