The Concentration Fetish

It's a pleasure to say hello and welcome to Maria Busqué, our new official HELLO STAGE Blogger. Maria will be writing sharing her wisdom on performance, practice and career topics.

I strongly believe that one should not contentrate to make music.

When I say this to the musicians I work with, some laugh at first. It’s the exact opposite of what teachers and parents have been telling them all their life, about something which is considered to be a high achievement: “I was so concentrated!”

I understand where this comes from. It’s about giving your very best in the practice room and during the performance. But musicians forget that music is not "concentrated". Music expands. Physically, music consists of sound waves that spread in a spheric way around the sound source.

What is concentration?

Concentration is like a tunnel. The very word “concentrate” means to focus one’s attention into one point. Wikipedia says it’s an individual’s capacity to choose what they pay attention to and what they ignore. While this is useful in other parts of life, it is not a musical capacity. When, for example, I focus only on my violin visually and aurally while I play, there is only me and the violin. It’s like in a tunnel - this is what I call linear attention. This kind of attention will inevitably lead to one-dimensional awareness, sound and way of playing. Furthermore, if you concentrate, you will put the focus on yourself instead of the audience.

Open Awareness

Instead of concentrating, I look for an open awareness while making music. Open awareness is the opposite of linear attention. You are aware of the rest of the room in a kinaesthetic, aural and visual kind of way.

How can open awareness be trained? One exercise can be to just listen to how the room sounds with your eyes closed. What subtle surrounding sounds are reaching your ear? All is welcome, from the shuffling of feet to the sounds of the heating, the cars outside... The point is to open up the sense of hearing. You can imagine it as if you have one big basket and all the sounds can just go in there. Your ears are open now. Now, in this hearing, prepare your instrument, in this hearing, you start to play. Now hearing is preceding the movement.

When you change things up in this way, stuff will happen. Mistakes will happen. You won’t know where you are in the piece. Or on the keyboard. And this is good. Because in this moment, you have changed something. You have gone from one mode of perception to another mode of perception. One that is more open. Yes, openness is risky, it might feel scary. But it’s also more rewarding. It makes your sound fuller, richer, more vibrant. Your sound has become a vessel for musical emotion.

You can then experiment with different kinds of open awareness. You can be aware of the way the sound is reflected in the accoustic space. Or play with the intention of reaching the farthest corner of the room. I have gotten my best results personally when I have had my attention on an undetermined area in the middle of the room. I don’t know why, but when I do it, everything just gets easier (especially trills – trills are for me the test of everything I try out – if they work, it works).

This way you explore your playing, in different ways each time. Get interested in what this does to your sound! Your sound will expand if you expand your awareness - in my experience, playing also gets easier in the long run.

Include the audience

Once you’re in the practice of engaging the room with your sound (and by that I mean to practice this every day), when you get on stage you will continue doing it, because the audience is part of the room. Your sound experiments will include the audience now.

Some people recommend imagining there is no one there and you are playing for yourself, or that they are naked, or whatever. At the end of the day, you are not by yourself and these people payed money to hear you play. Not meaning to raise the pressure here, it does take an enormous amount of courage to get on stage and be your vulnerable self. This is why the audience goes to your concert, because they want to be moved, moved by true emotion. True emotion is not possible in the tunnel. Be brave, take one step forward at a time, and offer yourself to the audience. Fill the whole room with your sound.

Maria Busqué is a coach for musical performance and a freelance harpsichord player based in Berlin. You can follow her on twitter, @maria_busque, visit her HELLOSTAGE page or find out more about her work at www.mariabusque.net.

Author: Maria Busqué/ edited by Nina @ HELLO STAGE
Comments [1]
Heike Matthiesen - 2015-01-27 13:56
And one great experience only is possible when you open up: The positive energy of the people looking forward to hear your music,it can bring you to another level of playing which you NEVER will reach at home
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