Imagination: Practising Without Instrument, Without Notation.

In recent years brain-scanning techniques have revealed the true ability of the brain to learn via the imagination. In one experiment the brain of a young violinist was scanned to compare two conditions: 1) playing the violin with notation; and 2) imagining the playing of that same music with no violin and no notation. The scans revealed almost exactly the same neural firing and circuitry formation. Norman Doidge describes a similar ‘imagination’ experiment in which two groups of subjects who had not learned piano were taught a simple sequence of notes. Both groups sat at pianos, but only one group physically played. The other group imagined playing the piano. Brain mapping occurred before, during, and after the experiment. Remarkably, imagined (mental) practice produced similar physical changes in the brain to actual physical practice. Doidge states, “We can change our brain anatomy simply by using our imagination. Thoughts, repeated in mental practice, strengthen the existing neuronal connections and make new ones.”

I recall a story about a professional golfer who, after being released from a year in prison, played an excellent round of golf. When his golfing buddies asked how this was possible given that he had no opportunity to practise, he replied, “But I did practise. I played eighteen holes every day up here, in my imagination.” Mentally, this man had attended to all the details as he usually would in a typical round of golf. His imaginary game took about the same time to play as a real game of golf.

Once I had the fortune to attend a workshop with legendary jazz trumpeter Bobby Shew. He used to play with John Coltrane, and in the workshop he recollected some interesting and amusing personal anecdotes. Shew told us that Coltrane often practised without his saxophone. When flying to a gig most of the musicians would have a few drinks, but not Coltrane. He closed his eyes and mentally practised on a piece of wood. Shew calls this type of practice ‘ideo-kinetics.’

These examples support that the brain does become active through mental imagery. Thinking about an action causes the same electrical discharge in the brain as the action itself. Therefore, mental practice is an effective way to practise music when physical practice is not possible, and for its own sake. Perhaps a contributing factor to Mozart’s genius was that his thoughts were always on music. “You know that I am, so to speak, swallowed up in music,” he told his father, “that I am busy with it all day—speculating, studying, considering.”

Many of Mozart’s works that, according to history, seem to have been composed on the spur of the moment, were most likely swimming around in his conscious and unconscious minds, fermenting for long periods of time.

Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music. – Sergei Rachmaninoff

from ‘Learning Strategies for Musical Success’ by Michael Griffin

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“A must read for all music educators” – Robert Adams, Music Educator, New Haven, USA.

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‘Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs’

Bumblebee! is more than just a collection of 84 choir exercises and rounds. The author shares timeless wisdom to help you get your choir – primary or secondary – into shape.
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“This is really good for all kinds of vocal groups, choirs, conductors. Bravo!!”

“The thinking person’s guide to training a choir. Love it!”

“It’s great to have some fresh warm-ups to add to the repertory. The tips for actions and techniques are really useful, and the advice at the back of the book has made me review some of my strategies.”

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Public speaker, music education trainer, conductor and pianist. Author of 'Learning Strategies for Musical Success', 'Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs', and 'Modern Harmony Method'.

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One comment on “Imagination: Practising Without Instrument, Without Notation.
  1. Svetlana Rudenko says:

    Infants synesthesia-condition with what we all born answers for ‘relating unrelated concepts’ and creativity of Imagination. Why child’s Imagery limitless becouse of this physical condition of cross-modal processing,which fades away at logical age of 7-8

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