It probably comes as no surprise, but being a professional musician comes with a lot of compromises to a “normal” lifestyle. Odd working hours, working on holidays, needing to maintain a high baseline level of playing; the behind-the-scenes of a musician is not always glamorous. For me, at least, that includes the need to do some form of practice every single day.
This isn’t only because I love routines (although I do), this is also because for me it’s easier to stay in shape than it is to get back in shape. I realize that this certainly isn’t the case for everyone (and it may not always be the case for me), but right now I do, in fact, take my horn on vacations and do a little bit of playing every day.
An interesting study, though, may indicate that focused mental practice may be as good or better than physical practice in certain situations.
As explained on another excellent blog post from BulletProofMusician, a British study compared three different types of practice involving golf swings:
- Imagery training – In which golfers were asked to read a script and create visuals of executing these shots. During these visualizations, the study participants wore golfing clothes, holding the appropriate club, and assuming the correct stance.
- Action observation – Golfers were filmed performing several shots, and the best examples of each were compiled into a highlight video. They watched this video while also wearing golfing clothes, holding their club, and assuming the correct stance.
- Physical practice – The golfers in this group physically practiced their shots.
All three groups did their appropriate kind of practice for the same amount of time (11 minutes per day, 3 days per week, for 6 weeks).
While the actual results are very interesting, one quick takeaway is that both the imagery and observation groups improved in the specific shots they were working on. While they didn’t improve at equal rates (check out the full article for more details), they did both show measurable improvement on average.
This doesn’t mean that actual physical practice on your instrument is unneeded or useless. Obviously, this kind of mental practice will do very little for endurance, for example. Also, note that this mental practice was quite focused – the participants held their clubs, assumed appropriate stances, and even dressed in their golfing attire. If you’re going to try this with your instrument, make sure you don’t try “mental practice” while watching Netflix or browsing Facebook!
I’m not sure if I’m going to try this during our vacation this summer, but it is certainly one more tool in your toolbox if you’re wanting to try and make some progress this summer and you don’t want to (or can’t) take your horn with you.