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How do your objectives as a

performer inform and shape your
practice technique?
October 2018

Jonathan Vaughan, Vice Principal & Director of Music, Guildhall
School of Music & Drama

In presenting this lecture I hope:

• Not to contradict your PS teacher
• Not to offer a guide of how to practice

I have attempted to present
• A study of processes; both mental & physical
• A collection of writings and research data to
inform these processes
Is your body a taxi for your mind?

Cognitive and Physical processes:

Mental: Mental practice, mind management
and coping with stress/ anxiety

Physical: optimum performance,
manifestations of mental anxiety, stress and
Chimp Paradox: Dr Steve Peters

Three parts of the brain
• Frontal –human
• Limbic – Chimp
• Parietal - Computer
Emotions vs Logic
Emotional Thinking (Chimp)
• Jump to an opinion
• Thinks in black and white
• Paranoid
• Catastrophic
• Irrational
• Emotive judgement

Logical Thinking (Human)
• Evidence-based
• Rational
• In context and with perspective
• Shades of grey and balanced judgement
Emotional response

“The Limbic System, the part of the brain
that governs emotions, is far more powerful
than the pre-frontal cortex, our thinking and
rationality centre. The Limbic System
includes the Hippocampus, the memory
centre and the Amygdala, the brain’s
sentry/alarm system. All our significant
decisions are made at an emotional level
first. “ Jane Cook: Coaching & Mentoring
Chimp’s Motivational Drives

• Strong sex drive – healthy chimp
• Territory - road rage
• Troop - security
• Food - putting on weight for winter
• Fight (attack), flight (run) or freeze
Currency of motivation

• Anxiety/adrenalin are a prompt from
the Chimp for action

• Drives are rewarded through
pleasure centres of the brain.

• Managing the Chimp by using the
“computer” and small goals
Thinking Fast & Slow: Daniel
17 x 24 = ?
Keith Stanovich &
Richard West

System 1 operates automatically and
quickly, with little or no effort and no
sense of voluntary control

System 2 allocates attention to effortful
mental activities that demand it,
including complex computations.
System 1

• Detect that one object is more distant than another
• Orient to the source of a sudden sound
• Complete the phrase “bread and…”
• Make a “disgust face” when shown a horrible picture
• Detect hostility in a voice
• Answer 2 + 2 =
• Read words on large billboards
• Drives a car on an empty road
• Recognize that a “meek and tidy soul with a passion for
detail” resembles an occupational stereotype.
System 2

• Brace for the starter gun in a race
• Focus on the voice of a particular person in a crowded
and noisy room
• Search memory to identify a surprising sound
• Maintain a faster walking speed than is natural for you
• Monitor the appropriateness of your behaviour in a
social situation
• Tells someone your phone number
• Park in a narrow space
• Fill in a tax form
• Compare two washing machines for overall value
• Check the validity of a complex logical argument
Do the math

• A toy bat and ball cost £1.10
• The bat costs one pound more
than the ball
• How much
does the ball cost?
50% of students at Harvard, MIT and
Princeton gave the intuitive – incorrect –

How closely does System 2
monitor System 1?

PowerPoint politicians
Planning fallacy
Inner Game: Barry Green

Self 1and Self 2
Self 1 is critical and judgemental
Self 2 represents the vast reservoir of potential
Anxiety can become internalised and a vicious
circle is produced.
Problems occur when you start to concentrate on not
making mistakes rather than enjoying the performance.
Where ‘P’ is performance – the results you achieve, ‘p’ is
potential – innate ability, and ‘i’ is interference – your
capacity to get in your own way.
Most people try to improve ‘p’ and don’t think about ‘i’.
Bounce: Matthew Syed

Anders Ericsson 1991- psychologist at Florida
State University
Music Academy of West Berlin
Three groups
1. Expected to become international soloists
2. Extremely good but
not as accomplished as 1.
3. Students studying to
become teachers
Groups were remarkably

Age when students began – around 8
Average age when decided to be musicians
– 15
Number of teachers – 4.1
Number of other instruments studied – 1.8

One exceptional and striking difference:
• By the age of 20 group 1 had practised an
average of 10,000 hrs:
• 2,000 more than group 2
• 6,000 more than group 3
• Purposeful practice was the only factor
distinguishing the best from the rest.
Theodor Hettinger on repeated

• Prof for ergonometry at Uni Giessen
• He analysed that percentage of an
increase of skills is especially high
with 20 reps .
• After 20 reps it decreases and after
150 reps it is regressive
Muscle fatigue

Fibres and neurons
Antagonistic system
Posture - the monkey trap
Selective Attention &
Task Oriented Focus

• Robert Bjork and “Desirable Difficulty”
Motor, auditory, limbic
& executive systems

• Visual – the memory of how the music looks on
the page
• Audio – the memory of the way the music
• Tactile or kinaesthetic – the way our
fingers/voice/ muscles seem to automatically
play on their own
• Sensory – the way we respond emotionally to
the music
• Analytical – understanding of structure,
harmony, phrasing, etc.
Cognitive processes
of memorization

Acquisition – ‘sensory memory’. Limited in time and
capacity, new information deletes old.
Storage – information is moved across the brain to
a substratum called ‘working memory’.
Concentration and repetition strengthen neuron
pathways, non-consolidated is lost.
Recovery – ‘working memory’ not accessed directly
but has to pass through ‘recent memory’. More
often accessed, stronger recall.

George Odam and Jaume Rosset I Llobet Mental’s “The Musician’s Body”
Fatigue (mental and physical) determined
by 3 factors:

• The intensity of your performance
• The speed of your movement
• The length of your performance
Performance Anxiety

Survey of 190 university music students found:
•one-third of participants experienced stage fright as a
•only 4% rated stage fright as being no problem at all
•22% of the students declared that they had failed an
exam because of stage fright
•49% said they had received a bad critique because of
stage fright

Studer, Gomez, Hilderbrandt, Arial & Danuser, 2011;
So much for theory…

…..but how do I apply any of
this to my own work?
Fraser MacAulay

• Blocked practice and the illusion of
• Interleaving practice
• Contextual interference effect
The Art of Violin Playing:
Carl Flesch

Carl Flesch developed a system of mental practice:
• It highlights the musical and technical areas to which you
have given insufficient attention.
• It gives you much greater understanding of the music.
• It makes you able to memorise major works in a very
reliable way.
• It prevents you from hard-wiring mental anxiety into bad
physical practice because it separates the two activities.
• It allows you to do mental practice alongside relaxation
exercises, thus decreasing any anxiety-related reactions
to performance.

Mark Williams and Danny Penman
Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding
Peace in a Frantic World
Sometimes described as “Mental Hygiene”.
Meditation discipline which has come from the field
of mental health.
Fear referencing
and the cycle of anxiety
Professor Felicia Huppert
Cambridge University

Your 5 a day for Well-being
•Be active
•Take notice
Strategies for learning

• Learn small amount
• Review regularly
• 20 mins concentration. Leave, come
back, 20 mins concentration, etc.
• Review next day and subsequent days.
• Leave for a week and review. If memory
has faded, go back to earlier stage and
Quality of practice

• How long do you practice without a break?
o Understanding muscle fatigue
o Understanding mental processes of
• Assessment
o Presence
o Mental practice – lazy system 2
o Decide what’s actually difficult & isolate
o Recording yourself
o Fix it and learn for yourself (PS teachers)
Setting Objectives

Set performance objectives for your practice
– in a relaxed setting:
• Why am I a musician?
• What kind of career do I want?
• How much do I want to change the world?
• What am I trying to do
o in my next concert?
o with this piece?
o in the next 10 mins of practice?
“There are these rare moments when musicians together touch
something sweeter than they’ve ever found before in rehearsals or
performance, beyond the merely collaborative or technically proficient,
when their expression becomes as easy and graceful as friendship or
love. This is when they give us a glimpse of what we might be, of our
best selves, and of an impossible world in which you give everything
you have to others, but lose nothing of yourself. Out in the real world
there exist detailed plans, visionary projects for peaceable realms, all
conflicts resolved, happiness for everyone, for ever - mirages for which
people are prepared to die and kill. Christ's kingdom on earth, the
workers' paradise, the ideal Islamic state. But only in music, and only
on rare occasions, does the curtain actually lift on this dream of
community, and it's tantalizingly conjured, before fading away with the
last notes.”
― Ian McEwan, Saturday
To Fight Against this Age:
Rob Riemen

“Science and technology will never be able to provide us with a complete
understanding of the human being with his instincts and desires, virtues and
values, mind and spirit. Every serious scientist knows this. Alas, not that many
in our ruling class do. Their understanding of society is limited by the scientific
paradigm of proofs, data, theories, and definitions. The humanities and the
arts are therefore ignored and dismissed. Yet the only knowledge that could
provide a true understanding of the human heart, the perennial complexities
of societies with their conflicting interests, the causes of modern-day
movements and upheavals, and the real requirements of a democratic
civilization is the wisdom of poetry and literature, philosophy and theology, the
arts and history. This is the domain of culture; this is where we can find Clio,
the Muse of history, always with a book in her hands, offering us the gift of
historical awareness. “
Lincoln’s Inn: “Ab hoc momento pendet aeternitas”
“On this moment hangs Eternity”

Leo Tolstoy: What is Art? “Art… a means of union among
men, joining them together in the same feelings.”
“Tolstoy; What is Art?” in Cahn, Stephen M and Aaron Meskin (eds), Malden Oxford, Blackwell
Publishing 2008
John Reith on the infant BBC after the First World
War, described its purpose:

“…to entertain, to interest, to enlighten, in all these
ways to bring the very best of everything and to
spare no effort to do it, to the greatest possible
number; to aim always at the highest standards in
every line of achievement in whatever direction it
may be.”
Emotional response to music

John Sloboda: "...formal task-oriented practice
encourages the development of technical rather
than expressive skills, whereas exploratory and
improvisatory activities encourage the individual's
expressive development. Successful musicians are
those who have been able to achieve a balance
between these types of activity." Exploring The
Musical Mind (New York 2005) p269.
Daniel Barenboim & Improvisation

“The three permanent questions that a musician
must ask himself are: why, how and for what
This is why improvisation…..going in an
unexpected direction, allowing the fingers, the
heart, the brain, the gut, to cooperate in an
unpremeditated way…is a very blessed state in life
of a human being, as well as the basis for making
music”. Music Quickens Time by Daniel
Barenboim, Ed Elan Cheah, Pub Verso in 2009 (6
Mearsd St, London W1F 0EG).
You are an athlete

• Mental practice & Mindfulness practice– both critical in
achieving a higher order of focus, quality and efficiency
in practice whilst reducing anxiety in performance.
• Exercise is a crucial stress buster
• Drink and Class A stimulants won’t get you there
• Diet – before performance take easily digestible meals
with complex carbs (rice, pasta, bread, fruit, veg). Avoid
caffeine, spicy foods. Bananas and turkey are popularly
believed to have a sedentary effect.
• Relaxation exercises – try many different disciplines like
running, yoga, Alexander Technique, Tai Chi, etc

Whilst this seminar no longer has an assignement
directly connected to it you might use some of your
thinking around this topic in your Self Reflective
Account due in on 29th October 2018. Remember
to include quotes – evidence of further reading –
but always identify and acknowledge in
Structure: Introduction, development of ideas,
Grammar- Innit?

'Practice' is a noun. 'To practise' is a verb.
There is often confusion over the words 'practice' and 'practise'. In order to understand which to use,
you must know the difference between a noun and a verb. This is because 'practice' is a noun;
whereas, 'practise' is a verb. However, there are tricks to get around this. (See 'Hot Tip' right.)
Try using the word 'preparation' (or 'lessons') instead of 'practice'. If the sentence still makes sense,
then 'practice' is almost certainly correct.
(This trick works because 'practice' is a noun, just like the words 'preparation' and 'lessons'.)
Try using the verb 'to prepare' (in its various forms, e.g., preparing, prepared, prepares) instead of
'practise'. If the sentence still makes sense, then 'practise' is almost certainly correct. However, if
you find yourself using 'preparation' then you should be using 'practice', because both are nouns.
(This trick works because 'to practise' is a verb, just like 'to prepare'. )
There should be no confusion with 'practising' or 'practised'. These are always verbs.
• The Chimp Paradox, Dr Steve Peters, Vermillion 2012
• Thinking Fast & Slow, Daniel Kahneman, Penguin Books 2012
• The Inner Game of Music, Barry Green, Pan Books 1987
• Bounce, Matthew Syed, Golden Books 2013
• Mindfulness, Mark Williams, Piatkus 2011
• The Art of Practising the Violin, Robert Gerl
• The Art of Violin Playing, Carl Flesch, Carl Fischer 2008 (2nd
• “The Musician’ Body” by Jaume rosset I Llobet and George
Odam, Ashgate
• To Fight Against this Age” Rob Rieman, W.W. Norton
• “The Influential Mind” Tali Sharot, Little, Brown 2017