Bring Focus and Creativity to your Practice

By Hans Jørgen Jensen 


There is nothing that can help you focus better than having a strong desire to accomplish a specific goal. If you are striving toward a long-term goal, it is important to visualize how several smaller steps combined into one practice session or stretched out over several practice sessions will help you realize it. With a focused mindset you can work faster, more efficiently, and with fewer mistakes.

Great practicing is rarely one sustained period of concentration on one large goal. Rather, it is more effective to break the larger process into several smaller tasks. Spend a little bit of time on each small task and take a short break between steps. Linking smaller steps together towards a bigger goal is what focus and concentration is all about.

Keep distractions out of practice sessions

The mind can be compared to a magnifying glass in which thoughts are brought into focus in a similar way as the light from the sun passing through the glass. If a thunderstorm is approaching or it is very cloudy, it can be difficult for the magnifying glass to catch the rays from the sun. In a similar way, if there are many issues clouding your thought processes, it becomes difficult for the mind to focus effectively. Here are four situations that can be very distracting, followed by suggestions for how to deal with each issue.

1) Being too involved in social media when practicing

When practicing and studying it is necessary to be able to create a focused practice space where all computers and phones are turned off. Time is precious and like money, it is easy to spend. It is therefore important to develop the habit of controlling your use of time and budgeting it wisely.

  • Give yourself two hours to practice with no interruptions and take a ten-minute break at the midpoint of the session but resist the temptation of checking your emails and messages. Turn notifications off by setting your phone to a do-not-disturb mode that fits your needs.
  • After two hours take another ten-minute break but this time check your messages and answer the ones that can be answered quickly. Mark the others with a label to remind you to respond later.
  • After this break, practice one or two more hours.
  • Developing the habit of controlling your practice time will pay off in the long run.

2) How to manage and control your creative ideas

It is often challenging to keep a very inquisitive and curious mind under control. A person bursting with creativity often doesn’t feel like being controlled even by oneself. To gain consistency in controlling creativity it is necessary to have the self-discipline to control and develop ideas in an organised manner.

  • Set aside a specific time every week where you brainstorm and write down and organize your creative ideas about your practicing. Write down various topics such as:
  • Creative ideas for fixing and drilling difficult passages
  • Developing more interesting musical ideas
  • Finding inspiration for creating a more beautiful, expressive sound with more dynamics and shadings of tone color

Although the possibilities are endless, focus on a few important aspects at a time. The more creative and practical ideas you write down about each topic, the easier it is to start implementing and experimenting with the ideas in the next practice session dedicated to that topic. When solving problems or coming up with new ideas, just planting the seeds of ideas in your mind is a great beginning. A lot of powerful creative thinking takes place subconsciously during the day and when sleeping. Leave the thoughts alone and allow the solutions to materialize at whenever time is right.

3) Implement your practice goals when practicing

Don’t use your practice sessions to search for new creative ideas. Sitting on a chair trying to come up with great creative ideas will just waste time. Instead of consciously looking for new ideas, follow and implement the things you already know by focusing and implementing your goals by just taking it one step at a time. Great creative ideas often arise when least expected, like a flash out of nowhere in the middle of practicing, in the middle of a leisurely walk, or first thing when you wake up in the morning. When creativity hits you, write it down in a place where you write down all your good ideas. Then, in a creativity session, select a few great ideas and work on those in more detail. As you develop a routine for catching and implementing novel techniques and inspiring ideas, creativity will start flowing to you in a much more open way.

4) Start with the difficult tasks first

Match your energy with the difficulty of the task. Start with the most difficult parts when your energy is at its peak. Energy levels naturally fluctuate throughout the day with troughs and peaks that are different for each person. Trying to learn the most difficult parts of your repertoire as you are getting tired is counterproductive. When you are feeling fresh it is much easier to focus and stay on target during difficult tasks. Every time you focus your attention you use a measurable amount of glucose and other metabolic resources. Studies show that each task you perform tends to make you less effective at the next task, and this is especially true for high-energy tasks like practicing and pushing yourself to improve difficult passages.

The magical mindset

When I was younger, I used to look for the magical mind set called ‘concentration’ or ‘focused mind” until one day I realized that it is impossible to be truly inspired and concentrated all day, every day. Each day is different, and no two days are the same: Different weather, different breakfasts, different moods, different classes; meeting different people, going to a party, preparing for a midterm in music theory, or having problems with a friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend. Thinking about all those other events is what often makes it difficult to concentrate. However, there are several tricks and techniques that can be used to help with concentration.

Using different degrees of concentration

If we have fun learning a new skill or concept, then time seems to fly by. Realising that different problems require varying degrees of concentration also accelerates learning and concentration. Deciding what degree of concentration is needed to accomplish a specific task or goal is very helpful. Whether you are learning a new concept, a new musical work, or a new life skill, it is essential to decide what degree of concentration is needed to accomplish your goals. Warming up playing through some old repertory that you know well does not require total concentration, so it is ok to be very relaxed while allowing the mind to think about anything and to look out the window to observe what is going on outside. On the other hand, learning a new work full of complicated rhythms requires total concentration.

Give a number between 1 and 10 for the level of concentration needed for a particular task, with 1 being not concentrated and 10 being totally focused. When a task is difficult, breaking it into smaller sections and taking small rests in between every section is extremely helpful. 

Total freedom from being judged by anyone, especially yourself

While musicians are very often their own most critical judge, it is so important when implementing creative ideas to be totally free from judgement. Finding and implementing creative ideas is very similar to brainstorming about a specific topic where the most important rule is to write down all ideas that come to your mind without judging anything until all ideas have been written down. This can be compared to coming up with and implementing creative ideas. Don’t judge any idea that you find fun and interesting until you have worked with the idea for a while and can do it in very comfortable manner. Of course, if you have an important performance or audition soon, it is not the time to try out new daring ideas (except if you are very experienced).

The many wonderful benefits of using creativity

It is easy to get trapped or stuck inside all the negative aspects of being a musician, such as the various competitive aspects, possible setbacks, and the hard work and practicing that go into reaching high levels of artistic achievement.

With this in mind, it is important to remind ourselves of all the incredibly positive aspects of being a musician such as doing and being paid (eventually) for something we have chosen to do and love doing. A wonderful additional benefit is all the positive experiences we can enjoy if we keep an open and positive mindset. Being creative and allowing creativity to play an important role in your daily practice is a wonderful way to open your mind and feel positive about the whole process. Having a creative outlet has a positive influence on cognitive health and researchers have found evidence for how creativity positively affects the brain.[1] Inviting creativity into your life as a great practice helper can be very inspiring and helpful for both mind and body. Happy and creative practicing!