By: Konner Scott
When I was much younger, I was a competitive swimmer (if you’ve followed my blog posts to any degree, you’re very aware of this). Before important swim meets, our team would often gather after practice. Our coach would turn off the lights in the pool area, and have us lie down on the deck. We’d all close our eyes and visualize – to the finest detail – every aspect of the races we were about to compete in. How we would approach the starting block, how the cold water would feel upon entry, the exact number of strokes we would take every single length, the exact time we wanted to go down to the hundredth of a second- no stone was left unturned.
Although the power of this was lost on me at first, in time, I realized that this was an incredibly powerful psychological tool. I was often one of the more nervous competitors at big swim meets. I couldn’t eat, my stomach would be in shambles, and my head would spin for hours before my first race.
Once I figured out how to visualize effectively, I began to trust my instinct. I had already put in the work during countless hours of swim practice, and I’d seen exactly how my races should unfold in my mind’s eye. It became easier to turn off my brain and just execute. Most of my best races over the course of my swimming career came under these conditions.
It never occurred to me until I started teaching music that the same philosophy could apply to learning an instrument. Once the idea struck me, I decided to test it out. As I was learning a new piece, when I lay in bed at the end of the night, I would close my eyes and try to clearly picture every single note of a phrase, section, or passage I was working on.
I began to notice that, when I would practice the following day, I didn’t need as much time to warm-up or remember what I had done the day before. The material was more fresh in my mind (and in my hands), and I could more quickly jump into learning the next important thing.
Seeing how much this has enhanced my ability to learn pieces quickly has been a game changer. I find myself able to manage much more complex material, because I’m acutely aware of every single detail, and I can picture them all clearly even when I’m away from the piano or guitar.
Over the past year, I’ve been able to learn, with some level of proficiency, 5-6 semi-complex classical piano songs. This is something I could never have dreamed of in my younger piano playing days. I attribute much of this to my ability to clearly see every single note in my head, whether or not I have the instrument in front of me. Like anything else, this requires practice, but the practice pays off!