Mental Practicing Music – “I’m practicing in my head!”

Once beginner music students have their instruments and elementary music books like the “Yankee Collection”, they settle down to “Practicing”. You know, playing the fingerings and time values assigned to basic written notes.

As you might have realized, we continue to be students through out our musical careers. (There are those that reach a certain level of proficiency and are content where they are and have no desire to improve. How do you tweet #sad.) Excuse me I digressed.

Yes, playing is a correct perception of practicing. However, this surprisingly, is not the only technique used by more experienced musicians that can be very helpful. There are situations when audibly playing can be disruptive, and another method might be desirable.

Assuming you are a dedicated lifelong student, here are two optional ways to practice:

1. Play patterns without making a sound. (Works best on woodwind instruments.) The cool part is that you can focus on your executive skills without worrying about whom you’re disturbing, or how you sound.

mental practicingMany years ago when I was in the 18th Army band, we were on a two hour bus ride to a military academy graduation ceremony in northern Vermont. After boarding the bus, I started to assemble my saxophone. All the other band members jumped up and said in unison: “NO, SNARSKI, NOT ON THE BUS”. I responded calmly with “I won’t make a sound”. I practiced silently for the rest of the trip. When we finally disembarked, one of the other sax players inquired what I had worked on. I then put my reed and mouthpiece on and proceeded to execute a two measure jazz pattern really fast. He was sufficiently impressed. You do have to be reasonably advanced to practice this way.

2. Be careful when you don’t hear any practicing but do hear little Billy yell from the other room “I’m practicing in my head!” This is however a legitimate technique especially when you are about to site read a new piece of music. In this situation you internally visualize your fingers playing the difficult passages a few times before you actually play them. This is called mental practicing. It takes years to develop this technique.

Whatever you do, enjoy the journey!