Being in the music

Many things can take us out of the music. It could be nerves, fatigue, anger, frustration, boredom, and/or perfectionism. Whatever it is, you will experience the proverbial “omelette without the eggs” if you are not fully present in your music. Your music will feel like an anemic series of notes, rhythms and coordinated physical motions.

Start out by dealing with the underlying emotions that are preventing you from being in the music. Some pieces will pull you in deeper than others. A particular piece may align with your overall mood in a significant way. You may even play pieces that represent a full on spiritual awakening. Alternatively, you may find there are pieces that are always a challenge to relate to any fulfilling way. However, if you aren’t feeling anything when you play or playing your music doesn’t seem fun anymore, it’s time to take a look inside.

I have grappled with this issue from time to time from working as a professional violinist. If I’m only playing music that I’m hired to play I’m not necessarily bringing forth the inspiration of the music. The programming by the ensemble employing me can play a role. There are a lot of notes to learn. Sometimes there is only enough time to learn how to play a piece technically but not enough time to fully engage with it emotionally. A lot goes into forming a relationship with a piece of music. One needs to live with it. Study its history. Consult other musicians or recordings. It is easy to fall into settling for only going through the motions, hopefully somewhere along the way becoming inspired by perhaps a music director’s enthusiasm, another musician’s virtuosity, or even an audience member’s excitement. I have always been a supporter of pursuing ongoing creative projects separate from music being performed for financial employment. Over the years it has helped me to feel whole as a musician. It even helps me to feel more present when playing pieces that are not particularly inspiring to me.

Trance work, hypnosis, and meditation can all help you connect with your own musical inspiration and the energy of the music. These modalities calm the nervous system. Magnetic resonance imagining (MRI) scans have shown the affect of meditation on the amygdala which is the source in the brain of the fight or flight response. It is theorized that meditation brings you into the present moment which then causes physical engagement of the body. Mindfulness in general is also being used to treat depression.1

Finally, in the midst of learning music that can be so technically difficult, it is essential to not forget about music’s own energy. When my students are stuck on technical issues in their music, I remind them to play through the piece in its entirety while accepting that they may not have completely realized some parts of the piece. We do this to preserve the musical energy; one’s original reason for playing the violin and playing music. Very often, practicing in this way, can resolve or at least improve technical issues. Moreover, the music itself should always direct your technique, not the other way around. Meditation, trance work, hypnosis, and even deep prayer can help you to put aside what is distracting you or holding you back. You will be able to once again connect with your authentic musical self. 

1. Alvin Powell. ‘When Science Meets Mindfulness’ (April 9, 2018). news.harvard.edu. (Accessed: October 10, 2021).

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