Flow is a mental state characterized by total immersion in the task at hand, coupled with a sense of enjoyment of the activity and an overall feeling of well-being. A lot of what propels musicians to pursue their art is that they can experience this state of flow.
Do you recall a time when you experienced this feeling? Maybe it was while finger painting as a child. Or becoming wrapped up in a video game for hours, not realizing how long you’d been sitting there, because “time stopped.”
Wouldn’t it be great to live life constantly in this state? Unfortunately, a flow state, much like creativity in general, cannot be forced or willed into existence. That being said, there are a few key components that make a person more likely to get into this all-encompassing state.
Knowing what to do
Knowing how to do it
Knowing how well you are doing
Knowing where to go (if navigation is involved)
High perceived challenges
High perceived skills
Freedom from distractions
(Schaffer, Owen (2013), Crafting Fun User Experiences: A Method to Facilitate Flow,
Human Factors International)
For musicians in particular, this boils down to: playing a piece that is at once challenging and enjoyable, but that also falls within your own perceived skill level. Keep in mind that this can be either during practice or performance — you can experience this state at any time, and in almost any place!
Picture this for a moment: you’re on stage – bright lights beaming toward you – you hear the introduction by the orchestra or piano, and you think, “But I’m not ready yet! I don’t know this piece!” You wake up in a cold sweat, relieved that it was just a dream.
These vivid anxiety dreams are all too common before a performance, and they reveal an underlying, understandable fear that many musicians have: that you are not or will not be ready. Despite hours, weeks and even years of preparation and study of your instrument and the music in question, you still shiver with apprehension at the prospect of a big performance or audition. This is when it’s time to take a mental leap and trust your preparation.
Remind yourself of the time you’ve spent and the care you’ve taken with the music. Picture yourself in the practice room. Maybe even go all the way back to your early music lessons, and see the time and effort you’ve put in since then.
Sometimes all you need is a gentle reminder. Recently, one of my students, who is ten or eleven years old, came to me nervously just before a student recital. “Can I use the music?” she asked.
“N., how have you been practicing?” I asked.
“And remember how great you played, by memory, in your last lesson?”
In the end, she DID perform by memory and played beautifully. I think she just needed a reminder to trust her preparation.
It’s funny that, no matter what, I always wish for more time before a performance. I think, “If I only had one more month…” But I’m sure that, even if I DID have an extra month or two to prepare, I’d say the same thing! There comes a time when the preparation phase is over, and it is time to go out and do it. You’ve done the work. Now trust your preparation.
I (finally!) have a YouTube channel. And a video to share with you! Learning Dvorak’s poignant Romance has been on my bucket list for a while. Here I am performing it with wonderful collaborator Tatyana Stepanova. Have a listen:
Welcome to the site! Fearless Fiddler is dedicated to helping violinists (and other musicians) realize their potential and achieve their best performance, and to enjoy the process! In my blog you’ll find posts about everything violin-related, from news about upcoming concerts, to reviews of violin literature and method books, to inspirational posts about performance and preparation. It will also feature guest articles, so if you have a suggestion, please go ahead and contact me!