Get In the Zone

David Motto’s Practice Tip of the Week:
Get in the Zone

The Importance of “The Zone”

The traditional approach to practice (spend more time until you get better) has been blown out of the water by ideas of practicing deliberately, receiving continuous feedback, and maintaining focused concentration.

This state of focused concentration is commonly called “being in The Zone” and is officially known as “Flow” (a term coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi).

In the Zone, experiencing Flow, you lose all sense of time and become completely engaged with the task at hand.

There’s no doubt that The Zone helps musicians. Achieving a state of Flow speeds up the mastery process. It also helps you memorize more easily.

An additional bonus – and this is super important – is that Flow eliminates all the distracting thoughts you may be having when you practice.

You know those thoughts. They’re the non-musical worries that take your mind away from what you’re actually trying to accomplish musically.

Being in the Zone and achieving Flow sounds great and all, but this leads us to a big question:

“How can I get into The Zone in the first place?”

Timers: Tools for Achieving Flow

Today’s practice tip is about timers. Timers are not exciting, so bear with me as I explain how they can be a quick solution for getting in the Zone and achieving Flow.

I know you probably don’t associate timers with helping you make big leaps in your musical abilities or getting you in the Zone.

I also know that timers have gotten a bad reputation with musicians. You may have visions of parents putting a timer on top of a piano and telling their child to keep practicing until the timer goes off. You know, like it’s a punishment.

This technique is a sure way to take the joy out of playing music. However, timers can also be used in positive ways to help your focus and concentration.

Using a Timer to Give Yourself Dedicated Practice Time

One technique is to decide how long you want to practice and to set your timer when you start practicing. Unlike the parent scenario above, you are making your own decision to practice music. It’s not being forced on you, and this is a crucial difference.

Setting a timer for the full length of your practice session does wonders if you are very busy, easily distracted, addicted to checking email/texts, or just have trouble getting motivated. You can promise yourself that you won’t answer the phone, read a text message, or even look at a clock until the timer goes off. Your time, your energy, and your thoughts will be filled only with music!

Freeing your brain from non-music responsibilities puts you in the Zone. You allow yourself to dedicate a block of time to the music that is so important to you without feeling guilty about avoiding anything else in your life. This is an extremely powerful feeling!

Using a Timer to Get in the Zone Instantly

Even better than timing your entire practice session, you can use your timer to help develop the high level of focus needed to have major breakthroughs in your playing.

Here’s how this technique works:

Pick one item to work on. This could be a single scale or exercise, a very specific song section you’re learning, or something difficult you’ve been avoiding. The main thing is to choose just one item.

Then, set your timer for a very short time increment: 1 minute, 2 minutes, 5 minutes max. Your goal is simple: Work on that single item – and only that single item – while the timer is running.

Don’t worry about time. Don’t think about your overall progress. Don’t imagine your eventual performance of the whole song. Just focus all your energies on the task at hand. When the timer goes off, stop what you’re doing and go onto something else.

You can use this technique multiple times during a single practice session. Each time be sure to focus on just one item.

This use of a timer is actually profound. It has a paradoxical effect, allowing you to completely forget about how long something is taking you to practice. It will free you from the usual constraints of time and focus your brain on important details. And, it can get you in the Zone faster than any other technique.

Other Ways to Get in the Zone

These two timer techniques for getting in the Zone are surprising and simple. Give them a try, and please leave me a comment below to tell me how these strategies are working for you.

Do you have other strategies for getting in the Zone and experiencing Flow? If so, let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

To Your Musical Success!
David Motto

This entry was posted in Achieving Goals, Motivation, Music, Music Practice Tips. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Get In the Zone

  1. David Motto says:

    I received this email today about this blog post:

    “David, in my modest opinion, your understanding of “Flow” concept is wrong.

    Flow, as you explain, means “concentration” or “mindfulness”.
    Flow doesn’t let you learn better…you get in Flow when you are a
    master on something and can do it fluently, not easily neither very
    difficult, only with enough difficulty to maintain required
    attention. You need to be a master on the subject to get in Flow.”

    Now, it’s likely true that I don’t understand Flow to the extent that psychology researchers do. But, I maintain that musicians at every level can, in fact, be masters of what they’re doing if that thing is small enough and slow enough that they maintain control throughout. Right now, today, you can leave everything in the world behind except for the small task you’re working on in the practice room.

    The main thing I want musicians to do when practicing is to be totally focused on their task, without distractions. Whether or not this matches the exact psychological definition of Flow is less important than learning how to eliminate distractions.

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