Enhancing Musical Creativity with Meditation (guest post)

By Doug Hanvey

As a music teacher, and former instructor of an undergraduate class on mindfulness meditation (at Indiana University Bloomington from 2007 to 2014), I am fascinated by the many possible applications of meditation to music. One of these applications is creativity.

The Source of Creativity

Albert Einstein said “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.” Like most geniuses, Einstein understood that the source of creativity is beyond the mind. And, of course, what is beyond the mind is mysterious – at least to the mind!

Musicians can upgrade their creativity by becoming more familiar and comfortable with the mysterious place from which all thought and creativity arise. Meditation is a proven way of doing this.

Now, I realize that by using terms such as “beyond the mind” and “space of awareness,” I can be accused of New Age philosophizing that has no practical relevance to everyday life. Yet, as evidenced by Einstein’s appreciation thereof (not to mention that of many other artists and scientists), getting comfortable with the space beyond thoughts is as practical and useful as tying one’s own shoes, particularly for creative activities like improvising.

Meditation is a superb practice for any creative musician. Let me tell you about two types of meditation, both of which I’ve practiced extensively, and both of which I’ve found to be extremely powerful for boosting creativity.

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Improv and Young Musicians

One of my favorite blogs is Dr. Noa Kageyama’s The Bulletproof Musician – he hits it out of the park just about every time. His latest post and one that I highly recommend you read – now – is “Why Improvisation Should Be Part of Every Young Musician’s Training. Wonderful article with some excellent research backing it up. I have only two qualms about it: improv needs to loosen its common association with jazz, as in improv=jazz; improv can take many forms – jazz is just one. And: Improv should be part of not just young musician’s training, but part of the life and continuing training of every musician of any age and instrument.


Improve your brain: Improvise! (study)

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A recent article on the site of the Imperial College of London declares “Brain study suggests classical musicians should improvise.” 

Amen to that fair prayer.

There is an accompanying video (6:03) – you should read the article and watch the video.

In case you don’t have time, here’s the gist: Researchers at the Imperial College and the Guildhall School of Music wired up 3 musicians and 2 audiences members to record brain response.

The players played a classical piece twice; once playing the ink, once improvising on it.

Result, in a nutshell: the brains of everyone were more engaged during the improvised performances than during the non improvised performances.

The article concludes with a sentence I really like:

[to help classical music deal with declining audiences] “By incorporating improvisation into classical musical concerts, musicians will create a unique event that will be both engaging and captivating.” 

I think I will put that in needlepoint…

PS: There will be more details on the study in the Music Performance Research journal soon.

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