This exposition illustrates the process and content of the 2019 Master Elective Performance Science at the Royal Conservatoire, The Hague. The course is designed and coached by Susan Williams and Wieke Karsten. The concept is based on exploring aspects of musicians’ learning, performance preparation and performance based on issues that arise from the participants in each session. In this way the course grows directly from the input and needs of the students so can thus be relevant to their actual processes and needs.
An important question facing musicians both in the practice room and on stage is “What should I focus on?” There is a great deal of research in the fields of movement sciences and sports that suggests that adopting an external focus of attention – focusing on the intended effects of one’s movements – can be beneficial both for learning and for performance of complex motor skills. There has been very little research done on the effects of external focus on musicians.
The aims of this study on external focus were as follows: to translate the idea of external focus from movement science into the field of music (how can external focus be characterized for music-making?); to design several ways to use, test and explore the application of external focus in field situations; and to collect data and find information to elucidate the effects of external focus and the instances in which it can work for musicians.
A series of three empirical projects were designed and carried out in both semi-controlled as well as natural environments. The mixed methods research approach included both quantitative and qualitative elements. A music-pedagogical practice tool based on external focus was designed and used in all three projects.
The first project involved natural trumpet players (n=7) who practiced fragments of repertoire using an external focus practice tool. Results were compared the their ‘usual’ practice methods. Quantitative data was collected to show the effects of external focus on accuracy, self-efficacy, confidence and motivation of the players. In the second project the same seven players participated in the preparation and performance of a chamber music concert for trumpet consort. The third project involved a chamber ensemble of 18 players including string players, trumpeters and keyboard players. In projects two and three the performances were prepared and rehearsed by using tools and techniques based on external focus. Qualitative data was collected from questionnaires, surveys and interviews.
Results from the three projects tentatively supported the overall hypothesis: External focus is beneficial to musicians’ learning and performance experience. Statistical results showed positive effects of external focus on accuracy and suggest a positive trend for confidence and for self-efficacy in performance. Qualitative data from interviews and surveys over the three interventions showed the performers’ ensemble playing was enhanced by using an external focus approach, and that they suffered much less from performance anxiety than usual.
External focus could play a larger role in music pedagogy for musicians at every level and stage of learning. The kind of procedural implicit learning that results from using tools based on external focus means that technique (motor control) is being informed by musical intention and not the other way around.
Faculty research at the Royal Conservatoire The Hague focuses on a wide range of topics relevant to the artistic practice of its teaching staff, to the artistic development of its students and to the world of musical practice at large. Areas covered include informed performance practice, creative (artistic) research, instrument building, educational research, and music theory. One strand within the faculty research programme is directed towards the enhancement of the learning, practice and performing strategies of instrumentalists and vocalists. Two projects within that strand – ‘Mental Training for Performers’ by Susan Williams, and ‘Making Music, Practising and the Brain’ by Wieke Karsten – formed the occasion and motivation to organise the international conference ‘From Potential to Performance: Training Performing Musicians in Conservatoriums’ at the Royal Conservatoire, 11-13 October 2013.
This publication collects knowledge, insights and practical recommendations addressed at the conference by an outstanding group of scholars and practitioners. Some contributions to this volume were published earlier as articles in their own right, some have been written for the occasion. Combined in this publication they offer a rich and thorough account of the state of the art in this emerging research field.
The study of the relationship between musical practice and the physical and mental condition of its practitioners goes back to ancient Greek, to Plato’s Politeia or Artistotle’s Politika, where music, body and mind were conceived of as constitutive of ethos, i.e. of character, behaviour and morality. And throughout history that relationship between music, body and mind was thematised in ever-different ways; from the proto music psychology of the Baroque Affektenlehre to the Musico- Medizin speculations of the early 20th century. Only in recent decades the study of ‘performance science’ has advanced to the level of a serious research programme, rooted in both artistic practice and in cutting-edge scholarly and scientific work, combining insights from sport science, neuro-psychology, brain science, pedagogy and musical practice.
The Royal Conservatoire does not only want to profit from this emerging field of research, but also aspires to contribute insights and experiences, embedded in its higher music education culture and embodied in the professionals who study and work here. With the publication of ‘From Potential to Performance’ we support the dissemination of knowledge and understanding, but we also show our commitment to the research programme and our readiness to be in front of the development. In doing so the Conservatoire manifests awareness that today’s higher music education is in constant need to refine and attune its programme to an ever-changing world.