Researching the question of what to focus on during music practice and performance has led me on an interdisciplinary journey into fields where I am not an expert (movement sciences, music psychology and neuroscience). My aim was to be able to present the relevant theories, concepts and research findings well enough, and also clearly enough, for musicians and people who train musicians to understand. The designs I made to explore external focus are only examples of the infinite number of ways that external focus can be used, explored and researched in the field of music. There is a real need to develop holistic ways to train musicians by designing learning environments that encourage exploration and connectivity (neural, inter-personal and interdisciplinary). It could be that the mindset of our institutions needs to shift – away from result-oriented to process-oriented goals in order to encourage student musicians to practice in a more effective and efficient way. Although external focus means focussing on the intended result of one’s actions, this should be interpreted not in terms of gain or of quantifiable results, but in clarity of expression and successful communication. 

Bridging Science and Musical Practice

Quality Practice – A Musician’s Guide is an additional outcome of the research presented in this thesis. It was written and designed to showcase in a concrete and practical way the current knowledge about motor learning for musicians. Through navigating scientific studies on motor learning, being excited and inspired about the significance of many of the theories and findings for musicians, I came to realise that much of the valuable information remained in the domains of science and did not necessarily permeate into practice (this is perhaps less so in the fields of sports or rehabilitation). I recognised the need for a bridge between relevant information on the nature of motor learning and musicians’ practice rooms, teaching studios and the stage. During the process of putting together a workbook and online manual that could benefit musicians, I became aware that several things are important: that the information presented is clear and easy to grasp even for someone without a scientific background; that the knowledge presented is empirically based; that the implications of each topic are stated and there are clear examples of how the information can be immediately applied and experienced; that the manual is attractive and easy to use without being superficial in content; that work-forms are presented to use as teaching/learning materials; that references for each topic are available for those who want more intellectual understanding. 

There has been ample feedback from teachers and musicians – sometimes recognising new and useful knowledge and ways to implement it but, more often than not, reports of confirmation of what many are already doing or observing. Many teachers and musicians have a great deal of intrinsic knowledge and wisdom, and can benefit from it being confirmed by the scientific world. Strengthening a dialogue between science and art could surely benefit both.

10. Disseminating and Applying Research on Musicians' Motor Learning to Musicians and their Teachers

Quality Practice. A Musician’s Guide

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