The 21stcentury offers a very challenging and diverse cultural landscape for performing artists. Globalisation and the resulting cross fertilisation between cultures and genres, offers exciting new possibilities. Conservatoires, however, are still largely concerned with training young musicians for classical orchestra jobs that no longer exist and training them in a way that is no longer adequate for preparing them for a complex, vibrant and fast changing market.  

Technical demands and expectations continue to rise; musicians are often required to master several genres and pressure to produce flawless performances is at an all time height. It is not surprising that the incidence of physical and psychological breakdown amongst classical musicians is extremely high. In order to address this problem, modern conservatoires need to provide instruction on effective, efficient and healthy practice and performance preparation. Not only does the acquisition of technical and musical skills need to be addressed, but also information and approaches that can help a musician to be mentally and psychologically robust. Although it is difficult for institutions to adapt to the increasing speed of change in our cultural world, simple additions – like providing training programs based on current scientific and pedagogical insights – can help.

By comparison with the typical training of a conservatoire musician, a potential professional athlete would have several hours of supervised training every day from a team of experts including a coach, fitness trainer, dietician and mental trainer. Mental training and the use of imagery during practice and performance has become an important part of many sports training regimes. There has been extensive research on the benefits of mental training in the fields of sports and movement sciences. Applications can be found in sports, rehabilitation, aviation, surgery and in music.

Using one’s imagination to steer learning and performance is not new to most musicians. Many performers consciously practice using imagery such as metaphor and narrative, visual cues and of course the use of auditory imagery. Some are also familiar with mental exercises for relaxation or focus or for evoking an optimal scenario in order to be confident for a performance.

Research on the effects of imagery and mental training in the performing arts is relatively sparse, but if the research and applications in the field of sports can be believed then it is only a short bridge to applying similar techniques to musicians and finding good reason to provide mental training tools and programs in conservatoires. 

The following chapters describe the nature of imagery and its underlying mechanisms, research on imagery and mental training that is relevant to the performing arts, and offers applications for musicians. The final chapter illustrates practical uses for imagery in musicians’ mental training with examples of exercises. 

The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination. Albert Einstein