In an ethnographic study in 1987, William Trusheim interviewed 26 elite brass players – all members of leading American symphony orchestras – and found that they focussed on musical imagery in a multi-modal way (using auditory, as well as kinaesthetic senses) both during practice and in performance. He refers to their type of focus as “audiation” (Trusheim, 1991). The players used audiation and mental imagery extensively in practice, rehearsal and in performance.
Trusheim found that the brass experts used auditory imagery for practice, in rehearsal and during performance to build consistency, note accuracy, musical understanding, expression and interpretation. They also used mental rehearsal techniques to prepare for performance. He found that imagery skills varied from one individual to another – in vividness, controllability and fluency, and through conscious practice, imagery skills could be improved. He interviewed 26 of the most prominent US orchestral brass players at that time – from five major symphony orchestras (Baltimore Symphony, Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra). The aim was to “explore the potential importance of mental images and imaginary strategies in brass performance”(Trusheim, 1991, p. 140). Not only was auditory imagery reported to be used as a strategy, but also examples of kinaesthetic, visual and multisensory imagery, e.g. of programmatic nature, or relating to a mood or atmosphere (Trusheim, 1991). Mental rehearsal was used by many players, and fell into two categories: spontaneous and controlled. Spontaneous mental rehearsal occurs when a player is conscious of an image without having consciously evoked it. Controlled mental rehearsal involves conscious audiation of a passage in order to explore expression or interpretation or to work on a technical problem. Another popular form of imagery found in the study was the recreating of the performance environment using positive guided imagery. During performance many of the players would audiate complete passages directly before playing.
Trusheim concluded that auditory imagery was of great importance to the brass players. They could imagine with a high degree of vividness, clarity and detail, though some developed their imagery skills more consciously than others. He further concluded that a convincing and artistic performance relies on the use of imagery.