Listen to "ideal music" while playing; don't listen to yourself [...] the sound in the mind will eventually train the body. Arnold Jacobs.


Developing skills 

Identification Exercise 

If you were a sportsperson training to be in the Olympic arena, you would have several hours of supervised practice a day; a coach, fitness coach, dietitian and a mental trainer. As a musican you need the same level of attention - some of this is provided by your teacher and by a conservatoire, and the rest you need to organise for yourself. You can become your own trainer.

You can design your own exercises based on the information presented in this exposition and your own common sense. With experimentation, you can embed mental training into your daily practice so that you are not only getting the best results, but also enjoying the process of practicing. Essential to your training program is being able to assess, evaluate and reflect on how effective it is - check not only how your playing and performing is being effected, but also your energy level, your engagement level and your motivation to practice and to perform. It is recommended to keep some kind of practice journal.

The categories mentioned earlier in the Applications chapter are further explained and illustrated with an example exercise. Feel free to use or adapt any exercise or come up with your own ideas.

Practicing imagery

Performance preparation

Be your own mental trainer

Memorising repertoire 

Audiation performance tool

Centring and relaxing

Goal setting 

Practicing musical intention

Affirmation exercise 

Tips for optimal results

Music making depends primarily on procedural processes – learning by doing! Most experts recommend using mental training in combination with physical playing. General health and well-being helps cognition and memory.  Try to get around 8 hours of sleep per night, adequate water intake, a healthy diet and exercise regularly – movement enhances the connectivity of your brain. Below are some tips to make the most of your mental practice.


      Mental training is intensive and energy consuming: do short sessions

      The ability to visualise improves with practice

      Visualise with vividness, nuance and detail

      Multi-modal visualisation is more effective - use all your senses!

Mental training in sports

You may reading this because you want to change something. Perhaps your way of practicing isn’t efficient or effective enough or even damaging – resulting in injury, burnout or depression. This is extremely prevalent in the performing arts. 

We are literally addicted to our habits and even our stress levels – binding us to certain reactions and behaviours. Even if we recognise that something is beneficial to us does not mean we will do it. Processes of change are stressful. Change can feel dangerous.

What everyone in this research group has come to realise during processes that have been both exciting and inspiring as well as sometimes frustrating and painful – is that change requires motivation – involving emotional loading, effort and strategy.

·     Small deliberate steps

·     Set yourself challenges

·     Remind yourself why you are doing it 

·     Enjoy moments of ‘I did it!’ – even for small achievements 

·     A true master is the master of the process – work with process goals


You can change and develop your habits, your skill level, what you want to express, and even your qualities. This will change who you are, and can be a long process, but needs a commitment. But it starts in your imagination. If you can’t imagine something, you can’t do it and you can’t own it. Learning to be a great musician depends so much on being able to hear and feel what it is you want to achieve and express.