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Fay Guiffo

Musicians and Mindfulness (part 1)

January 7, 2020


Few months ago, I decided to engage into Zazen meditation practice. Some colleagues, musicians and friends had told me their experience with mindfulness practices, and for a while, I was very intrigued. Apparently, they noticed significant and positive impacts not just on their professional discipline, but also on their life in general. For example, they could manage their anxiety in specific contexts, such as playing on stage or talking in public. From a personal perspective, I can tell that overwhelming emotions could affect my thinking process and body awareness. Therefore, I fell prey to never-ending ruminations that could affect my music training, my playing on stage and my personal life. So, I decided to experiment meditation for few months and to observe the impacts on my personal and professional life.

In order to support my reflection, I have explored a range of literature and research resources that helped me to answer some questions. How can practicing meditation help musicians in their personal and professional life, as they face mental health issues?  How being more present in the moment can also help them take decisions?

First, I will reflect on meditation training and its impact on my daily violin practice. Then, I will explain to what extend this practice changed my performances on stage and my ability to take decisions during a creative process.


Mindfulness and music practice

Zazen is a meditation practice that comes originally from India and has reached the western countries over the last centuries. By practising Zazen, we have access to the ‘screen of the subconscious on which we can observe our thoughts, emotions and sensations going by’ (Bouddhisme Zen Sôtô RYUMON-JIZAZEN, 2016, 11’25). This practice has already proved her benefit on health and well-being.

I regularly practice at home in the morning: I sit on a zafu (cushion), my legs are crossed in the lotus position, the left palm on my right palm, the eyes lowered down on the wall. During the session, I focus on my posture, my breath, and more generally the present moment. Thoughts can appear quickly (‘What do I eat for dinner?’, ‘I should send this email just after the practice’, ‘I forgot to call my friend’). Being aware of these thoughts coming through my mind, I let them go away and I focus on the present moment again, on the practice… Until the next thought appears.

According to my former Zazen Teacher, the most important thing is to commit to the practice. By engaging your mind in the present moment, you free yourself from what comes from the past or what has not already happened. After several months of practicing, I felt the difference in my daily life: even if I had a strong tendency to ruminate, I could ‘see’ my thoughts with a clear mind and decide on the importance I wanted to give them. It had also a powerful impact on my music practice.

Before discovering mindfulness practices, I could easily be distracted and lose my concentration (for example while practicing scales). Since I started meditation practice, I quickly notice when I am not committed to my playing. Thus, I lead my attention to reconnect with my body and my mind. According to Linda Cockey (2008, p.42), ‘being at one with [the] instrument’ is key to deliver a powerful performance. By keeping the mind, the body, the imagination engaged in the playing, musicians can reach their ‘real musical potential’. Linda Cockey collaborated with a cognitive psychologist with both clinical and alternative therapy background, tai chi and meditation practitioner: they team-taught students the importance of developing a clear mind in order to improve their musical skills (Cockey, 2008, p.43). The importance of meditation in music training is also highlighted by B. Koen (2007, p. 12). Indeed, the Guided Attention Practice, invented by B. Koen, would develop a higher state of consciousness, and have many other benefits on the student’s musical development.

Thus, by engaging in Zazen practice, I improved my ability to stay focus on the present moment, especially during my violin training. The quality of my attention allowed me to be more efficient in my work. But as suggest Benjamin Koen (2007), meditation as many other virtues.


Performing on stage and managing anxiety

Zazen meditation is a practice focusing on breath and relaxation. Even if thoughts can spoil the peace of the mind, we can always go back to the serenity that Zazen naturally brings. Thus, this practice can be used to manage anxiety and even disease such as depression (Sorbero et al, 2015, p.1).

From my experience as a music student and as a professional, I can say that many musicians (non-professional as well as professionals) suffer from anxiety in their daily life or/and when they perform on stage. In the worst-case scenario, the pressure and the demanding nature of this discipline can be a source of despair, leading musicians to stop performing or to sabotage their life (drugs, alcohol). Personally, I felt the necessity to engage in relaxation practice for my well-being. Few years ago, I developed my body awareness by practicing Alexander technique. Then I felt that Zazen could help me to clear my mind and to manage my emotions (especially after I moved from France to live in Scotland). Since few months, I have noticed that it helps me to stay away from negative energy and to find the confidence to do things even if I am not sure of the result. I also observe a change in my performances on stage: I am more present, more dedicated to my playing from the very beginning of the performance (usually, it takes me a while before being really into the present moment). I feel more relaxed as I play in front of an audience. In her article about Musical Performance Anxiety, C. Sieger (2017) confirms that music teachers should infuse notions of yoga or meditation in their teaching, so that their students know how to reduce negative thoughts. Thus, I try to introduce some elements of mindfulness practice when I teach the violin or give Creative Music Workshops.

Discovering meditation not only helped me to get better in my music practice and performances, but also to develop leadership qualities. The story continues, please follow the path.



Bouddhisme Zen Sôtô Ryumon-Jizazen. (2016). Le film - Pratique du Zen dans un temple bouddhiste. Available at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=11&v=zFhJptNnum8 [Accessed 19/06/2019].


Cockey, L. (2008). Body, Mind and Spirit: being at one with your instrument. American Music Teacher. [Online]. 57 (6). pp.42-44. Available at https://www.jstor.org/stable/43541123. [Accessed 15/06/2019].


Downar, J., Kirk, U., and Montague, P. R. (2011). Interoception drives increased rational decision-making in meditators playing the ultimatum game. [Online]. Available at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnins.2011.00049/full . [Accessed 20/06/2019].


Koen, B. (2007). Musical Mastery and the Meditative Mind Via the GAP—Guided Attention Practice. American Music Teacher. [Online]. 56 (6). pp. 12-15 Music Teachers National Association. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/43539281

[Accessed 15/06/2019]


Sieger, C. (2017). Music Performance Anxiety in Instrumental Music Students: A Multiple Case Study of Teacher Perspectives. Contributions to Music Education. [Online]. 42. p.38. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/26367435. [Accessed 20/06/2019].


Sorbero, M.E., Ahluwalia, S., Reynolds, K., Lovejoy, S.L., Farris, C., Sloan, J., Miles, J.N.V., Vaughan, C.A., Kandrack, R., Apaydin, E., Colaiaco, B., Herman, P.M., (2015). Introduction. In Meditation for Depression: A Systematic Review of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Major Depressive Disorder. [Online]. RAND Corporation. pp.1-4. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7249/j.ctt19w7254.10 . [Accessed: 15/06/2019].