Illustrated Discussions with Famous Artists and Teachers

Updated: Apr 13

Next resource (Applebaum, S. and Branigan, A. 1975 The Way They Play; Book 3; Illustrated Discussions with Famous Artists and Teachers) is more about solid practice but… shows similarities and differences about playing and practising. We can read about many different famous violin artists and teachers. Getting into details helps to understand the true meaning of instrument practice - This book (The Way They Play; Book 3) is an essential read for instrumentalists and teaching artists. It presents the similarities and differences in violin technique that actually helps to direct attention to what is really relevant. An article,'What Time Feels Like When You’re Improvising', (written by Heather Berlin, a cognitive neuroscientist and assistant professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai) will teach us more about what is happening to us when we feel so dedicated and absorbed by the activity that we feel “no time”. This article touches on an important aspect about practising getting into flow:

However, improvising performers are not oblivious; momentary “check-ins” to see how your performance is going can provide necessary environmental (or audience) feedback, helping to revise your approach and optimize performance in real-time. Creative thought also involves the “default mode network” (DMN), a set of brain regions active when attention is directed internally and suppressed when a person engages in externally directed tasks. The DMN is active when you’re daydreaming, but not when you’re filling out an application form, which requires executive control areas like the DLFPC. Improvisation requires a balance in activation between these two networks, reflecting the extent to which creative thought and behavior needs to be responsive to environmental input, and constrained by certain rules to meet the specific goals of the task at hand. But if you become overly self-aware or self-conscious for too long, you can lose the flow state and the performance will suffer. (Berlin, H. 2018).

At this point, after reading the above, I have come to understanding that flow state could be created and attained on demand. I would like to understand and make sure that I am not “flow practising” any bad habits, I would like to understand exactly how to practise flow. Music Making, Transcendence, Flow, and Music Education by Rhoda Bernard refers to “transcendent music making experiences” to describe occasions of music making that are distinguished by two main qualities. The first quality is that the performer is functioning at his or her very best – at the height of his or her abilities.

Second, these experiences are marked by the performer’s sense of being a part of something larger than oneself in some way – perhaps by being a part of a long-standing musical or cultural tradition, by being a part of a particular social group, or by being a part of larger forces of nature or of the universe. (Bernard, 2006) It is indeed an open question in a never-ending discussion: How much are we driven by the universe and how limited are we by our human way of perception?

About creating a flow on a more long term basis for educational preparation, Csikszentmihalyi suggested that those who most readily entered into flow states had an “autotelic personality”—a disposition to seek out challenges and get into a state of flow. While those without such a personality see difficulties, autotelic individuals see opportunities to build skills. Autotelic individuals are receptive and open to new challenges. They are also persistent and have low levels of self-centeredness. Such people, with their capacity for “disinterested interest” (an ability to focus on tasks rather than rewards) have a great advantage over others in developing their innate abilities. (Bicknell, J. 2014)
Fortunately for those of us who aren’t necessarily blessed with an autotelic personality, there is evidence that flow states can be facilitated by environmental factors. In particular, the learning framework prescribed by Montessori schools seems to encourage flow states. 'A comparison of Montessori middle schools with traditional middle schools' (written by by Kevin Rathunde from The NAMTA Journal, Vol. 28, No. 3 , Summer 2003 and co-written by Csikszentmihalyi) found that:
the Montessori students showed greater affect, higher intrinsic motivation, and more frequent flow experiences than their counterparts in traditional schools. In Montessori schools learning comes through discovery rather than direct instruction, students are encouraged to develop individual interests, and a great deal of unstructured time is built into the day so that they can pursue these interests. Competition is discouraged and grading is de-emphasised, taking the focus off of external rewards. Students are grouped together according to shared interests, rather than segregated by ability. While there isn’t (yet) a pill that can turn mundane practice into a thrilling activity for anyone, it is heartening that we seem, at least to some degree, to be able to nudge ourselves toward flow states. By giving ourselves unstructured, open-ended time, minimal distractions, and a task set at a moderate level of difficulty, we may be able to love what we’re doing while we put in the hard work practising the things we love doing.


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