In the search for efficient practice and optimal performance, the question musicians often ask is what should I focus on? Research from the fields of psychology and pedagogy on the subjects of motor learning and control and more specifically – attentional focus, has yielded valuable clues that could help answer this question.
In order for effective and efficient learning to take place, a musician needs to direct his conscious attention in such a way that learning or performance can take place in the unconscious part of the mind. This implicit approach is becoming more accepted in the field of sports, but is not yet accepted practice in mainstream music pedagogy, where the emphasis is still largely on consciously directing and analysing the body’s positions and the movements being made, or on single technical aspects of the music (e.g. rhythm, intonation, hitting the right notes), causing a dissection of either the musician or the music.
In a search for a more holistic approach to learning and performance, this research is conducting investigations into the use of an external focus of attention (the intended goal – i.e. the music) rather than on the body’s movements (internal focus). The effects of a distal focus of attention on accuracy and on performance experience will be studied.
A practice tool based on intention and external focus is being designed and tested on a group of trumpet players. Research is being carried out in two studies: the first is testing effects of the practice tool on accuracy and the second explores an external focus approach on the performance experience of the players. Methods used are both quantitative and qualitative: recordings, log books, questionnaires, surveys and interviews.