A blog I follow by a former student (from when I was on the summer faculty of the Brevard Music Center) is Zen and the Art of Horn Playing. She keeps her identity hidden on the site itself [see UPDATE], so I won’t reveal her full name here, but she recently posted a very nice article on the topic of “Finding your Focus.” Click through to read the full article, but I particularly wanted to highlight the first point (of four) in the article. Which reads,
1. Turn off the TV/Phone/Computer/Tablet/E-reader.
Yes. All of those little (or not so little) devices have an on/off switch. Use it. Many of us fall into the comfortable trap of watching TV while we practice. Warm up routines are almost perfectly built for distraction, especially if it is a routine that one has used for years. We get to a point where we go through the motions simply because that’s the way we’ve always done things. It’s so easy to turn on the baseball game, the DVR, or Netflix to help pass the time while we go through those motions. Then we finish our warm up and we’re in the middle of a movie or TV show. Rather than turn off the TV we decide to leave it running while we “practice” our solos, etudes, or excerpts. Instantly, our attention is divided. How are you supposed to actually pay attention to your breathing when you’re more concerned with how the Cardinals/Pirates game is going (go Cards!)? The answer is, you can’t. Our minds are not designed to be able to concentrate fully on two different activities at once. The moment you try to multi-task, your attention is divided in half for each activity. Not only did you just play through a piece without actually fixing anything, but you still have no idea what is going on in the game anyway. Turn off the electronics and give your practicing a fighting chance.
Electronic devices are impacting the way we focus on “analog” activities such as practice, especially I feel handheld devices. E-Mail and texts arrive at any moment, creating distractions that seem to require your immediate attention.
Extending it out, at a concert or rehearsal or in a master class or teaching, the phone really has to wait. You will not focus on the moment the same way if it is on and in your hands. I am reluctant to use a tuner or metronome app in a phone for this reason as well, as you will see texts come in and such, which will impact the quality and focus of your practice session.
Of course, reading this article, you must be a user of electronics. I think E-books and such are the future for sure. But don’t let electronics impact your focus negatively when you play (or teach) the horn.
UPDATE: The author is Julia Balseiro! She has added her full name to the site, the main page for which may be accessed here. Another article I would recommend is Lessons I Wish I had Learned (and Listened to) Earlier in My Career.