Seeing the sound: an exploration of the use of mental imagery by classical musicians

Gregg, M. J. and Clark, T. and Hall, C. R. (2008) Seeing the sound: an exploration of the use of mental imagery by classical musicians. Musicae Scientiae, 12 (2) pp. 231-247. ISSN 1029-8649 (print) 2045-4147 (online)


Similarities exist between the performance of musicians and athletes; both must prepare to perform at their optimal level and both experience psychological reactions to performance. Sport psychologists have begun to collaborate with performing artists to investigate the potential positive outcome of psychological skills on their performance (e.g., Connolly & Williamon, 2004; Fish et al., 2004). Mental imagery may be used for both cognitive and motivational purposes, resulting in positive performance outcomes such as learning a technically difficult piece, regulating arousal, and being confident. To explore these functions of imagery use an examination of classical musicians' use of imagery was undertaken. Music students (N = 159) completed the Functions of Imagery in Music Questionnaire (created for the purposes of this study). It was found that musicians reported employing imagery to limit distractions, recover from an error, maintain mental toughness, demonstrate confidence, and overcome mental and physical fatigue. In addition, performance majors indicated using imagery significantly more frequently to see themselves overcoming a difficult situation than non-performance majors, while voice musicians employed imagery to see goal achievement more often than instrumental musicians.

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