Courtesy of Anthony Cerullo...
When it comes to learning, concentration is a key skill to master. Sitting in a practice session for eight hours straight won't do anything if you're not focused. Unfortunately, this isn't The Matrix and advanced skills are not simply uploaded into our brain. A little effort is needed to make it happen.
As a musician, this shouldn't be news to you. Deliberate and constant practice should be part of your daily routine at this point. However, if the right amount of concentration isn't involved, then all that time is a waste. It's easy to sit down and mindlessly repeat scales, but that method of practice doesn't help with retention. True learning comes from concentration, but to do so is easier said than done.
We've all had those moments where focus just won't come easy. Maybe it's that pizza in the oven, the upcoming show, or just mental exhaustion. There are all sorts of factors that can prevent us from concentrating, but today, we're just going to look at eight of them – and how to conquer them.
1. Lack of interest
If you can, think back to your school days. Remember the courses you excelled in the most? Odds are, they were the fun ones. The classes that you were actually interested in. This is no coincidence: People tend to enjoy subjects they're more interested in, and therefore, success follows suit.
Music isn't much different. If you're practicing a song you absolutely hate, concentration won't come easy. It's important to find that passion when practicing so you don't get a lackluster result. If you can't do that, it can help to remind yourself why you're practicing and how important it is to the overall dream you have as a musician.
2. Lack of skills
Let's get hypothetical for a second. You're walking down the street enjoying an especially good Snickers candy bar when you pass the local basketball court. For whatever reason, you get called over to even the sides on a three-on-three game. You don't play basketball, but that Snickers bar put you in a good mood, so you go for it. Well, it turns out your lack of skills in the game doesn't exactly make you a great player. After a few minutes, you realize how embarrassing this is and quickly lose interest. Meanwhile, the kid who's been playing since he was three is having a great time.
The point of this story is that building the necessary skills in music can help harvest concentration. By learning a certain set of practice methods, you'll find you have a greater interest in music and a desire to succeed.
3. An overly active mind
Some people have more active minds than others. They jump around from problem to problem without ever solving any of them. To them, it may seem like they're leading productive lives, but actually, it's quite the contrary. Oftentimes, racing thoughts are signs of anxiety.
To help ease the mind, it'll help to tackle the issue of anxiety first. From there, you can then turn your attention to concentration. One simple way to practice this is by writing out all your current tasks and not moving on until one is checked off at a time.
4. Getting easily frustrated
We would all love to get things on the first try, but that's just not realistic. It can be frustrating watching your favorite musicians excel at their craft so effortlessly, but that shouldn't be a source of discouragement. It should be a source of motivation.
Becoming frustrated at your lack of skill or progress will only hinder your concentration further, therefore lending yourself to a self-fulfilling prophecy. You are the route of your frustration. That's actually good news. That means you're in complete control. Patience is the enemy of frustration, so it may help to read up on some tips of tolerance.
5. No energy
Try as you might, you won't get far with concentration if you don't have the energy to back it up. Musicians often lead busy and tiring lives, so energy doesn't often come easy, but there are some tricks to extract it when you can.
If you pay close attention, you'll notice that there are certain times of the day when you feel more alert. By capitalizing on these moments, you can use this energy to concentrate on the most important parts of your music career.
If you find that you're too tired to properly concentrate, then it's best to quit. Attempting to force yourself through a practice session is counterproductive anyway. This will only make you sloppy and careless, which will then translate to the same behavior onstage.
6. Spacing out
Sometimes getting in "the zone" can be confused with spacing out. The "zone" is a state of pure, effortless concentration. This cannot be achieved simply by staring off into space while thinking of something besides music. Just like practicing without energy is counterproductive, practicing while spacing out or simply going through the motions will get you nowhere. It's important to really hear yourself while practicing so you can analyze your playing and pick out errors that need to be fixed.
Just "going with the flow" may seem like the creative way to approach to music, but that can be detrimental to concentration. If you want to have ultimate focus, it helps to have a clear plan both for practicing and live performances. It doesn't have to be completely rigid, but by having some idea of what you want to accomplish and how to do so, you'll spend less time thinking about the process and more time concentrating on the music.
8. Life distractions
Even the most dedicated musicians have a life outside of music. Try as you might, it's impossible to avoid conflict in this realm. Sometimes practicing isn't the most exciting part of being a musician, and you may find yourself fishing for excuses to get out of it.
Building up strong concentration begins with building strong habits. Habits like turning off your phone, clearing unnecessary clutter, and playing in a place separate from life distractions will help you stay focused on what's important.
Your life will still be there when you step out of the practice room, just as your instrument will be there when you return from life duties. Don't neglect either, but do keep them separate for maximized concentration.
Anthony Cerullo is a nomadic freelance writer and keyboard player. In his spare time, he can be found reading, hiking mountains, and lying in hammocks for extended periods of time.