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Why mental practice?

It is concert day - this evening I will be playing Rachmaninoff 's Piano Concerto no. 2 with the Meadows Chamber Orchestra in Edinburgh! I tend to wake up earlier than I want to on concert days and today is no exception. However, I really didn't want to get out of bed since it is so cold, so I decided to run through the whole concerto in my head. That way, I can stay warm and relaxed in bed without feeling nervous about not practising!

During my mental practice, I played through the whole concerto from the start to finish (which takes approximately 35 minutes) by visualising and listening in my head to every single note of the music. Inevitably, my mind would wander off thinking about other things while I can still hear the music in my head. It is similar to turning down the volume of your music player into the level of background music. Whenever I realised my mind had wandered off, I would quickly bring my attention back to the music.

So why is this relevant to our actual performance? I believe most people have had the following experience: during a performance, your mind wanders off, but then when you tell yourself to focus you start making mistakes or having memory lapses, which then triggers even more thoughts or even anxiety. I believe that by practising mentally regularly, we can train our mind to be focused in the moment of the music. We can train our mind to bring our attention back to the music swiftly when we drift off slightly in our thoughts. That way, during the real performance, we will have been used to this technique of bringing our attention to the music, so that we won't be taken by surprise or even panic when our mind drifts off.

On the other hand, mental practice is also a good way to test yourself if you really know the music. Sometimes we rely on our muscle memory so much that when we try to play the piece in our head, our mind turns blank! In fact, mental practice is a technique used by athletes in their training and here is a website for more information: It might seem very challenging at first, but gradually it gets easier with more practice just like anything. And now, I really should get out of bed!

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