Mental Rehearsal Can Work For You, Pt. 2

Mental rehearsal, or vividly visualizing yourself practicing or performing difficult passages, preparing yourself to be confident, or reviewing a memorized section or a past performance are all effective supplements to the physical practice you or your students engage in prior to performance.   Some may also call this type of practice imagery.  Whatever you call it, vividly seeing, hearing, and feeling yourself practice, prepare, and perform in your mind is an effective tool that you will want to investigate because it can work for you. In studies on conductors, EMG patterns during mental rehearsal were very similar to the EMG patterns during actual performance.  This shows us that our brains do not differentiate between real and imagined events.  For example, waking from a harrowing dream or nightmare can leave you out of breath and your heart pounding.  Your body responds as if you are actually experiencing the events in your dream.

As with dreams, when it comes to mentally rehearsing, it’s really not a matter of beginning to do it—we all dream and we all create pictures in our minds of our own performances.  We are visualizing every time we recall a past performance.  Every time we run a mistake over and over in our heads, unfortunately, we are actually mentally rehearsing.  What I want you to consider is how you can intentionally use and enhance this mental skill to maximum positive effect in your performance preparation.  Let’s take a look…

In Mental Rehearsal Can Work For You, Pt. 1, we discussed the various pre- and post-performance ways you can implement mental rehearsal into your preparation and practice.  Today we are going to get down to the nuts and bolts of mental rehearsal and talk about how you can actually do it most effectively.  How do you use your imagination and how do you learn?   First of all, it is important to identify your or your students’ dominant learning style.  Are you an/a:

  • Aural Learner (you can easily and predominantly hear the sound that you desire)
  • Visual Learner (you can easily and predominantly see the image of yourself performing and executing skills)
  • Kinesthetic Learner (you can easily and predominantly feel the act of making music, executing skills, and performing)
  • Use a combination of the three (you are comfortable combining all three)

Think back to your last performance:  How do you remember it?  Do you remember the sounds you made, do you remember it in pictures, by the way it felt, or in some combination of the three? This little exercise will help you identify how you learn and in what way you most easily visualize your performing.

“I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head.”  —Jack Nicklaus

Another important aspect of mental rehearsal—especially for visually dominant learners is the perspective by which you visualize your performing:

  • First Person Perspective (you imagine yourself performing from the inside out)
  • Third Person Perspective (you imagine as if you are watching a movie of yourself performing)

Both can be effective, but the most beneficial perspective is first person.  This perspective will usually be easier for performers to actual feel the production of the sound.  The third person perspective, although highly beneficial to the visually dominant, may not allow the performer to engage all the senses as fully as possible.

Ok, so you’ve discovered what your dominant learning-imagining style is, you’re committed to working to enhance your ability to imagine with the other senses as well, and you’ve committed to visualizing in a first person perspective, so now what?  Before we review a sample mental rehearsal script, I want to mention briefly how important relaxation is for mental rehearsal and any practice, for that matter .  Mental rehearsal or practice is most effective when preceded by a brief period of relaxation:

Start with a relaxation exercise:

  • Find a quiet place that is free from distractions
  • Slow yourself down and turn your attention to your breath
  • Start by breathing slowing and deeply:  breathe in on 5 counts, pause, and breathe out on 6 counts, repeat until calm

After you’ve reached a state of calm awareness, you can create your own mental rehearsal by going through the following steps:

Mastery Mental Rehearsal

  1. See, hear, and feel yourself performing a section or skill you are working on or a whole work
  2. Write down or dictate into your phone or voice recorder every detail you see, hear, and feel.
  3. Start with the minutes just prior to arriving at the venue, going through your warm-up, and the few minutes immediately before beginning.
  4. Go into vivid detail—notice what the venue looks like, the temperature, the atmosphere, the smells of the space, and the sounds of the audience.
  5. In addition to all that you observe, notice or imagine that you are totally relaxed, confident, and in complete control of your body and mind.  You may want to include affirmations and trigger words that remind you of the way you want to be during this performance.
  6. Perform (in your mind) the whole section, skill, or selection—seeing, feeling, and hearing yourself ideally executing and performing.  Feel yourself moving through each challenge with ease, strength, and endurance.
  7. After completing your mental rehearsal, jot down some short statements of relaxation and remind yourself of your complete calm, confidence, and mental toughness.  Repeat your trigger words or write new ones that are more appropriate.


The steps outlined above are an example of a mastery mental rehearsal or visualization script that you can modify to use to supplement your practice.  In step 2 you were asked to write these descriptions down or record them.  When you complete the rehearsal and reach step 7, review the script.  Re-read and edit it.  Then you can dictate it at a slow speed into your phone or voice recorder.  Once you have it recorded, listen to it at least once a day before an upcoming performance.

The script above is a good example of a mastery mental rehearsal—one in which you are programming in your ideal performance.  Another kind of script you can write is for a Coping Mental Rehearsal—one in which you simulate in your mind various challenges you are likely to face and you see, feel, and hear yourself cope with each challenge in an effective way.

Remember—mental rehearsal works best when practiced frequently for short periods, coupled with physical practice.  Your ultimate goal is to pre-experience or re-experience ideal practice and performance as vividly as if it were actually occurring or experience yourself coping effectively with potential challenges.  Mental rehearsal is a skill and, like any skill, needs to be practiced.  With patience and continued practice your mental rehearsals can help you accelerate your learning, improve memory, enhance practice and performance, and boost your confidence.  Next time we will discuss the role FOCUS plays in your pre-performance preparation.  I would love to hear how you incorporate mental rehearsal into your routine or other ways you are able to prepare for confident and exciting performances.

You may be interested in a shuffle-type mp3 player (pictured above) that is pre-loaded with both a mastery and a coping mental rehearsal script, your own personal affirmations, and your unique confidence resume.  If so, contact me and I will send you information on how you can acquire one.

If you haven’t already, subscribe to my site by checking out the free mp3:   5 Mental Strategies for Peak Performance in Auditions, Competitions, and Concerts.  You will receive a monthly newsletter and tips to keep you performing at peak levels.


Works Cited

Buswell, D. (2006).  Performance strategies for musicians. Stansted Abbotts:  MX Publishing.

Cohn, P., & Allan, D. (in press).  The relaxed musician:  Mental preparation for confidence performances. Orlando:  Peak Performance Sports.

Freymuth, M. (1999).  Mental practice & imagery for musicians:  A practical guide for optimizing practice time, enhancing performance, and preventing injury. Boulder:  Integrated Musicians Press.

Gabrielsson, A. (1999).  The performance of music. In D. Deutsch (Ed.), The psychology of music (pp.501-601).  San Diego, CA:  Academic Press.

Goldberg, A. (2005).  Sports slump busting:  10 steps to mental toughness and peak performance. Coral Springs, FL:  Llumina Press.

Porter, K., and Foster, J. (1986).  The mental athlete. New York:  Ballantine Books.

Orlick, T. (2008). In pursuit of excellence:  How to win in sport and life through mental training.  Champaign, IL:  Human Kinetics.

Westney, W. (2003).  The Perfect Wrong Note:  Learning to trust your musical self. Pompton Plains, NJ:  Amadeus Press.


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