There's been a lot going on in my non-musical world lately, that keeps creeping into my mind while I'm trying to practice and focus on my music. This is something from which I imagine a lot of musicians suffer. But how to silence the mind so as to focus on the task at hand?
I was actually practicing just a few minutes ago, feeling incredibly distracted by a recent non-musical development, and found myself going on autopilot, just playing a scale because that's how I warm up. I was half-heartedly listening to my shifts and bow changes and tone, but mostly I was thinking about the unrelated situation. Then I suddenly realized that I really didn't know what I was doing with my instrument. And now here I am, blogging.
Often times I will keep a piece of paper near my practice space, with a pen or pencil, and whenever I experience a distracting, non-musical thought, I'll write it down on the paper. In this way, I won't have to worry about forgetting it, and I don't have to take care of the thing immediately either, giving me the freedom to go back to focusing on my practicing. This works really well most of the time. But when there's a big pressing issue that doesn't have a clear solution or can be addressed with a simple email, as is currently on my mind, coping mechanisms must be different.
So here's what I did: I stopped what I was doing, put down my viola, took a few deep breaths and agreed with myself to put aside this issue for the duration of my practice session. (I believe the short meditation sessions I recently added to my regular day helped me do this). Then I chose a scale I haven't played in a while, with a different finger pattern than I usually use, and worked on that. Playing something that was "unusual" forced me to pay closer attention to what I was doing, which helped focus my mind on the task at hand. Then I added another layer of complexity, by playing unusual bowing patterns. Basically, I forced myself out of my regular routine, which got my mind incredibly engaged in what I was doing.
Then I was so inspired by what had just happened that I simply HAD to blog about it! So while my practice time is not being used to practice currently, I feel like I came up with a pretty darn good solution to the problem that truly was most pressing: not focusing on my playing when I was playing. And now that I've written it all down, I feel inspired to get back to viola and work, because I know the outside issue cannot be resolved by my mulling over it while I need to focus on my recital repertoire. That's a lot more fun than the other issue, anyway. :-)