William Fitzpatrick - violin expert

How to Concentrate with your Violin

Learning to concentrate is learning how to develop single-mindedness

In this video, Prof. Fitzpatrick explores the elements of concentration, which will help you improve your violin playing.

Released on July 7, 2021

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Learning to concentrate is learning how to develop single-mindedness, learning how to fixate one's mind on one thing and one thing only. Sometimes in lessons or concerts, I'd be playing along and suddenly a mistake would occur out of the blue. This never occurred in the same place. Because of this, I could not predict where it would happen. So in a lesson with Ms. Delay, I was playing and suddenly out of the blue, of course it happened. When I stopped, Ms. Delay looked at me and said, "Billy, we have to work on your concentration."

I smiled and nodded, "Okay," but was thinking, "I'm trying very hard. I am concentrating." So you see, I really didn't understand what she meant. It took me a long while to realize that what she was speaking of as concentration I had always thought of as focus. So over the years, I've spent a lot of time thinking about this and trying better to understand what it was, how it works, trying to create ways to work on what exactly it was the caused my random moments in which I lost it.

So let's begin with a definition. Concentration is being in a state in which one's focus and attention are engrossed in one thing only while being oblivious to everything else that is occurring at that moment. Put another way, concentration is the ability to center one's attention on what one is performing, to place your focus, your attention on the things you need to do to reach your goals in that performance. This is concentration.

What follows are three elements that I believe one needs to develop to create this state called concentration. The first of these elements is awareness. Awareness is that element of concentration in which we recognize where our body is in space. Doing this requires that we take our unconscious understanding of our body's positions while performing and bring it into our conscious arena. This will allow us to better understand and work with how we do what do.

The next element is focus. Focus is that element of concentration in which we align our mental efforts. Having increased our awareness, we can now use this information to align, to zoom into the performance of this activity. Through focusing, we point ourselves in the direction needed to accomplish the task or tasks that we are trying to perform.

The final element is attention. Attention is that element of concentration where we apply focus while tuning out the rest. As I now know what I'm focusing on from my exploration of the details provided through awareness, I can fully commit my energies to the single minor performance of the music in front of me. I guess you could say that through my attention, I'm creating reflexes. The result of developing these elements or learning to concentrate in this way will lead one to that state called "being in the zone". This phenomenon is observed in athletes, musicians, and others as a hyper-focused state of mind.

So at this point, why don't I share with you some of the ways I created to work towards the development of my concentration? For example, I like to give myself a number of times a day to do something, say seven. I would give myself three days and would then assess if I reached my goal. If I did not and still believed that I was on the right path, I would go to 14. If again after three days I did not accomplish what I set out to do, then I would do 28. You see where this is going.

Okay, so here is another one. I have this game that I did and I even do now with my students. The goal is to get to five, five times having done something correctly. For each time it's correct, you get one point. For each time it's wrong, you lose a point. With all older students, I even say that you'll lose two points. This is what I did with myself. Once you start, you can't stop until you get to five, no matter what. By the way, when I did it, I went to ten. Yes, yes this can be very nerve-wracking, but you really must center yourself to do this, distractions are not helpful at all.

Another thing I would do is place empty chairs in the room and put imaginary people in them. These people were people like Perlman or Isaac Stern or Zuckerman. You get the idea. I would then play in front of my imaginary audience. Whenever I would make a mistake, I found myself looking to see what their reaction was and this was not at all what I should have been doing, of course. You see, if it were a real audience, my reaction could turn into a real danger to my performance.

So these are just a few ways that I created to develop, push my ability to concentrate. You see, there are no boundaries, just be creative, just make something up and see if it helps. And if it does, keep doing it, at least keep doing it when you need to. So with that, let's summarize the elements involved in concentration. 1: becoming aware of what we're doing, 2: focusing our efforts, and 3: applying attention. These steps will take us to the point of being totally absorbed. This total absorption will take us to that hyper-flow state that we refer to as "being in the zone".
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