The Bulletproof Musician

In our effort to help performers understand the psychology of performance and appreciate the new insights from science on behalf of art, we bring this week’s link to Dr. Noa Kageyama’s blog: The Bulletproof Musician.

The article this week: How do elite athletes focus differently than others?

While the surface topic may appear to concern itself with “competition”, the deeper subject lies in the awareness of attentional wholeness.

Studies in focus and attention have garnered insight into how, exactly, a performer of any art or skill can enter into a state of being ‘rapt’.

It is not ‘innate’.  It is not ‘talent’.  It is deliberate.  It is something we can all learn, at varying degrees, to help us make pibroch thrive.

After all, when we play, we intend to play well.  We have an idea(l) of how the music is supposed to sound, how we want it to sound.  The question has always been, what do we do to help ourselves achieve that idea(l)?

The more we reach out to these other fields of performance psychology, the more tools we can bring to help us do what we really want to do: play a pibroch the way we hear it in our heads.



7 thoughts on “The Bulletproof Musician

  1. There are much easier ways to win prizes than hiring a personal psych coach. You really need to take the human element out of it if you want to winning your goal.
    You could just take beta-blockers, or ritalin, for competition. The regimen could start with amphetamine while practicing for long periods of time, followed by a Quaalude so you can relax afterwards. Competition process might include taking Ambien the night before, Ritalin with your morning tea, then celebrate your win with a pint of beer and shot of whisky. We’ve probably all seen drunken competitors. We’ve certainly seen drunken judges. I’ve know a competitor who won a major prize while on LSD. Cocaine was part of band competitions when I was a kid, although I never did it because they became amazing jerks when high on it.

  2. Maybe.

    On the other hand, some folks might find insights from psychology and neurology more useful and with fewer side-effects.


  3. I had learned at school that top Jazz players think about how what they are playing in a solo relates to the whole piece and what is happening before and after. I have tried to do this with my Piobaireachd playing integrating tone, tempo, embellishment style into a whole. When playing historic music gigs I would compete in primitive archery and tomahawk throwing between sets. I would make shots in competition that I never made in practice because I used the excitement of competing to give me the energy to reach deeper focus while still staying calm and keeping conscious thought to a minion, just feel what you are doing.

    1. Totally get it. That’s the kind of focus that can be achieved, and can be learned, too.

      I probably mentioned this elsewhere, but it bears repeating because it worked so well for me: Dr Kageyama told me that one way to concentrate while performing was to sing the tune in your head. Your brain is going to be active anyway, so fill it with something that will work for you, not against you. Very useful.

  4. Overcoming your own anxiety is the toughest part of competition when you are your greatest critic. Drugs were a part of every scene back in the day, and I don’t think it was particularly designed as a way to enhance a piping/drumming solo performance, it was just the way you went through the day. Now we are all older. The sports psych approach has valid analogies to calming the swirling seas enough to present a good performance. I’ve just reached the state where I fundamentally believe that what others think is far less important to my perception of myself and the music I produce and the effort I exert to achieve the level of performance I want to convey. I still shake, I still flub, I still forget. But….it’s only bagpiping. It’s only bagpiping.

  5. You’d be surprised, Simon.
    This is an intentional attention practice: to flood you head with the tune.
    Your head will attend to something, anything: nerves, distractions, thoughts about difficult passages, worries about memory, literal monologues about nearly anything. By flooding it with something specific, focused and yet wholistic (you are singing the tune, not analyzing it), you silence parts of the brain that otherwise distract you.
    Science is a wonderful thing.

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