Finding Flow With Your Musical Instrument

By Michael Cerreto and Laurel Black

Musicians can lose connection with their instrument, which creates stagnation alongside a loss of motivation and artistic expression. The hours you spend learning and mastering the small details of musical scores, technique, and theory can depersonalize your relationship with the very instrument you fell in love with. It's easy to get lost in those details over the years and lose your natural flow and connection with your instrument.

The more you mature as a musician, the more you take on advanced material in front of audiences that expect a higher level of musicianship. This advancement can cause anxiety, a lack of confidence, and a more intense drive to be perfect. Your craft becomes more complicated and can result in more negative self-criticism, comparison, and self-talk. You need to learn how to create moments that simplify your relationship with your instrument, and help you find flow.

Flow are moments when you are outside your head, separated from thoughts, and focused on actions in front of you while trusting your instincts. It is a mental and physical state during which you feel connected to every touch, movement, and sound. It is a moment during which you feel effortlessly in-sync with your instrument. It is a moment when your instrument feels like an extension of you and you are an extension of it.

Create Flow Time With Your Instrument

You need to first think of your instrument as a living being. Imagine it has a beating heart, blood flowing through its veins, and the need for personal connection. It’s a best friend that will never leave you and always wants to bring you joy.

As friends, you spend different times together: practicing technique, rehearsing, performing, and traveling. These are special moments, but it wants and needs more Flow Time with you to remain close. Your instrument knows that only through Flow Time can you both stay motivated and perform up to your artistic potential.

Here are some ways you can create Flow Time with your instrument:

  • Give your instrument a name

  • Have conversations with it about your day and how things are going

  • Say good night and good morning to it

  • Ask how well it slept

  • Tell it how you want to work together today

  • Ask how it feels about your progress together, and tell it how you feel

  • Have 10 minutes of “flow” playing together

  • 10-Minute Flow Playing

Flow Play Time is unstructured without any concern about quality of play. First, you start improvising with your instrument. Then, you progressively slow the pace and remove any forced effort. You focus on your hands touching the instrument and on your breathing. You can close your eyes (if you can) to feel the physical rhythm. Elongate notes. Feel as if the instrument is part of your body.

Move with it.
Listen to what it is telling you.
Hum with it.
Sing with it.
Any off-note is a beautiful, fun sound.
Rhythmically meditate with it.
Notice how you feel.
Stop whenever you get what you needed from the experience.

Start Flowing Today

To find flow with your instrument, do the 10-minute flow playing at least four times a week, or as part of your warm-up before practice. Write in a journal after each flow play. Have one journal entry be your experience with your instrument during flow play, and another being what your instrument would say about its experience with you.

To deepen your ability to experience a flow state, you can also practice yoga, meditation, and Tai Chi. Getting in flow will deeply connect you to your instrument, music, life, and the world around you.

How do you flow with your instrument? Write a comment and let people know.