Sunday, December 14, 2008

Facilitating flow experiences among musicians

Bloom, Arvid J and Skutnik-Henley, Paula.  "Facilitating Flow Experiences Among Musicians."



By Megumi Okamoto



The article begins by explaining the notion of flow. Flow is a state of mind that has no easy shortcuts, but is experienced in various activities. It has analogous terms in other fields, such as "state of chi" "being in the zone" in athletics, "being in ecstasy" in religious mysticism, and "being in aesthetic rapture" for artists. It shares much in common with the well-known concept of mindfulness, which is defined as involving creation of new ways of organizing experience, and openness to new information and awareness of various perspectives. From such wide ramifications of this concept, the author pins down the experience on musicians. His intention in this study is to identify some elements that promote flow among instrumental musicians, and to explore how characteristics of flow can be identified.

The method of this study was to collect the qualitative data based on surveys that were completed by ninety adult classical instrumental musicians. And from the respondent's descriptions of flow experiences, five basic themes were extracted: This includes heightened awareness, emotional involvement, sense of connection with others, and sense of everything "clicking into place," and sense of transcendence.

12 percent of respondents felt that the flow experience resulted from sight reading. 45 percent occurred in ensemble situations (flow experiences occur much more frequently in small ensemble situations rather than when playing alone, possibly due to the challenge that is involved in coordinating one's playing with others and listening mindfully). 62 percent occurred in non-performance situations. Interestingly, the type of music that produced flow the most was of romantic era (38 percent), followed by classical, contemporary, baroque, and then others.

A surprising fact was that some individuals, including both professional musicians and non-musicians, had never experienced flow while playing their instrument. This seems to be resulting from low self-confidence, the lack of openness of discovery and new experiences, and the lack of explicit goals. To solve this, the author lists numerous pointers that can promote the experience of flow. He strongly feels that experiences of flow make a major component in enjoyment of music-making. He comments that there is still far to go with the research, and that next step in his studies is to include non-musicians, improvisational players in fields other than classical music, and composers.  



                 This is a highly practical source, depicting the notion of flow and relating it to musicians. As this article is taken from a website that belongs to the association of American music teachers, its ultimate aim is to search for ways to make the experience more attainable to students, and to enhance music education.

                 I do not need to mention the description of the flow itself from this article, since it is basically the same as what I have encountered in my previous readings. But this article offers information that is new to me, which includes the insights regarding the kind of musical activities that induces flow. The effectiveness of small ensemble situations was particularly interesting, because that is also related to various dances that require partnership. When we reflect on just how many dances incorporate this element, it is easy to understand that there are profound causes behind this. If not for these reasons, people would be dancing alone much more often.

Regarding the types of music that tend to induce the effect of flow, I think the percentage is highly related to the familiarity of the music. The order of frequency in the given music to produce the state of flow was stated as follows: music of the Romantic era, classical era, contemporary, baroque, followed by other styles. This makes sense considering that Romantically-inclined music is prevalent due to the frequent usage in films and other mediums. Perhaps, the use of melody-dominated homophony (in contrast with complicated polyphony) is preferred, since the mind is able to grasp it easier than with baroque or contemporary styles.   

  Another important aspect to remember is that the relative balance between challenge and skill is much more relevant than having an absolute level of skill. This means that at no matter what level, one can enjoy a profound experience. One does not need to pressure him/herself to create this special experience, as this feeling is not meant to be separated from our everyday life experiences. I think that this article communicates this important idea very convincingly.



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1 comment:

Lee Bartel said...

Interesting - the data from the study -- makes me think that they may have defined "flow" too much into the area of "aesthetic experience." But it does address to some extent the problem I have often wondered about - if flow essentially occurs in contexts of action where ability and challenge meet, is the effect not primarily as a result of meeting the challenge - in other words it is primarily a psychological self-congratulation about meeting the challenge. But musical experience and being "moved" by the emotive - expressive content of the music itself, although culturally mediated, is of a different sort of experience that self-congratulatory pleasure at meeting a challenge - or the inherent human delight at being involved in a challenge successfully. So if music presents the challenge opportunity and one can thereby, for example, in reading music - the challenge of decoding brings the pleasurable flow, how much more enhanced is this experience if it is also layered with the expressive emotion moving aspect of the aesthetic. I am not sure. But it seems to me that the concept of flow is inadequate to explain what musicians experience with music.