Musically mindful

Alana James (Royal Holloway, University of London) reports from the Society's Annual Conference.

How musically mindful are you? Anne-Marie Czajkowski (University of Leeds) used a brief demonstration to illustrate how mindfulness can be used to support musical performance. Sit up straight, close your eyes and focus on your breathing – specifically where you feel yourself breathing. Most people will notice it in their chest first. Now try this again but place your hand above your diaphragm and focus on feeling it move as you breathe. Once you are used to this, repeat whilst breathing only through your mouth – and finally, sing a note. This could be your first experience of using a singer’s breath.

Breathing technique was one component of an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course for novice singers, evaluated by Czajkowski and colleague Alinka Greasley. The singing instructors were blind to which eight out of their 32 students received the intervention, but correctly identified six of the eight based on behavioural changes. Students reported benefits for breathing techniques, vocal performance, the student-instructor relationship, and their general lives. The course is now being evaluated in a longitudinal study, and with different musician types.

A separate study by Greasley with Harriet Crook (Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust) and Robert Fulford (University of Leeds) suggested that we should be more mindful of difficulties in listening to music experienced by people with hearing impairments. Hearing aids may be beneficial but are designed for the acoustic signals of speech, not the wider range involved in music. Over 170 hearing aid users, aged between 21 and 93 years, were surveyed in an NHS and a private clinic. Over half reported problems listening to music when using hearing aids, such as audio distortions.

NHS patients reported more difficulties and greater impact upon their quality of life. This was not due to differential treatment; the quality of technology did not differ and in both groups few had discussed the difficulties with their audiologist - and those who did reported low satisfaction with the outcome. Suggested reasons for the disparity were that private patients may feel more invested in their care or be engaged in a greater range of other activities which promote good quality of life.

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