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How the Mind Affects Singing: How to Achieve “Flow” While Making Music

How to Achieve “Flow” While Making Music

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a very accomplished psychologist in the fields of creativity and positive psychology.  He is known for giving the name “Flow” to a certain kind of mental state; ‘Flow is an optimal experience in which one feels at one with an activity and is motivated by the activity itself.’  In order for you to be in this state, you must be experiencing an activity and that activity must satisfy the following criteria:

  1. You must have clear goals.
  2. You must get immediate internal or external feedback.
  3. There must be a balance between challenges and skills.
  4. The activity must be autotelic (you do the activity for the sake of doing it).

How do these criteria get met in singing for my Brooklyn voice lessons students? Let’s elaborate upon each of the criteria of Flow, and how they apply to the activity of singing.

First you need a clear goal. A clear goal can be set consciously, prior to carrying out the activity (i.e. ‘I am going to sing the entire song without stopping.’), or even unconsciously and spontaneously (i.e. deciding, in the moment, to sing the next phrase up an octave).  To be in a state of flow while singing, the singer is making a mental effort towards a singing goal, whether or not the goal is concrete or spontaneous.

Immediate feedback is the second thing you need. This feedback can be your own self-evaluation or your teacher’s evaluation of how you are singing.  But, there must be at least a subtle motivator, not just to sing, but to sing well, and to accomplish the goal that you have set.

The balance between challenges and skills refers to the activity challenging you in a way that is appropriate for your skill level; the goal you are trying to meet should be just challenging enough so that you feel motivated to overcome the challenge, without feeling so bored that you would give up and exit the state of Flow.

Finally, autotelic means that you must derive joy and satisfaction from singing, for the sake of singing itself, rather than because of another motivator.  As mentioned before, there must be evaluation which motivates you to do well, and this can come from outside motivators, such as your singing instructor; but, the motivation for actually doing your vocal lesson must come simply from the sheer joy of singing.

If you can achieve the above qualities of experience when vocalizing, then you are in Flow! It’s fun, and it feels fun–that’s how you will know. Try to enjoy singing for its own sake, to focus and self-evaluate, and to find and overcome appropriate challenges for your level.  You will reach Flow, the optimal state of experience, as a byproduct of focusing on these things. A good way to focus your mind like this is to put on your favorite song and look at the criteria as you are singing along to see if you are in Flow. If you are a voice student like my Brooklyn voice lessons students, you can use the recording of your lesson and sing along while looking at the criteria. Or, if you don’t have a vocal coach or a recording of a voice lesson you could get a DVD on how to sing and sing along to that. I have made a DVD for the beginning voice student that is very easy to learn from, it has tons of exercises and explanations to take you through the three most important basics of singing. You can get it at www.gracemusicstudiony.com on the home page or at http://howtosingeasily.com . Have a great time checking this out. Let me know what you think by commenting below.

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