How can you accelerate your skills on the sax – when you don’t have a sax handy? The easy way is to use your mind. There are decades’ worth of studies proving that mental rehearsal is almost as good as concrete practice.
You may have heard of this study with basketball players. Dr. Biasiotto at the University of Chicago split players into three groups and tested each group on how many free throws they could make.
After this, he had the first group practice free throws every day for an hour.
The second group just visualized themselves making free throws.
The third group did nothing.
After 30 days, he tested them again.
The first group improved by 24%.
The second group improved by 23% — without touching a basketball(!)
The third group did not improve, which was expected.
Obviously, the group that practices does best, so don’t stop playing your sax, but the group that mentally practices also improves – and almost as much as the ones who actually practice.
Mental practice is almost as good as actual practice.
How it works
The reason visual imagery works is this: when you imagine yourself playing precisely what and how you want, you are physiologically creating new neural patterns in your brain, just as if you had physically performed the action.
You subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between reality and virtual reality. So what you visualize in your mind gets encoded in your mind/body system.
“Not only does a visualized experience condition the human brain,” says Judd Blaslotto, Ph.D., a world-class powerlifter and author of a number of books on mind control, “but it will also program the human body.” In short, mental imagery creates the neural patterns in your brain to teach your muscles to do exactly what you want them to do – include play better sax.
Sax Free Practice
It should be clear why this is important. You can “practice” sax on planes, trains and buses; practice while waiting for an appointment; practice while drifting off to sleep, or waking up in the morning; practice for as long as you want, relaxing in a comfy chair and just letting the mind movie play out.
Adding this visual practice can bring staggering rewards.
For example, within one year of first hearing a baritone saxophone, I bought a vintage Selmer sax, took a couple private lessons, studied the lessons in Nigel’s school, and mentally rehearsed playing – and then recorded my first all sax album.
That was in one year!
I’ve since gone on to add my sax playing to other albums, including one with Grammy nominated singer Ruthie Foster, and several bestselling albums with one of my partners, Guitar Monk Mathew Dixon.
And I’m playing at a skill level, and with a level of confidence, that I really “shouldn’t” have with just physical practice alone. After all, I’ve barely been playing the sax for just over a year now, and I don’t practice with sax in hand all that much.
What I do is what you can do today: Imagine playing at a level better than what you can play right now.
In other words, pretend in your mind that you can play with the skills of your favorite saxophonist. This “acting as if” technique will help your mind develop new skills. And your mind will teach it to your body.
“I just visualized a scenario where I did not make any mistakes. It was exhilarating”.
For example, I’ve hired Grammy nominated jazz-rock sax legend Mindi Abair to play two private concerts for me. I watched her perform. I asked questions about her playing. She, being open and generous, helped me in every way. My mind integrated all of this information.
I then would get quiet, alone in my room, close my eyes, and imagine myself playing with the skill of Mindi. In my mind, I would pretend I could play like her. I would “see” my hands move, “feel” my breathing, “sense” the joy of making beautiful music.
I didn’t worry about mistakes. Since this was all in my mind, I just visualized a scenario where I did not make any mistakes. It was exhilarating.
I’m not Mindi Abair and I don’t (yet) play with her amazing skills. But imagining playing like her increased my ability to make cleaner sounds and play with more precision. It advanced my skills – fast – all by practicing in my mind.
Make it Real
Here’s another tip on how to do this “Mind Sax” practice: It’s important to make your mental experience vivid and real. Feel the sax under your fingers, hands, lips. Really hear the sound, the textures, the volume of your playing. Sense the room around you as well as the sax you are playing. Do your best to clearly imagine how you want to actually play. Let this be a kind of “mind movie” of your sax playing, with you the director and the star.
This mental process will speed up your skills – whether you have a sax handy or not. All you need is quiet time and imagination.
After all, if basketball players can improve by just closing their eyes and imagining practice, why can’t we super cool saxophone players do it, too?
About the author:
Dr. Joe “Saxman” Vitale is the globally famous author of 50 books, including “The Attractor Factor,” musician with 15 albums, including his all sax album “Afflatus,” and a star in the hit movie The Secret. His music is at www.AllHealingMusic.com