Sensory Deprivation Boosts Musicians’ Skill Level

Canadian researchers report floating in an isolation tank increased the technical skill level of young jazz players.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Everybody knows the standard answer. But newly published research suggests that, after you’ve labored all day in the practice room, you might want to spend an hour in a flotation tank.

Oshin Vartanian of the University of Toronto and Peter Suedfeld of the University of British Columbia report floating in an Epsom salt solution one hour per week for four weeks boosted the technical ability of a group of college music students. This suggests such periods of minimal sensory stimulation can improve performers’ perceptual-motor coordination.

Don’t start filling up the bathtub, however: This experiment, described in the journal Music and Medicine, featured a level of sensory deprivation achievable only in a specially designed tank. The device was invented in the 1950s by neuroscientist John Lilly; in the years since, its use has been linked to improved sports performance and heightened levels of creativity.

But would it work for budding be-boppers? To answer that question, the researchers conducted an experiment using 13 students enrolled in an intermediate-level jazz improvisation course at Vancouver Community College.

Eight of the students — six men and two women — engaged in flotation sessions for four consecutive weeks. They spent an hour each week in a fiberglass shell, floating in a solution of Epsom salts and skin-temperature water. They were in the dark, and outside sounds were muffled.

All the participants — including the other five musicians who comprise the comparison group — made two five-minute-long recordings in which they freely improvised. The first took place one week before the flotation sessions began; the second, one week after the sessions concluded. Each session was rated by the instructor (who was unaware which students were undergoing the treatments) on five dimensions: improvisation, creativity, expressiveness, technical ability and overall quality.

read the article – Miller-McCune 

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