Musicians may be most creative ‘when not actually playing instrument’

New research into how and when the muse strikes finds that even fairly mundane activities can feed in to new insights
For a musician, it’s an elusive question: where to find your muse? How to unlock your creative voice? Well, putting down the instrument and just tapping the furniture or singing badly in the shower might help.
New research suggests that musicians may be at their most creative when they are not playing their instrument or singing. By studying musicians and asking them when inspiration struck them, researchers found that breakthrough moments often happened when players were humming to themselves or tapping out rhythms on the table or imagining dance moves inspired by the music.
“What we are finding is that even fairly mundane activities can feed in to the discovery of new insight, new knowledge and new means of expressing ideas in all sorts of ways,” said John Rink, professor of musical performance studies at Cambridge University. “The potential is infinite.”
Rink led a team of researchers who carried out field work at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Royal College of Music, using interviews, questionnaires, focus groups and filming one-to-one lessons.
They talked to students about when they felt particularly creative or when something new emerged about their understanding of a piece – described by the team as creative episodes.
One horn player was filmed undertaking private practice. Watching it back he identified 34 creative episodes, 23 of which took place when he was not using his instrument – it was when he was humming, tapping on a table, gesturing, whistling and conducting himself. “All of this helps to embed the music in one’s mind,” said Rink.
He said creativity was important even if you were following a score.

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