Two recent studies led by researchers at Harvard, Arizona State and the University of Pennsylvania tested the hypothesis that actively creating novel distinctions and sonically portraying them during the performance of orchestral music is preferable to attempting to re-create a past performance. Orchestra musicians were instructed to be either mindless or mindful during a performance. In this case, being mindless meant replicating a previous performance with which they were very satisfied. The mindful instructions directed them to make the piece new in very subtle ways that only they would know. (They were playing classical music. Unlike with jazz, the novel distinctions were subtle.) Their performances were taped and then played for audiences unaware of the instructions. Researchers found that not only did the musicians much prefer playing mindfully, but the pieces created in a mindful state were judged as superior. Individual attention to novel distinctions and subtle nuances appears to alter the process of creative ensemble performance and lead to music that is more enjoyable to perform and hear.
About the author
Line Goguen-Hughes is a writer and editor and former assistant editor at Mindful.