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Sometimes when I am not at practice, I will visualize playing scales or a particular piece on my instrument.

I know that visualization is often used by athletes, but is it often used among musicians? If so, is there advice on how it can be done most effectively?

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@Matthew, indeed that was the inspiration for this question, but I intend this to be distinct and elicit more specific suggestions about the method. – David LeBauer May 3 '11 at 19:36
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I would consider "visualization," as such, to be more a method of dealing with performance anxiety issues.

However, there is plenty of concrete, actual, musical practice you can do inside your head. It's no replacement for real time with the physical instrument, but time spent score studying, audiating, and practicing fingerings will almost certainly transfer.

Lots of wind instrumentalists, for example, find it easier to match notes with fingerings than with actual pitch. Sight singing an instrumental etude or piece while mimicing fingerings is one method that I have had quite a lot of success with.

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Yes yes yes yes and yes. Sofronitsky and Gieseking both did huge amounts of mental practice. You have to realize that music, as physical manifested, is an epiphenomenon created by what exists in your mind. If your mental image of the music you want to create isn't perfect, how could the physical manifestation of it be? Time spent cultivating a mental image of what you're playing is always time well spent.

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Visualisation and Imagination are absolutely important.

In my case, it is rare for me these days to watch my fingers on the fretboard as I've trained myself to not look. Sometimes, in mid performance, I can close my eyes and "see the fretboard and see my hands go to certain chords/scales/shapes" well in advance of the music and I will find myself there.

Sometimes, I can do a musical follow the bouncing ball - all in my head. But this has come over about 5-6 years of practice. The idea of "seeing and hearing" your instrument in your mind is the first step in truly mastering the skill of improvisation and mastery of the instrument.

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Yes! I watched an interview with legendary electric bassist Jaco Pastorius where he stated that most of his practice at that stage of his life was mental. He would work through different arrangements and solos mentally and when he picked his bass up to play that mental preparation would translate. Since seeing that I've done this myself and have noticed leaps forward in ability or feel within a particular piece after having worked through it mentally.

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