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Sometimes when I practice a lot, I get into a mode of thinking purely of music, and forget my hands. Once in a while, I feel like I'm a god of piano-- I hear how I want the music to sound with my "inner ear", and it just comes out the way I want.

That's pretty rare, though, and not a condition I can easily reproduce-- I'd like to be able to get to that place more consistently. I'm curious what processes or exercises people use to get their minds off of physical technique and into their musical "zone."

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    As often with this kind of question, the answer will boil down to “just practice more”. – leftaroundabout Mar 23 at 11:28
  • Alcohol and drugs appears/appeared to do the trick for some, although not necessarily recommended. Playing with others can go either way. Reference my question 'playing in the pocket'. – Tim Mar 23 at 11:47
  • This takes a lot of time and I do not think there is a formula for getting there in one shot. Pepe Romero discusses this in his book on classical guitar, and there's Kenny Werner's book Effortless Mastery. You might want to check out what they have to say on this topic. – ggcg Mar 23 at 11:55
  • @Tim I can say for sure that LSD took me right there, every time. But I don't want to be a middle-aged white Jimi Hendrix of the piano. :D Can you link your question? – Bennyboy1973 Mar 23 at 16:07
  • @ggcg Kenny Werner's book looks very interesting. Thank you for the recommendation! – Bennyboy1973 Mar 23 at 16:08
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The first half of your question seems less specifically related to music and more generally to the optimal state of activity Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to as "Flow":

The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.

His wikipedia page describes the general nature of flow:

Csikszentmihályi characterized nine component states of achieving flow including "challenge-skill balance, merging of action and awareness, clarity of goals, immediate and unambiguous feedback, concentration on the task at hand, paradox of control, transformation of time, loss of self-consciousness, and autotelic experience". To achieve a flow state, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too easy or too difficult, flow cannot occur. Both skill level and challenge level must be matched and high; if skill and challenge are low and matched, then apathy results.

You should check out some of his books, they're an interesting read, and it might help you discover how to achieve flow more frequently while playing.

In terms of warm-up and actual exercises to get yourself "warmed up", well there's a ton of different answers. Personally, I've found that using a rough estimate of Mihaly's formula to guide myself into a state of pure focus helps a lot- that is, if you want to feel like you're completely immersed in the activity, determine what your skill level is and match it with something that's challenging for you to be completely engrossed, but not so challenging that it's frustrating for you to feel like you're performing well.

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This sounds similar to a mode I often slip into where I'm looking at printed music and playing something quite different - maybe paraphrasing a 'song copy' into a more effective piano accompaniment, maybe just playing something 'better' (or sometimes easier!) than what's written. I'm looking at the notation, but playing the music.

This can be so pervasive that I sometimes have to consciously pull myself back with a 'hold on - what's actually WRITTEN here is quite good, maybe I should try it!'

How do you develop this skill? Like most skills, through practice.

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  • I practice a moderate amount all the time. However, I haven't gradually developed this ability-- it's a special state. The question is this-- can I specifically practice hitting this state? Or is it just going to always be a random byproduct of practice. – Bennyboy1973 Mar 23 at 16:10
  • Just do lots of playing. There's no magic bullet. – Laurence Payne Mar 23 at 17:03
  • Well you can see by my name that either I find a new technique to hit that state, or I have to accept that it "is what it is." I'm guessing a little from column A and a little from column B. :D – Bennyboy1973 Mar 23 at 20:13
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Skip the instrument. Grab a keyboard, mouse, and digital audio workstation. No practice needed, no mistakes as the computer robotically plays notes as written across every track.

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