Focus More in Practice, With the “Brain Dump” Technique

Here’s the scenario: You sit down to practice. The goal is a focused, intentional practice you can feel good about. You start to play, and….

…the mind goes berzerk. You notice your thoughts bounce from one thing to the next. And only occasionally do they land on the music you’re playing.

So how can you settle your thoughts and bring your attention to your practice? One proven method is the “brain dump”.

Focused, Aware Practice is the Best Practice

The best state for learning is one of calm awareness. We absorb and recall information more easily when we are calm and aware.

And we’re also more successful at training muscles and movements in this state. We notice more nuance and detail, and we act with greater precision and accuracy.

Focused, aware practice encourages states of flow. This is the peak performance of experts in all fields. And we can enjoy it in guitar practice as well.

So how do we calm the mind so that we can practice with focused awareness?

Long term, it’s a practice. Mindfulness, meditation, life organization, and other practices can help us to get to this state.

But in the short term, there’s another strategy called “the brain dump”.

Focus Strategy: The Brain Dump

Before practice, sit down with a sheet of paper or open a note on the computer. Then write down everything you need to do.

Write down everything on your mind. It doesn’t have to be in complete sentences. It just has to be enough information to remind you later. Instead of including every detail, just use keywords.

For instance, you may want to remember to “Go to Bobbi’s house and drop off the casserole dish she left last Thursday…” Instead of writing all this, write, “Bobbi’s – dish”. Keep them short and keep moving.

Remembering things takes mental bandwidth

Many of the distractions we face in practice are things we tell ourselves we need to remember. And anything left undone creates an “open loop”. Our minds spend energy keeping them in our awareness.

When we write them down, we can rest assured that we will remember them. So we can release them from our thoughts.

This practice could take several minutes the first time. If you do this for everything in your entire life, it could take all day! See David Allen’s book Getting Things Done for a whole-life strategy using this method.

Quickly Capture Ideas During Practice

After you’ve written down everything on your mind, you can take a deep breath or two, and pick up your guitar. Then do your warm-ups or exercises, and the game is on.

Other things will likely come up as you practice. Keep a sheet of paper and pencil within reach so you can jot them down as they come up.

If you think of something, immediately write a quick note and get back to your music.

With practice, you can have a thought, “capture” it on paper, and be back in a focused state all within seconds.

As with any method or exercise, this gets easier with time. The goal is focused, aware practice. Any self-criticism or narrative only creates more distraction. So the quickest path to the goal is to release any commentary, jot down anything that comes up, and get back to work.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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