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Stephen Daniel Galyen
This document is dedicated to my wife, Kelley. I could not have done this without you.
Thank you for the sacrifices you made, for the encouragement and support you gave me,
for selflessly wanting me to be happy, and for believing in me.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to a number of people for their help
with this research and the completion of my doctoral degree. This project would not have
been possible without their kindness, time, advice, and interest in my success.
First I would like to thank the members of my supervisory committee: Dr. Russell
Robinson for serving as chair of the committee and guiding me through every step of the
entire Ph.D. program. Dr. Charles Hoffer for reading and editing each chapter and for
meeting with me (and my then four-month-old daughter) to give me feedback. Dr. David
Waybright for his support of me in the band profession, and providing me with
outstanding opportunities for growth during my time at UF. Dr. Phil Clark for serving on
the committee and for all of the tools that I learned in his excellent leadership classes.
I would also like to thank Dr. Timothy Brophy for his guidance in writing and
publishing the pilot study, and for his advice on the statistics. Also, I am very thankful to
Dr. John Laverty at Syracuse University for his discussions with me regarding audiation
and for showing me how it could be used to improve the performance of a band.
Thank you to the fantastic band directors and band students of the Roanoke County
Schools in Roanoke, Virginia: Tim Galyen, Dawn Chernault, Matt Yates, and Barry
Tucker. These individuals were gracious enough to share their valuable and limited class
time with me. They were also kind enough to assist me with the logistics of the project -
securing extra rooms for student testing, passing out and collecting student forms, finding
suitable dates for the project, and becoming familiar with the rehearsal techniques and
teacher scripts required for the study. This project depended on your energy, flexibility,
and kindness, and I thank you for making the completion of this study possible.
This study would not have been possible without the help of my good friend and
mentor Mr. Bill Svec, who served as the test administrator, donated his recording
equipment, and recorded every single student and ensemble recording used in the study.
Thank you for your time, advice, generosity, and enthusiasm for the project. You have
been giving me valuable advice ever since I was a student teacher, and I am thankful to
have you as a friend.
Thanks to my good friends Jay Jacobs and Laura Antoni for serving as independent
evaluators for the study even though they were extremely busy with their own
coursework and projects.
My Ph.D. would not have been possible without the support of my family. Thank
you, Mom and Dad, for your encouragement and financial assistance during my graduate
studies. You have always been there for us, and any success that Tim, Thomas, and I find
will always have its roots in the support and encouragement that you have given us our
entire lives. Thanks to my youngest brother Thomas, who was the first person to tell me
of the term "mental practice" one day while he was practicing his marimba, and who
provided me with several sources on the topic. And thanks to my brother Tim, my "yes"
man, who was very enthusiastic about participating in the project, who gave his time to
help me and offered invaluable advice from the school band perspective of the study.
Most importantly, I would not be anywhere close to where I am today without my
wife, Kelley. I do not think that I could have found a more supportive person in the whole
world. You have sacrificed so much for this dream, ever since we left Virginia for
Syracuse in 2001 so that I could pursue a Masters degree. Along the way, you have been
the one who kept me going, who set me straight when I was frustrated or doubtful, and
who believed in me every day starting from the day we first met in 1997. I am so thankful
for that day you had a flat tire at school, and you refused to let anyone help you change it,
just so you could wait for me to come along and ask me for help. Since then, and
especially over the past five years, it has actually been you who has been the one to help
me over and over again. This accomplishment of completing the Ph.D. is just as much
your accomplishment as it is mine, and I share this success with you, and with our
wonderful, beautiful daughter, Kate.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A CK N O W LED G M EN TS ................................................................ .......................iv
L IST O F T A B L E S ................................................. ............................................... x
A B S T R A C T ................................................................................ ............................xiii
1 IN T R O D U C T IO N ............................................. ............ .....................
Statement of the Problem.......................................................... 3
Purpose of the Study................................................................... .................... 5
D elim stations of the Study ................................................................................... 6
R research Q questions .................................................................... .................... 7
R research H ypotheses ................................................................... .................... 8
D efinitions.............................................................. ...................................... 9
2 LITERATURE REVIEW .................................................................................. 10
Im ag ery ........................................................................................... ................ 1 1
C opy T theory ...................................... ............... .......... ............ ....... 11
Im agery ......................................... ................... ..........12
A uditory Im agery ............................................................ ................ 15
Imagery in Music: General Research ..................................................... 17
Imagery in Music: Qualitative Research ................................................ 19
Im agery in M usic Education .................................................... .................... 20
Theoretical Foundations of Mental Practice ......................................................... 23
Psychoneuromuscular Theory ...................................................................... 23
A rousal or A ctivation Theory .......................................................................26
Symbolic Learning Theory .................................... ........................................26
Bioinformational or Information Processing Theory ........................................30
Non-Empirical Approaches to Mental Practice ...................................................33
D a n c e ......................................................................................................... 3 4
L ead ersh ip ......................................................................... ......................... 3 5
S p o rts ......................................................................................................... 3 6
M music ................................... ........................... ......... ...........39
Research Studies in Mental Practice ..............................................................50
N on-m musical Research ............................................... .... ....................... 51
M musical R research ....................................................................................... 54
Mental Practice versus Physical Practice ........................................................59
Knowledge of Results .......................................... .................................. 63
Mental Practice in the Ensemble Rehearsal ...................................................66
Sight-Reading and Mental Practice.................................................................. 67
Length and Placement of Mental Practice ......................................................70
Motivation and Mental Practice....... .......................................................73
O their M ental Practice Studies .................................................. .................... 74
S u m m ary ................................................................................. .......................... 7 6
3 DESIGN OF THE STUDY.............................................................. ....................78
In tro d u ctio n ............................................................................ ........................... 7 8
P ilot S tudy ................... ..................................... ........................ .................. 80
Selection of the Participants...................................................... 84
R research D design ............................................................................ .......... .......... 87
D dependent M measures ................................................................... ................... 88
Treatm ent V ariable................................................................... .................... 89
Mental Practice Method ............................... ... ........................................ 90
Unstructured Mental Practice................................................... 94
Physical Practice........................................................................................ 95
C o n tro l ................................................................................................... 9 5
A d m in istratio n .............................................................................. ..................... 9 5
Statistical A analysis ................................................................... .................... 98
4 R E SU L T S ........................ .... ................................................. .................... 99
Introduction .............................................................................. ................ ......... 99
Presentation of Data .................................................. 100
Analysis of Inter-Scorer Reliability ............................................................. 100
Comparison of the Experimental and Control Groups Mean Difference
Scores on the Individual Student Sight-Reading Measure........................... 101
Comparison of the Experimental and Control Groups Mean Difference
Scores on the Individual Student Prepared Performance Measure.............. 103
Comparison of the Intact Group Performances on the Ensemble Performance
M measure ................................................. ............................................... 110
Comparison of Student Scores in the Three Experimental Groups in terms of
Gender, Grade Level, and Instrument (Woodwind or Brass) ...................... 111
Comparison of Post-Study Questionnaire Answers from Students in the Two
M ental Practice G roups.................................... ........................................ 119
5 C O N C L U SIO N S ...................................... ........................... ........................ 130
S u m m ary ............................................................................... .......................... 13 0
D iscu ssio n ............................................................................. .......................... 13 6
C conclusions .................................................................................................. 142
Suggestions for Future Research........................................ ..... 143
Summary and Implications of this Study ............................................................ 145
A STUDENT INFORMATION FORM...................................... .......................... 152
B INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARD DOCUMENTATION............................ 154
C CORRESPONDENCE WITH TEACHERS........................... .................. 158
D INDIVIDUAL PREPARED PERFORMANCE MEASURE.............................. 164
E TEACHER REHEARSAL SCRIPTS ...................................... 167
F TEST ADMINISTRATION INSTRUCTIONS...................... .................... 233
G INSTRUCTIONS FOR SCORING INDIVIDUAL STUDENT
PERFORMANCES ...................... ...... ................... 235
H R A W D A T A .......... ...................... ............ ............................................... 236
I POST-STUDY QUESTIONNAIRES .......................................................... 261
J STUDENT OPINIONS REGARDING MENTAL PRACTICE........................268
LIST OF REFERENCES............................................................... .................... 272
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................................................................... 282
LIST OF TABLES
3-1 Pilot study results: Mean pretest, posttest, and difference scores and percent
difference for experimental (n = 24) and control (n = 19) groups.......................... 82
3-2 Comparison of the four participating bands........................................................85
3-3 Number and instrument of students completing individual testing ........................87
4-1 Inter-scorer reliability correlation coefficients for individual student
performance scores........................................... 101
4-2 Ensemble performance test-retest reliability correlation coefficients................. 101
4-3 Sight-reading performance: Means and standard deviations of the experimental
and control groups pretest, posttest, and difference scores and difference
percentages .............................................. ........................................... 102
4-4 Analysis of variance for experimental and control groups mean difference scores
on the sight-reading performance measure................................... 104
4-5 Individual prepared performance: Means and standard deviations of the
experimental and control groups pretest, posttest, and difference scores and
difference percentages............................................................... ................... 105
4-6 Analysis of variance for experimental and control groups mean difference scores
on the prepared performance measure .......................................................... 106
4-7 Results of the Scheffe test of multiple comparisons of the experimental and
control groups mean difference scores on the prepared performance measure..... 107
4-8 Results of separate t tests of statistical significance of the experimental and
control groups mean difference scores on the prepared performance measure..... 109
4-9 Mean pretest, posttest, and difference scores and percent difference for
experimental and control groups on the ensemble performance measure............. 111
4-10 Comparison of mental practice method group mean difference scores and
percentages by gender, grade level, and instrument ........................................... 113
4-11 Comparison of unstructured mental practice group mean difference scores and
percentages by gender, grade level, and instrument ........................................... 114
4-12 Comparison of physical practice group mean difference scores and percentages
by gender, grade level, and instrum ent ......................................................... 115
4-13 Comparison of student mean difference scores and percentages by gender, grade
level, and instrument for the three experimental groups.................................... 116
4-14 Results of separate t tests of statistical significance of the experimental groups
mean difference scores grouped according to gender and instrument ................ 118
4-15 Student evaluations of mental practice by participants in the two mental practice
co n d itio n s............................................................................ ............. ........... 12 0
4-16 Mental practice method group (n = 55) student evaluations of mental practice ... 123
4-17 Unstructured mental practice group (n = 51) student evaluations of mental
practice ... ............................................................................ 124
4-18 Student self-evaluations of clarity and control during mental practice............... 125
4-19 Summary of open-ended responses of mental practice method group students (n
= 55) on the post-study questionnaire ........................................................... 128
H-1 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the mental practice method
group on the sight-reading measure in terms of pitch accuracy ........................... 237
H-2 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the mental practice method
group on the sight-reading measure in terms of dynamics................................. 238
H-3 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the mental practice method
group on the sight-reading measure in terms of rhythm .................................... 239
H-4 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the unstructured mental
practice group on the sight-reading measure in terms of pitch accuracy............240
H-5 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the unstructured mental
practice group on the sight-reading measure in terms of dynamics.................... 241
H-6 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the unstructured mental
practice group on the sight-reading measure in terms of rhythm ......................... 242
H-7 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the physical practice group
on the sight-reading measure in terms of pitch accuracy................................... 243
H-8 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the physical practice group
on the sight-reading measure in terms of dynamics.......................................... 244
H-9 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the physical practice group
on the sight-reading measure in terms of rhythm .............................................. 245
H-10 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the control group on the
sight-reading measure in terms of pitch accuracy............................................... 246
H-11 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the control group on the
sight-reading measure in terms of dynamics ...................................................... 247
H-12 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the control group on the
sight-reading measure in terms of rhythm...................................... 248
H-13 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the mental practice method
group on the prepared performance measure in terms of pitch accuracy............ 249
H-14 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the mental practice method
group on the prepared performance measure in terms of dynamics ..................... 250
H-15 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the mental practice method
group on the prepared performance measure in terms of rhythm......................... 251
H-16 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the unstructured mental
practice group on the prepared performance measure in terms of pitch accuracy. 252
H-17 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the unstructured mental
practice group on the prepared performance measure in terms of dynamics........ 253
H-18 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the unstructured mental
practice group on the prepared performance measure in terms of rhythm............ 254
H-19 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the physical practice group
on the prepared performance measure in terms of pitch accuracy....................... 255
H-20 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the physical practice group
on the prepared performance measure in terms of dynamics ............................... 256
H-21 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the physical practice group
on the prepared performance measure in terms of rhythm................................. 257
H-22 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the control group on the
prepared performance measure in terms of pitch accuracy .................................. 258
H-23 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the control group on the
prepared performance measure in terms of dynamics........................................ 259
H-24 Pretest, posttest, and difference scores for students in the control group on the
prepared performance measure in terms of rhythm ........................................... 260
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
DEVELOPMENT OF A STRUCTURED METHOD OF MENTAL PRACTICE AND
ITS EFFECT ON THE PERFORMANCE OF HIGH SCHOOL BAND STUDENTS
Stephen Daniel Galyen
Chair: Russell L. Robinson
Cochair: David A. Waybright
Major Department: Music
This study developed and tested a structured method of teaching mental practice to
high school band students. This method served as an attempt to synthesize various mental
practice techniques so that the school music teacher could apply the techniques during
class instruction. The method involved exercises in a) visual, auditory, and motor
imagery, b) a combination of physical and mental practice, and c) alternating physical
and mental practice.
Four high school bands in Southwest Virginia practiced a unison etude and an
excerpt from a concert band composition for six weeks. Each intact band was assigned to
one of three practice conditions (mental practice method, unstructured mental practice, or
physical practice) or to a no practice control condition. Selected students (N = 86) were
evaluated in terms of individual sight-reading, individual prepared performance, and
intact ensemble prepared performance.
For individual sight-reading, the mental practice method group had the highest mean
gain score for pitch and dynamics, and the lowest mean gain for rhythm. No significant
differences were found among the groups.
For individual prepared performance, the mental practice method group had the
highest mean gain scores in all performance areas. The mental practice method group
made statistically significant gains over the control group in every performance area, and
over the unstructured mental practice group in dynamics (p < .05). The physical practice
group made significantly greater gains than the control group in rhythm (p < .05) and
pitch (p < .01). The unstructured mental practice group made significant improvement
over the control group in rhythm (p < .01).
For ensemble performance, analysis was based solely on raw scores due to a low N
(N = 4). All three experimental groups had considerably higher gain scores than the
control group for all performance areas (pitch, tone quality, and rhythm). There was no
noticeable difference in the gain scores among the three experimental groups for the three
These results suggest that high school students taught using a structured method of
mental practice perform better or just as well as those using an unstructured form of
mental practice or physical practice.
Mental practice refers to the covert, cognitive rehearsal of a skill without the use of
physical movement or sound. Musicians engage in mental practice every time they
silently analyze a piece of music before sight-reading it, hear a melody in their heads
before actually playing it, or imagine themselves in a successful performance. The
concept of mental practice has been applied to many disciplines, including sports
(Weinberg, 1989), dance (Franklin, 2004; Taylor, 1995), language education (Guerrero,
1991), special education (Allbritton-Grant, 1985), medical rehabilitation (Richardson,
1995), and music (Brooks, 1995).
An essential component of mental practice is mental imagery the imaginary
representation of objects and events in the mind. Much of the imagery that is of interest
in the field of music is auditory imagery. Mental imagery techniques are often used in
rehearsal and performance by professional singers (Carter, 1993; Moyer, 1992) and brass
players (Trusheim, 1987). Mental practice employs mental imagery extensively, but is a
much broader term. Pierson (1992) describes mental practice as follows:
During this type of practice the performer analyzes the rhythms, notes, key
signature, and any other musical elements presented on the page, without the
benefit of physical movement. In addition, the instrumentalist tries to imagine the
pitches (audiation or aural imagery) that appear on the page and also tries to
imagine all muscular movement that will occur while actually playing the music.
(Pierson, 1992, pp. 29-30)
Stated another way, mental practice involves the use of all the senses in an
"imaginary rehearsal of performance activities without observable movement or sound"
(Kohut, 1985, p. 127). These imaginary rehearsals involve mentally hearing the music,
visualizing the performance, and feeling the muscles used in musical performance.
The value of mental practice lies in its potential to improve the cognitive aspects of
musical perception and performance. The ability to use mental practice techniques can
allow a musician to practice when the instrument is not available or when injury prevents
practice, and can help to prevent physical exhaustion. It can also enhance memory of
words or music, motivation, confidence, and concentration. Connolly (2001) states that
the value of mental rehearsal is that it
can cut short the learning process and complement the actual practice of skills, as it
is in the brain where the ultimate learning of skills, and unlearning of bad habits,
takes place. The purpose of practicing a skill, mentally or physically, is to tell the
brain, as clearly as possible, how to organize the body's movement. (p. 17)
Freymuth (1993) states that regular mental rehearsal can serve as a form of quality
control, with "the potential for refocusing attention, restoring concentration, and
revitalizing performance" (p. 142). Ross (1985) states that mental practice is valuable
unlike physical practice, [it] focuses the performer's attention on the cognitive
aspects of music performance with less emphasis on the sounds being made. The
performer can now think more carefully about what kinds of things might be tried,
the consequences of each action can be predicted based on experience, and
inappropriate courses of action ruled out. (p. 228)
Mental practice techniques could be beneficial to high school band students in
several ways. They could provide additional rehearsal techniques for the band director to
use in rehearsing a piece of music. Students could be encouraged to use the techniques
during "down time" in rehearsal, such as when the director is rehearsing another section
of the ensemble. Students could also use mental practice as part of their home practice
routine. There is a need for educators to provide multiple practice strategies for
instrumental music students (Rawlins, 2004). Mental practice could be included as one of
Mental practice could be beneficial in preventing physical exhaustion. Physical
exhaustion in musical performance is a common result of the lengthy rehearsal sessions
that typically take place at honor bands and summer band camps. Physical exhaustion is
also an issue for school bands who operate under a block schedule (Blocher and Miles,
1999). Mental practice could serve as a means to continue working on a piece of music
without causing physical strain.
Mental practice could also benefit students during sight-reading. It is common for
school band contests and honor band auditions to require a sight-reading performance.
Typically, the student or ensemble is allowed to silently study the music for a specific
length of time before performing the piece. Band directors often teach students a study
routine to use during this time that typically involves scanning the music for key and
meter signatures and for potential obstacles (Casey, 1991; Sorrells, 1992). Appropriate
mental practice techniques could be useful during this study period.
Statement of the Problem
The research literature regarding mental practice has yielded inconsistent results.
This inconsistency is due to a number of problems with the methodology employed in
mental practice research. Connolly and Williamon (2004) attribute the inconsistency
among research findings to the
wide disparity in the methods employed in the research, including core differences
in the groups of musicians recruited to take part (i.e. their level of skill and
instrument specialization), the procedure implemented (i.e. the amount of time
given for mental rehearsal, the selection and length of the piece to be rehearsed, and
the purpose of the rehearsal itself), and the outcome measure of the performance
skill. What is clear from the extant literature is that musicians themselves vary
considerably in their use of mental rehearsal. (pp. 224-225)
Additionally, many research studies use a design in which subjects attempt mental
practice in a single practice session with little or no training in mental techniques. These
studies have two problems. First, because they only measure the effect of mental practice
after one trial, they fail to consider that training and practice may be necessary to fully
master the technique. Research supports the notion that mental practice should be
practiced on a regular basis in order to be beneficial (Connolly & Williamon, 2004;
Freymuth, 1993; Salmon & Meyer, 1992). Therefore, research that attempts to assess the
effectiveness of mental practice after only one practice session may not be an accurate
indicator of the potential of the technique.
Second, the mental practice techniques used in these studies are often open-ended
and unstructured. Subjects are asked to mentally rehearse a musical selection mentally
with no guidance as to the kind of mental practice to use. This freedom may be beneficial
for those who are experienced with mental practice, but not for those who have never
attempted such techniques before. Research is needed that tests the effect of mental
practice after a consistent period of practice with the techniques, and that provides
structure and training to those with little or no experience with mental rehearsal.
Mental practice techniques used in musical performance are often adapted from
those used in sports, which tend to focus on the visual aspects of performance. Because
of the aural nature of music, mental practice techniques in musical performance should
stress auditory imagery rather than visual imagery as the primary component.
The overwhelming majority of studies that apply mental practice to musical
performance have used individual adult subjects. The extent to which these research
findings transfer to public school music, with its emphasis on ensemble instruction of
younger musicians, remains to be seen. Few studies have been done to test the
effectiveness of mental practice in the school ensemble rehearsal setting. One exception
is a study by Keenan-Takagi (1995), who tested the effect of mental practice in a choral
rehearsal setting. There is little, if any, information regarding the effectiveness of mental
practice techniques in the instrumental ensemble rehearsal. In addition, research that
incorporates mental practice techniques with younger musicians is sparse and
Purpose of the Study
Recent research has focused on mental practice with adult musicians, and relatively
few studies have attempted to apply mental practice techniques to teaching situations
involving younger musicians. This study will attempt to determine the effectiveness of
mental practice with high school band students. A pilot study using middle school band
students indicated that younger musicians could use mental practice techniques
effectively. The study suggested that further research in this area is necessary to
determine the best method of teaching mental practice to younger musicians.
Studies have not allowed for the regular practice of mental rehearsal techniques,
despite the fact that many experts in the field advocate regular practice in order to fully
develop the skills of mental practice. While the literature on mental practice provides
several exercises and techniques, there appears to be a lack of a structured method of
utilizing mental practice. This study will develop and test a six-week structured method
of teaching mental practice to students.
The majority of studies involving mental practice in music use individual subjects.
However, wind and percussion instruments are usually taught as an ensemble in school
music programs. Mental practice techniques are needed that can be used by the school
music teacher with the instrumental ensemble. Therefore, the method of mental practice
will be designed to be appropriate for use by high school bands. The study will evaluate
the performance of both the ensemble as a whole and the student as an individual.
Students will be evaluated in terms of how mental practice affects their sight-reading
performance and prepared performance.
The primary concern of the study is how mental practice techniques should best be
taught to students, and how these techniques can be used in the band class setting.
Therefore, the purpose of this study is to design and test the effectiveness of a structured,
sequential method of mental practice instruction on the musical performance of high
school band students.
Delimitations of the Study
This study focused on a structured method of mental practice techniques as applied
to the high school band class. Many psychologists have suggested that relaxation
techniques or exercises in concentration might complement mental rehearsal. This study
focused on mental practice techniques only relaxation and concentration techniques
were not included.
There is ample evidence that alternating mental and physical practice is superior to
mental practice alone. Therefore, the mental practice treatment used in this study
alternated between mental and physical practice, rather than exclusive mental practice
without physical practice.
The design of the study presented several limitations. The treatment period for this
study was limited to six weeks. More experience with mental practice may be required in
order to assess its effectiveness. Because the participants were high school band students
in grades 9-12, results may not apply to students of other age levels. Four bands from
four different high schools were selected for participation in this study. Because each
band was taught by its respective band director, a teacher effect could have been present.
Teacher-related variables such as years of teaching experience, rapport with students,
personality, and enthusiasm for the study may have influenced the results. Home practice
was not monitored during the treatment period. Additionally, student absences from
school during the treatment period were not accounted for.
As with any study involving covert mental activity, it was impossible to determine
if each student actually engaged in mental practice. It was also impossible to determine
the quality of the mental practice. Students likely had differing levels of concentration
and attention during mental practice sessions. The only way to estimate what the students
were thinking was to ask them at the completion of the study. A post-study questionnaire
asked students to estimate their level of participation in mental practice. However, the
exact amount and quality of mental activity cannot be determined.
The following research questions were addressed in this study:
1. What is the effect of a structured method of mental practice in ensemble
rehearsal on the sight-reading performance of high school band students?
2. What is the effect of a structured method of mental practice in ensemble
rehearsal on the prepared performance of high school band students?
3. What is the effect of a structured method of mental practice in ensemble
rehearsal on the prepared performance of a high school band performing as an
4. What is the effect of mental practice on the musical performance of students
in terms of grade level, gender, and performing instrument?
5. What are the opinions of high school band students regarding mental practice?
The research hypotheses for this study were as follows:
1. Students who receive specific training in mental practice and whose mental
practice sessions were structured by the teacher will make significantly greater
improvement in sight-reading performance than students using an
unstructured method of mental practice, physical practice, or no practice
2. Students who receive specific training in mental practice and whose mental
practice sessions were structured by the teacher will make significantly greater
improvement in prepared performance than students using an unstructured
method of mental practice, physical practice, or no practice (control).
3. A band ensemble that receives specific training in mental practice and whose
mental practice sessions were structured by the teacher will make
considerably greater improvement in prepared performance than an ensemble
using an unstructured method of mental practice, physical practice, or no
4. Within each of the three experimental groups, there will be significant
differences in the mean gain scores of students with regards to gender, grade
level, and instrument.
The corresponding null hypotheses were as follows:
1. There will be no significant differences in the mean gain scores for sight-
reading performance of students who practice using a structured method of
mental practice and those who engage in unstructured mental practice,
physical practice, or no practice.
2. There will be no significant differences in the mean gain scores for prepared
performance of students who practice using a structured method of mental
practice and those who engage in unstructured mental practice, physical
practice, or no practice.
3. There will be no considerable difference in the mean gain scores for ensemble
prepared performance of an ensemble that practices using a structured method
of mental practice and those who engage in unstructured mental practice,
physical practice, or no practice.
4. Within each of the three experimental groups, there will be no significant
differences in the mean gain scores of students with regards to gender, grade
level, and instrument.
Audiation Hearing music in the mind without the physical presence of the sound.
Synonymous with the term "aural imagery."
Band class A school performing ensemble of wind and percussion students comprising
the instrumentation of the complete modern concert band, which typically
includes piccolo, flute, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, alto saxophone,
tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, trumpet, French horn, trombone, baritone,
tuba, and percussion.
Imagery An imaginary or visual picture in the mind that can encompass all the senses.
An imaginary representation of any of the six senses in the mind. Leahey and
Harris (2001, p. 167) define six types of imagery: visual (sight), auditory (sound),
olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), tactile (touch) and kinesthetic (motor).
Mental practice/mental rehearsal The covert, cognitive rehearsal of a skill without
the use of physical movement or sound, but mentally involving all the senses.
Physical practice The actual practice of a skill or action involving all the muscles used
in actual performance.
Prepared performance The performance of a piece of music that the performer has
rehearsed prior to the performance.
Visualization Obtaining and manipulating a visual image in the mind without the
physical presence of the image. Synonymous with the term "visual imagery."
Sight-reading performance The initial performance of a piece of music that the
performer has not previously seen, heard, or played.
Slow-motion practice Slowing down an action in order to focus on the component
parts or movements of the action.
This study was concerned with the development of a method of mental practice and
its effect on the performance of high school wind and percussion students. There is a
considerable amount of literature in the area of mental practice. The literature can be
divided into two groups: research studies and non-empirical literature. Research studies
in mental practice consist of empirical findings related to the mental rehearsal of a skill.
However, studies in this area suffer from the limitation that mental practice is a covert
mental activity that cannot be directly observed.
The non-empirical literature consists primarily of techniques suggested by expert
performers or teachers that are not typically supported by research findings. This
literature review includes both research studies as well as the non-research literature.
While the review concentrates on mental practice as it is applied to music, studies
involving mental practice in non-musical activities are also included.
There is also a considerable amount of literature in the specific area of imagery.
One of the primary components of cognitive science is the idea that the human brain
stores and operates on mental representations or images of the world. It is a fundamental
component of both our perception of music and our aesthetic response to music. Meyer
(1956) affirmed the value of imagery in music when he stated that imagery is "the stimuli
to which the affective response is really made" (p. 256). The role of imagery and its
influence on musical learning has been the subject of numerous research studies. Imagery
plays a central role in the ability to execute mental practice techniques. Because of the
underlying foundation of imagery in mental practice, studies involving imagery and
imagery in music are included in the review.
The present review of literature is divided into four sections: 1) imagery, 2)
theoretical foundations of mental practice, 3) non-empirical approaches to mental
practice, and 4) research studies in mental practice. The chapter concludes with a
summary of findings in the literature.
The concept of mental practice relies on the idea that humans can store and
manipulate images in the brain. Theories involving mental representations have been
found in the work of philosophers and psychologists throughout history. The idea of
mental imagery is fundamental to the cognitive psychologist's proposal of the multi-store
model of the brain and the use of cognitive maps in problem solving. Imagery in music is
primarily concerned with auditory imagery, which is the essential component of
producing or reproducing music in the mind, and therefore is essential to mental practice.
The following section reviews the historical foundations of mental imagery and the
empirical research regarding its application to human behavior and learning, including
imagery in musical learning.
Much of the history of philosophy and psychology has dealt with the idea that the
human brain contains mental representations of objects and events. This idea, known as
the copy theory, is "perhaps the oldest theory of knowledge" and was "originally
proposed by the Greek philosophers Alcmaeon, Empedocles, and Democritus in the
fourth and fifth centuries B.C." (Leahey and Harris, 2001, p. 3). The main idea of copy
theory is that when we perceive an object or event, a mental copy of the object is created
in our minds. Therefore, we only know the about the object itself indirectly, through its
Aristotle echoed the ideas of the copy theory, believing that "humans have a
capacity to produce immaterial objects which they have perceived previously. This
capacity can also be used to recall objects which are stored in memory, as well as to
create visions of real or imaginary objects" (Godoy and Jorgensen, 2001, p. 7). Descartes
elaborated on this idea by stating that imagination could also include new objects that
have not been previously experienced.
Copy theory is paramount in the work of Tolman (1948), who posited that
organisms form internal maps of the world based on environmental stimuli. These
"cognitive maps" are central to Tolman's theories of learning and behavior. Copy theory
also provides the basis for the architecture of cognitive study known as the symbol-
system hypothesis. According to this theory, "an organism or computer stores within it
representations of the world symbols which it manipulates to construct new
representations" (Leahey and Harris, 2001, p. 32).
Leahey and Harris (2001) state that imagery is often defined as a visual picture in
the mind, but that this definition is misleading because imagery can encompass all the
senses. They state that "unlike pictures, imagery is very dynamic and constructive with a
high degree of plasticity. We can image moving objects, changing events, and things and
situations we have never actually seen or experienced" (p. 166). Leahey and Harris define
six types of imagery: visual (sight), auditory (sound), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste),
tactile (touch) and kinesthetic (motor) imagery. Mental imagery is an essential
component of the cognitive maps proposed by cognitive psychologists: "We have
imagery representations of familiar places and use these to find our way around" (Leahey
and Harris, 2001, p. 167).
Piaget and Inhelder (1971) divide imagery into two large groups: reproductive
images, which represent objects or events already known, and anticipatory images, which
represent events that have not previously been perceived. Based on a series of studies,
Piaget and Inhelder conclude that the two classifications of imagery correspond "to an
essential genetic sequence" (p. 352). Reproductive images are formed during the pre-
operational stage of development or "even as soon as the appearance of the symbolic
functions" (p. 352). During the pre-operational stage, these reproductive images are static
and unable to represent movements or transformations. Anticipatory imagery is
developed in the concrete operations stage, along with the ability to represent kinetic
movement and transformation processes.
In his review of scientific literature on mental imagery, Marks (1999) concludes
that "mental imagery serves a significant adaptive function in the preparation of action
and coping with change" (p. 568). Marks' review focuses on the visual mode of mental
imagery. He claims that "mental practice which employs subjectively experienced images
of future events and explores how these events might be influenced by behavioral
intervention enables the experience's future actions to be more effectively targeted
toward his/her goals" (p. 568). According to Marks, the primary function of conscious
mental imagery is "the selection, rehearsal and planning of goal-directed activity" (p.
Marks (1999) distinguishes between a conscious mental imagery used for goal-
directed actions and an unconscious imagery used for habitual actions such as walking.
The conscious form of imagery involves "the representation in consciousness of
perceptual-motor activity in the absence of the activity that is represented" (p. 569). He
also states that the vividness of the imagery affects the success of the perceptual-motor
A core assumption is that conscious mental imagery serves a basic adaptive
function in enabling each person to prepare, rehearse and perfect his or her actions.
Mental imagery provides the means to guide experimentally and transform
experience by running off activity cycles as mental simulations of the real thing.
Such activity rehearsal can only proceed effectively when the rehearsal
incorporates vivid imagery. Imagery that is vivid, through virtue of being clear and
lively, and therefore closely approximating actual perceptual-motor activity, is of
great benefit to action preparation, simulation and rehearsal. (p. 579)
Murphy (2005) suggests that individuals have different levels of imagery ability,
and that the level of imagery ability corresponds to the effect imagery has on
performance. He states that the two important components of imagery ability are
vividness and controllability:
An image is said to be vivid if it is clear and resembles a real experience in some
way. One athlete, for example, tries to imagine successfully sinking a basketball
free throw in the final seconds of a tied game, but she can't "feel" the ball, can't
"see" the net, or can't "hear" the crowd. We say that her imagery is not vivid. On
the other hand, some athletes create vivid images that don't turn out the way they
want. For example, another athlete can vividly imagine himself standing at the free
throw line and can easily feel the imaginary ball in his hands. But whenever he tries
to imagine making a free throw, he sees the ball missing the net. We say that he has
low controllability of his image. (p. 131)
Murphy claims that imagery is useful in learning new skills, but also in retaining skills
over time. "Once athletes have learned a skill, they face the challenge of maintaining
it... the regular rehearsal of learned skills, with the goal of retention, is another widely
used imagery strategy among athletes" (p. 139).
Jeannerod (1995) distinguishes between different types of imagery by determining
"the subjective 'distance' between the self and his own imaginal experience" (p. 1419).
He states that mental images can involve "the self as a spectator watching a visual scene
in which an action is performed by the representing subject himself" (p. 1419). On the
other hand, mental imagery can also be experienced "as the result of the 'first person'
process involving mostly a kinesthetic representation of the action" (p. 1419). According
to Jeannerod, the term 'motor imagery' refers to this latter type of imagery, and occurs
when "the subject feels himself executing a given action, whether it involves the whole
body ... or it is limited to a body part" (pp. 1419-1420).
Mahoney and Avener (1977) examined the psychological factors and cognitive
strategies used by male gymnasts during the final trials for the U.S. Olympic team. They
found positive correlations between superior athletic performance and certain forms of
mental imagery. They also found that better athletes reported a greater use of internal
imagery rather than external imagery. They describe the two different perspectives of
imagery as follows:
In external imagery, a person views himself from the perspective of an external
observer (much like in home movies). Internal imagery, on the other hand, requires
an approximation of the real-life phenomenology such that the person actually
imagines being inside his/her body and experiencing those sensations which might
be expected of the actual situation. (p. 137)
Additional research indicates that imagery from the internal perspective produces activity
in the muscles that are involved in the task, while imagery from the external perspective
produces activity in the eye muscles only (Hale, 1982).
Much of the imagery that is of interest in the field of musical performance is
auditory imagery. Seashore (1938) states that auditory imagery is a dominant presence in
"natural musicians with a rich feeling for music" (p. 6), and that motor imagery is also
well developed in these musicians. Seashore cites the writings of Schumann, Mozart,
Berlioz, and Wagner to illustrate that imagery is a fundamental component of musical
composition. Seashore states that in the highest form of listening, "the actual sounds of
the tones merely furnish the cues for the mental reconstruction that proceeds from the
mind of the listener" (p. 169). Musical imagery is therefore essential for a musical
memory in which we relive the music. Seashore concludes that the mental image
"operates in music in the following three ways: (1) in the hearing of music; (2) in the
recall of music; (3) in the creation of music" (p. 169).
Karpinski (2000) suggests that aural imagery is an essential component to reading
and performing music:
Before performing, musicians should be able to establish a key or set a tempo
without making a sound. The ability to auralize these procedures is valuable not
only in actual performing situations but also for everyday music-reading tasks.
Anyone reading metric tonal music must be able to auralize key and meter before
beginning to interpret and understand the individual notes. And the ability to
auralize the sounds of the individual notes is equally important. Proficient readers
scan ahead, taking in musically meaningful groups of notes and hearing them
internally before producing their sounds. (p. 156)
There is evidence that auditory imagery activates a different area of the brain than
visual imagery. Aleman, Nieuwenstein, Bocker, and de Haan (2000) found that musically
trained subjects performed better than subjects untrained in music on a musical imagery
task and a non-musical auditory imagery task. However, there was no difference between
the two groups on a visual imagery task, suggesting that visual imagery activates
different cortical areas of the brain than auditory imagery.
In a review of several studies involving auditory imagery, Halpern (2001)
concludes that the brain processes both actual sound and aural images in a similar
manner. She states that "parts of the cortex specialized for processing actual sound are
also recruited to process imagined sound. Furthermore, the particular structures
processing imagined music bear some similarity to those processing heard music" (p.
Findings by Washington (1993) support these results. Washington monitored the
electrical currents of the brain in practice conditions that involved mental practice. She
trained two violinists and two violists in a mental rehearsal technique. Quantitative
electroencephalographic measurements were taken of twenty electrode sites during seven
different practice conditions. The practice conditions involved imagined versus actual
playing as well as solo versus chamber (duet) playing. The practice conditions included a
resting baseline, imagining playing the duet without looking at the score, imagining
playing the duet while looking at the score, playing the music alone (one person),
violinist plays while violist imagines playing, violist plays while violinist imagines
playing, and both musicians playing together. Results indicated that the activity of the
brain during imagined musical performance resembles the brain activity during actual
Imagery in Music: General Research
In a series of studies on mental imagery, Betts (1909) dedicated three experiments
to imagery in music. The first experiment resembled a musical eartraining exercise
involving relative pitch. Subjects listened to a note played on the piano and were told the
name of the note. After 30 seconds, another note was played, and subjects were instructed
to write down the name of the second note. Subjects were asked after each trial to report
if they had used an auditory image of the first note to compare to the second note, or if
they just "knew" what the second note was. Results indicated that 81% of the subjects
reportedly used auditory images, with 14 out of 18 subjects reportedly using auditory
images in every trial. The percentage of accuracy for note naming was greatest when
auditory imagery was used, with the "percentage of error being almost twice as high for
those who reported no imagery" (p. 85).
In the second experiment, subjects were asked to study a composition and then
respond to a questionnaire regarding the imagery used while studying the score. The
majority of subjects reported using auditory, kinesthetic, and/or visual imagery in their
silent study of the music. In the third experiment, subjects were asked to describe the
images that appeared in their minds as they listened to a performance of piano music.
Results indicated that 18 out of 19 subjects reported using visual or kinesthetic images as
they listened. Betts (1909) states:
One is impressed with the large amount of imagery reported in all of these tests,
and, even after allowance is made for the tendency of the untrained observer to
over-state his imagery, the conviction still obtains that a great deal of imagery of
visual, auditory, and kinesthetic kinds accompanied the interpretation of the tones
and the music. (p. 86)
Bergen (1967) found that there was a positive correlation between pitch
identification and musical imagery. Imagery scores were determined from an imagery
questionnaire that asked subjects to rate their images of certain sounds on a five-point
scale. To determine pitch identification ability, subjects were presented with a pitch and
asked to locate identical pitches from a series of 10 tones. Bergen states that "because of
the significant number of cues it is capable of providing, an 'image tone' may serve as
the standard against which to compare other tones being judged" (p. 108). He suggests
that the ability to make judgments regarding pitch depends on our internal representations
of those tones.
Imagery in Music: Qualitative Research
The use of mental imagery by professional singers was strongly supported in
Carter's (1993) qualitative study on the issue. Carter interviewed eleven professional
singers currently or previously active in the fields of opera, oratorio, or recital work.
Results indicated that there is a "widespread use of imagery strategies in many areas of
voice training, performing, and teaching" and that "imagery is unique to the individual,
private in nature and employed in accordance with the degree of individual need in
specific situations" (p. 299). The singers reported using mental imagery to check and
retain proper posture and to assist with proper breathing. They used imagery to feel sound
rather than to hear it, feeling the pronunciation of words and the vibrations in different
parts of the head and body. They also used imagery to combat anxiety, tension, and lack
of self-confidence. The vocalists reported using kinesthetic, auditory, and visual imagery.
In a similar study, Moyer (1992) found that 95% of singers interviewed used
mental imagery. The majority of singers used kinesthetic, sensory, and auditory imagery,
and more experienced singers used visuo-spatial imagery as well. Most singers indicated
that they used imagery from an internal perspective, used mental rehearsal techniques,
and imaged pitch and vowel interactively.
Trusheim (1987) interviewed twenty-six orchestral brass players from five major
symphony orchestras regarding the role of mental imagery in their musical performance.
Results indicated that a majority of the musicians used auditory imagery as well as visual,
kinesthetic, and tactile imagery in their musical experiences. The players reportedly used
prior personal experiences as a source of imagery and used imagery elicited in response
to the content of specific musical compositions.
Imagery in Music Education
Serafine (1981) investigated the ability of young children to structure and
manipulate mental images of sounds. Specifically, she sought to determine the extent to
which children are able to mentally combine the images of two different sounds and
predict what they would sound like simultaneously. The study was based on the theories
of mental imagery by Piaget and Inhelder (1971), and dealt primarily with what they
called anticipatory imagery. As stated earlier, anticipatory imagery refers to images that
represent events that have not previously been perceived. Results indicated that many
children ages 3-5 are unable to determine if two simultaneous sounds are the same as two
successive sounds. Serafine states that "they seem incapable of an imaginal combining of
two separate sounds (A=B) in order to predict or anticipate the result (AB)" (p. 106). The
findings support Piaget and Inhelder's theory that developmental stages are related to the
ability to mentally conceive aural images.
Giles, Hayes, and Grant (1993) found that the use of imagery increased
motivational and affective responses of fifth-grade children studying a musical
composition. Children who used imagery exercises in studying a piece of music were
better able to describe the elements of the music than children participating in traditional
activities. In a second study, subjects in the treatment condition listened to a composition
about the Grand Canyon, and were asked to imagine themselves on a camping trip in the
Grand Canyon. They were also asked to draw pictures of what they saw. Although there
was no significant difference between the control and treatment groups in terms of
cognitive test scores and listening concepts, the imagery group did have higher affective
scores. Subjects in the imagery group also responded the most favorably in that they liked
the activity, felt the activity helped them understand the piece, and liked the music
Bagley and Hess (1987) describe multiple ways to use imagery in the classroom,
and provide subject-specific imagery lessons in language arts, math, science, social
studies, art, and music. The lessons ask students to imagine the visual, aural, and
kinesthetic aspects of a place, situation, or event. For example, in a lesson titled "Live at
Symphony Hall," students listen to a symphony recording and are provided with
instructions such as "see the conductor enter," "hear the silence as she taps and raises her
baton," and "feel the rhythm" (p. 200).
Orzolek (2002) found that imagery and movement exercises aimed at increasing the
expressiveness of student conducting increased the ability of students to conduct
expressively. The exercises combined imagery with the movement associated with the
imagery (active imagery). For example, subjects were asked to visualize a volleyball and
physically simulate certain actions with the ball. Another exercise involved imaging and
acting out a sword fight or a rope pulling activity (D. C. Orzolek, personal
communication, October 26, 2004).
Gordon (1980) created the term "audiation" to describe auditory imagery:
"Audiation takes place when one hears music through recall or creation, the sound not
being physically present (except, of course, when one is engaging in musical
performance) and derives musical meaning" (p. 2). Gordon prefers the term audiation
because the word "imagery" often implies a visual representation.
Several recent studies have suggested that audiation-based techniques made no
significant difference in the musical achievement of young band students. In a study that
applied audiation techniques in the beginning band class, Josuweit (1991) found that
there was no significant difference in musical creativity skills between students taught
using an audiation-based approach and those using traditional methods.
Similar results were obtained by Frierson-Campbell (2000) in a study that tested
the effects of audiation-based enrichment activities on the achievement of second-year
wind and percussion students. Results indicated that there were no significant differences
in achievement between the control group and the group using audiation-based activities.
Liperote (2004) found that fourth-grade band students who received audiation-
based instruction in the third-grade were not significantly superior in areas of music
achievement or aptitude than students who did not received audiation-based instruction.
However, Gromko (2004) found that audiation was a significant predictor of sight-
reading ability in high school wind players.
It appears that the extent to which audiation can serve as a teaching technique to
improve musical performance remains unclear. In his review of the literature regarding
audiation, Grashel (1991) cites numerous studies that involve the use of audiation in
assessing student musicians. However, few studies were cited that examined the specific
use of audiation as a teaching tool to improve musical performance. Grashel suggests that
future studies should examine the use of audiation in improving intonation in school
Clearly, imagery plays an important role in the creation and perception of music.
Auditory imagery may be a valuable component to the process of musical composition
(Seashore, 1938), music reading (Gromko, 2004; Karpinski, 2000), music perception
(Bagley and Hess, 1987), conducting (Orzolek, 2002), and musical performance (Carter,
1993; Moyer, 1992; Trusheim, 1987). Imagery ability in children is strongly correlated
with developmental stages (Piaget and Inhelder, 1971; Serafine, 1981). Research
indicates that imagery can increase motivational and affective responses of fifth-grade
children studying a musical composition (Giles, Hayes, and Grant, 1993). The degree to
which imagery is beneficial may depend on the vividness of the image (Marks, 1999;
Murphy, 2005) and the perspective (internal or external) of the imagery (Hale, 1982;
Jeannerod, 1995; Mahoney and Avener, 1977).
Theoretical Foundations of Mental Practice
As it will be shown, many research studies have examined the effect of mental
practice on the performance of a task, and have suggested that mental practice may be
effective in improving performance. How is it possible that mental practice could
facilitate improved performance? Suinn (1993) cites four theories that attempt to explain
how imagery rehearsal helps improve performance: the psychoneuromuscular theory, the
arousal or activation theory, the symbolic learning theory, and the bioinformational or
information processing theory.
The psychoneuromuscular theory claims that when imaging an action, the muscles
that would be used in the real life action are activated, although on a much smaller scale.
Suinn (1993) states that under this theory,
imagery rehearsal duplicates the actual motor pattern being rehearsed, although the
neuromuscular innervations with imagery are of a smaller magnitude than in
physical practice. Although minute, the neuromuscular activation from imagery is
said to be sufficient to enhance the motor schema in the motor cortex or the
priming of the corresponding muscle movement nodes. (p. 493)
Several additional research findings support the notion that mental imagery can cause
activation of the muscles used in performance (Jacobson, 1931; Sli\\, 1940; Suinn,
1980; Wehner, Vogt, and Stadler, 1984).
In a series of studies, Jacobson (1930a, 1930b, 1930c, 1931) found that when a
subject imagined performing a movement task (bending the right arm), the specific
muscles that would have been activated in the real-life movement were contracted. He
states that "contraction of specific muscles takes place following the instruction to
imagine an act performed with the voluntary musculature [and the] movement usually is
of microscopic extent and generally is confined within the group of muscles whose
contraction would be required for the actual performance of the voluntary act" (Jacobson,
1930c, p. 711). Contraction of those specific muscles were not recorded when the subject
did not imagine the action or imagined "performing acts with other parts of his body"
(1930a, p. 606). Jacobson concludes that "the total physiological activity present when
there is imagination of voluntary movement includes neuromuscular processes in the
locale comprised of the imaginary act" (1930a, p. 607).
Jacobson (1931) found that when subjects were asked to imagine bending the right
arm, there was not only a contraction of muscle fibers in the right arm, but also a
contraction of muscles in the ocular region. Jacobson states that this lends evidence to the
idea "that mental activity is not confined to closed circuits within the brain, but that
neuromuscular regions participate" (p. 121).
Suinn (1980) recorded EMG measurements of muscle activity in the legs of a skier
as he imagined himself skiing down a slope. Results indicated that although the athlete
was stationary, muscle responses were similar to those that would be activated in the real
situation: "muscle reactions peaked at various moments in the imagery corresponding to
times at which extra muscle involvement would be expected in real life on such a course.
Where the imagery scene involved a jump, for example, the corresponding EMG
recording showed intense leg activity" (p. 35). He also found that when athletes imagined
themselves in a race, heart rate increased similar to the way it would in a real life
However, Feltz and Landers (1983) cast doubt on the idea that the effects of mental
practice are due to localized innervation of the muscles used in the actual performance.
Instead, they claim that the minute muscle innervations associated with mental practice
are "more general throughout the whole body or a whole limb" (p. 50). They state that
because Jacobson (1930a, 1930b, 1930c, 1931) only placed electrodes on the right arm, it
is unclear whether other muscles were activated when the subject imagined bending the
right arm. They cite the findings of Shi\\ (1938), who found no evidence of localization
of muscle groups during imagery. When subjects imagined squeezing a hand grip with
the right hand, there was a heightened EMG activity in both the right arm as well as the
left leg. Similar non-localized results were found when subject imagined typing, singing,
and playing a musical instrument. Hale (1981, cited in Feltz and Landers, 1983) found
that when subjects imagined performing a curl with the right arm, muscle activity
increased in both the right arm and as well as the triceps.
Regardless of whether muscle activity during mental imagery is localized or
generalized, it appears that mental practice may cause a minute activation of the
musculature. Proponents of the psychoneuromuscular theory believe that mental practice
is effective because it causes a duplication of the motor patterns used in actual
performance. However, proponents of the arousal or activation theory believe that these
muscle responses serve a different purpose.
Arousal or Activation Theory
The arousal (or activation) theory states that the minimal muscle innervations found
during mental practice are a result of the performer psychologically preparing for the
task. Schmidt (1982) states that the "performer is merely preparing for the action, setting
the arousal level, and generally getting prepared for good performance" (p. 520). Feltz
and Landers (1983) state:
In contrast to the deleterious performance effects associated with maximal tension
levels (e.g., reduced accuracy of discrimination), the minimal tension levels
accompanying mental practice would help to prime the muscles. [and] can act
to lower the sensory threshold of the performer and facilitate performance in a wide
variety of motor tasks. (p. 50)
Suinn (1993) states that by this rationale, the arousal would also influence
attention: "From this view, the theory is really a theory of attention and arousal. In this
elaboration, imagery rehearsal focuses attention on task-relevant thoughts and away from
task-irrelevant cues which could disrupt performance" (p. 495).
Symbolic Learning Theory
The symbolic-learning theory states that mental practice may improve performance
because it provides an opportunity to rehearse the symbolic component of a task, rather
than activating the muscles involved. Schmidt (1982) states that during mental practice
the subject "can think about what kinds of things might be tried, the consequences of
each action can be predicted to some extent based on previous experiences with similar
skills, and the learner can perhaps rule out inappropriate courses of action" (p. 520).
Feltz and Landers (1983) state that according to this theory, mental practice
improves performance only if cognitive factors are involved in the task. Suinn (1993)
agrees, stating that mental practice may be more beneficial when it enhances
"performance involving high levels of cognitive requirements, such as during spatial
tasks, tasks involving strategic planning, or sequential learning tasks" (p. 494). By this
definition, music performance would qualify as an act that requires high levels of
cognition. Therefore, mental practice may be beneficial in music to the extent that it
allows the performer to rehearse the symbolic elements of musical performance.
This theory is supported by Sackett (1934), who claims that "the influence of
symbolic rehearsal is limited to those skills in which there is a symbolic control of the
movements involved" (p. 393). Sackett found that mental rehearsal was beneficial to the
retention of a finger maze pattern. He asked subjects to learn a finger maze and then
instructed them to practice the maze using one of three practice conditions. One group
was instructed to practice drawing the maze pattern, the second group was told to practice
the maze pattern by thinking through it, and a third group was told not to practice or think
about the maze pattern at all. Not surprisingly, the drawing group produced the best
retention score, followed by the thinking and no practice groups respectively. Results
indicated that thinking through the maze was beneficial to retention and was better than
no practice at all.
Peynircioglu, Thompson, and Tanielian (2000) found that mental rehearsal
improved the performance of a basketball free-throw shooting task involving high
cognitive demand, but not the performance of a grip strength task involving low cognitive
demand. This finding supports that of Sackett (1934), who found that mental rehearsal
involving the representation of overt actions improves performance only if the task
demands a high level of cognition. Peynircioglu et al. state that
an elaborate cognitive mental strategy such as imagery, which breaks down
thinking into steps and analyzes the upcoming responses, should enhance
performance in sports in which coordination of numerous fine and specific skills is
required, but not performance in sports in which success depends on focusing on
just one gross motor skill. For the latter type of sports, a better type of strategy
appears to be one, such as overt and nonspecific arousal, in which the primary
objective is to gather up strength, focus, and concentration, without having to pay
much attention to cognitive aspects. (p. 155)
Because instrumental musical performance also involves the "coordination of numerous
fine and specific skills" (p. 155), a mental rehearsal strategy would seem to be an
appropriate method of improving musical performance skills.
Mulder, Sjouke, Wiebren, and Hochstenbach (2004) found that subjects showed
significant improvement in a motor task after mental practice only if they had prior
experience with the task, which involved movement of the big toe. Subjects who had no
prior experience with the task could not acquire the muscle movement after mental
practice but could acquire the task after physical practice. Subjects who were already
capable of executing the task showed improvement in the task after mental practice as
well as physical practice. Mulder et al. state: "The conclusion that we can mentally train
only those movements that we have performed before is important, because it may
restrict the use of mental practice in neurological rehabilitation and sports to movement
categories that have been performed earlier" (p. 216).
Mulder et al. (2004) claim that this finding supports the central representation
theory, which posits that mental practice activates a stored representation of the task.
Subjects with no experience in the task would have no such stored representation for
mental practice to operate on. They believe that this finding provides evidence against the
psychoneuromuscular theory. If the psychoneuromuscular theory were valid, then
subjects with no experience with the task "would be able to learn a totally novel
movement by means of mental practice, since mental practice would lead to activation of
the involved target muscle" (p. 215). In this study, no EMG activity was found in the foot
during mental practice.
In their meta-analysis of research on mental practice, Feltz and Landers (1983)
found evidence that the effects of mental practice were evident in both early and later
stages of learning. They conclude that "for tasks high in symbolic or cognitive elements,
mental practice will be the most effective when subjects have had some prior practice
with the task" (p. 48). Similarly, Connolly and Williamon (2004) state that the person
performing mental rehearsal "should have prior experience in executing the task (or one
similar to it)" (p. 226). Ungerleider (1996) agrees, stating that imagery "is based on
memory, and we experience it internally by reconstructing external events in our minds"
Ginns, Chandler, and Sweller (2003) provide support for the notion that mental
practice is more valuable when used to improve performance on previously learned tasks.
They examined the effects of mental rehearsal on subjects' ability to type HTML
computer code or to solve geometry problems. In each experiment, one group was
instructed to study the written steps of the procedure while a second group was instructed
to imagine performing the procedure. Results indicate that mental practice of instructions
was effective only when subjects had prior experience with or knowledge of the task.
Ginns, Chandler, and Sweller (2003) cite the schema construction theory in their
explanation of why prior knowledge is necessary for mental practice to be effective.
They state that new information is processed in working memory, which is a limited
capacity memory store. However, when information is learned it can be organized in
long-term memory into a schema, and can be retrieved and processed in working memory
as a single entity rather than separate pieces of data. By processing this schema as a
single entity, the load on working memory is reduced. With practice, schemas can be
retrieved from long-term memory with very little effort, and require minimal attentional
capacity. They state:
If students are unable to process interacting elements in working memory,
requesting them to imagine those interacting elements will be counterproductive.
They will be better studying the materials to commence schema construction. ... If
students are able to process interacting elements in working memory because
schema construction has sufficiently progressed, further studying of the materials
will have diminishing returns. Automating the information by imagining the
materials is a superior strategy. Finally, it follows that unlearned material
should first be studied to assist in schema construction and then imagined to assist
in schema automation. An imagination strategy followed by a study strategy should
be counterproductive. From an instructional design perspective, the
recommendations that flow from this theory and results are clear-cut. In the initial
phases of learning complex material, students should be advised to study the
information with the assistance of well-structured instruction. Subsequently, once
sufficient learning has occurred, students should cease to "study" the material and
commence to "imagine" it. (p. 247-248)
These findings are consistent with those of Driskell, Copper, and Moran (1994),
who found that mental practice was more effective for subjects who were experienced
with the task than for novices. They state that "mental practice may be more effective,
everything else held constant, if novice subjects are given schematic knowledge before
mental practice of a physical task" (p. 489). Their findings indicate that mental practice
may help novices more with cognitive tasks than physical tasks. Experienced subjects
may benefit from mental practice in both cognitive and physical tasks.
Bioinformational or Information Processing Theory
A fourth and final theory, cited by Suinn (1993) as the bioinformational or
information processing theory, considers mental practice from the standpoint of
information processing mechanisms in the brain. In this theory, imagery activates a
"nci\\ ork of coded propositions stored in long-term mcm, ri (p. 496). This network
functions as a "prototype for behavior ... [that] can be processed by internally generating
prototype-matching information, such as through imagery rehearsal" (p. 496).
Decety (1996) found that when movement is imagined specific areas of the brain
are activated. During imagery, the premotor cortex is activated as the action is prepared,
the prefrontal cortex as the action is initiated, and the cerebellum during the control of
sequences of movement requiring a specific order. According to Decety, converging data
from three different types of experimental paradigm indicate that "representations for
action rely on distributed networks at the cortical and subcortical levels. Indeed, neural
representations for action involve all levels of the motor hierarchy, even the primary
motor conlc\" (p. 294).
Based on this theory, imagery will better enhance performance when it more
closely resembles the actual task. Ziegler (1987) examined the difference between "active
imagery" and "passive imagery." Active imagery involves going through the physical
motions involved in the task during mental rehearsal. Ziegler's subjects imagined
shooting a basketball free throw and simultaneously went through the physical motions
associated with the task, but did not use the ball. Active imagery involves simultaneous
movement and imagery:
Low grade muscle innervation is believed, by some, to be involved in imagery
training, so the adding of the correct movement pattern to the successful imagery
would serve a double benefit. First, it would cause innervation of the appropriate
muscular system and reinforce correct execution of the motor task. Secondly, it
would have the built-in control of proper attentional focus to the task and the
reinforcement of successful practice of the task. (p. 580)
Passive imagery includes mental rehearsal with no physical movements. Ziegler
(1987) describes passive imagery as "the most traditional form of imagery training,"
involving "vivid imagery of the environment, the task elements and the successful
completion of the task" (p. 580). The bioinformational theory suggests that active
imagery would be better than passive imagery because it more closely matches the
prototype for behavior found in the information network.
In her study, Ziegler (1987) tested the effects of imagery rehearsal on basketball
free throw shooting using five practice conditions: passive imagery, active imagery,
physical practice, passive imagery and physical practice, and a no practice control. The
study found no significant differences between the imagery groups, but the active
imagery group did show greater improvement than the physical practice group. For the
current study, active imagery, passive imagery, and passive imagery with physical
practice are incorporated into the mental practice method.
Further research is necessary to more accurately determine the processes by which
mental practice may facilitate improved performance. Perhaps all four positions are
correct, and the answer lies in a combination of the theories. Under this assumption,
mental practice would be effective because it a) activates the muscles used in
performance, b) activates additional musculature that is not used in performance,
preparing the body for action, c) operates on the mental schema of the action, d) provides
an opportunity to rehearse the symbolic component of a task, and e) activates a network
of coded propositions in the brain.
Perhaps the most important conclusion from the literature is the notion that prior
experience with the task may be necessary for mental rehearsal to be effective (Connolly
and Williamon, 2004; Driskell, Copper, and Moran, 1994; Feltz and Landers, 1983;
Ginns, Chandler, and Sweller, 2003; Mulder et al., 2004; Ungerleider, 1996). This
finding has important implications for research in mental practice. It may explain why
some research studies have found that mental practice is not as good as physical practice.
Many of these studies have given the participants a task they have no prior experience
with, and then asked them to mentally rehearse the task. Based on these findings, this
study will allow the participating students to rehearse the compositions for two weeks
(four rehearsals) before attempting any mental practice on the music.
Non-Empirical Approaches to Mental Practice
The following section includes a review of methods that apply mental rehearsal to
practice and performance strategies. The difference between imagery and mental practice
is not always clear in the literature. According to Ungerleider (1996), there is a difference
between mental practice, imagery, and visualization. Mental practice "simply means
repeating a task in your mind, without any movement from your body" (p. 6). Imagery
constitutes "a very specific and very focused type of mental practice that uses all the
senses to create an experience in the mind" (p. 6). Visualization concerns the part of
imagery that involves a visual image of an event. The other senses can also be used in the
imagery experience. The reader is cautioned to be aware that in much of the literature, the
definitions of these terms are not always clear and are often used interchangeably.
Although some of the following techniques are derived from empirical research,
most lack the research findings to accept or reject them as valid techniques. The value of
these methods may be due to the fact that they have been created and used with some
degree of success by expert performers.
Imagery has been recommended as a valuable technique for improving dance
performance (Franklin, 2004; Taylor, 1995). In his book The Psychology of Dance,
Taylor (1995) devotes an entire chapter to dance imagery. According to Taylor, imagery
is a common practice technique among dancers:
A common sight backstage at performances is dancers with their eyes closed,
slowly rehearsing the critical elements of their roles. They are imagining
themselves performing with mastery and virtuosity. They are envisioning the
proper execution of their movements and, most importantly, feeling the artistry of
their role. (p. 86)
He states that dance imagery should be systematically incorporated into rehearsal time,
preparation prior to the performance, and training outside of the studio. According to
Taylor, the benefits of imagery include the enhancement of motivation, concentration,
intensity, and self-confidence.
Taylor (1995) recommends ten techniques to increase the effectiveness and quality
of mental imagery. The following is a summary of those techniques:
1. Imagine total performance Dancers should mentally reproduce all aspects of
performance: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, thinking, and emotional elements.
2. Imagery perspective Dancers should maximize both internal and external
perspectives of performance. An internal perspective involves imagining a
performance through the performer's eyes. An external perspective involves
viewing the performance as an observer, watching the performance from outside
3. Vivid imagery Dancers should use vivid images that are "realistic, detailed,
and clear and include all of the requisite senses, thoughts, and emotions" (p. 88).
4. Imagery control Dancers must not imagine themselves making mistakes in
performance. They must control their imagery so that only successful performances
are imagined. "When dancers engage in poor imagery, they must immediately
correct it with better imagery" (p. 90). Also, when learning new techniques it is
sometimes best to break the skill down into smaller parts and rehearse each part in
slow motion. "Once able to imagine it in slow motion, they can progressively speed
up the imagery until they can perform the skill at normal speed" (p. 90).
5. Combine relaxation with imagery Relaxation exercises can help increase
imagery vividness and control, and can help dancers be more open to imagined
6. Imagine realistic conditions Dancers should imagine performances in the same
conditions that the performance is likely to occur.
7. Imagine realistic performances Learning more complex skills takes time, and
results in some mistakes. Therefore, dancers should not imagine themselves
performing new or complex skills perfectly. Rather, "they should imagine
themselves performing within their ability and coping well with the new demands"
8. Adjust imagery speed Taylor suggests that dancers use slow motion imagery to
learn new skills, and fast motion imagery to increase focus on the performance and
prevent distracting thoughts from invading imagery rehearsal.
9. Feel the imagery Taylor suggests that dancers move their bodies with their
imagery in order to facilitate the physical feeling aspect of imagery.
10. Not feeling right By imagining a successful past performance, dancers can
combat feelings of tightness, bad feelings, or timing problems.
Garfield (1987) recommends mental practice for use by organizational leaders. He
includes mental practice in a list of nine characteristics of peak performers:
[Peak performers] rehearse, in their mind's eye, an incident or event that is
important to them. Mental rehearsal is a core capability of peak performers one
that the Soviets and East Germans have developed extensively in their athletic
programs. Business executives can benefit by rehearsing specific events in the
mind's eye, including all those possible outcomes and possible surprises that can
materialize. (p. 6)
Perhaps this application of mental practice could be extended to helping classroom
teachers improve their teaching. Music educators and college music education majors
could mentally rehearse teaching a specific lesson to a specific class, and could rehearse
different scenarios that are likely to occur in the classroom.
Fanning (1988) provides several guidelines for visualization in sports performance.
He suggests that athletes externally visualize themselves performing as they usually do,
including any mistakes, and then "wind down the action to extreme slow motion" (p.
131), breaking down the moves into smaller parts. Athletes should identify where moves
go \w ir lng. and mentally practice the move in slow motion, watching the moves improve
until they approach perfection. Next, "speed up the film to normal speed" (p. 131) and
see the moves done successfully. Athletes should then internally visualize the moves, first
in slow motion, then at regular speed.
Professional golfers such as Tiger Woods, Bobby Jones, and Jack Nicklaus have
used mental rehearsal and imagery techniques to improve their golf performance
(Andrisani, 2002). Andrisani states that Nicklaus imagines the perfect shot in his mind
before he hits the shot:
Before swinging, he actually is witness to an in-color cinematic flick playing in
his head that includes frames showing the flight path of the shot and its trajectory,
the ball landing in the green, and Nicklaus making the swing that will produce what
was in his mental storyboards. (p. 30)
May (1989) includes mental practice in his review of psychological techniques to
improve athletic performance. May claims that there are three steps to mental rehearsal,
the first two occurring before the actual mental practice begins. The first step is
memorization, which involves defining the task or clarifying exactly what is to be
rehearsed, and becoming immersed in the environment of the sport. The second step is
visual imagery, which involves "producing a vivid image of the situation, one that uses
all your senses" (p. 24). Included in these senses are the feelings involved in the situation,
such as the excitement one might feel when making a good turn on a ski slope. The third
step is the mental rehearsal itself: "Close your eyes and experience the physical activity
mentally and emotionally. Everything you visualize should look and feel the same as if
you were really on the slopes or on the court" (p. 25). May provides an example of the
three steps as applied to performing a golf swing:
1. Center your weight and visualize where you want the ball to go.
2. Experience the easy flow of your swing, feel the impact of the ball and the
follow-through of the club.
3. Visualize lifting your head and seeing the ball land right where you want it to
be. (p. 25)
Syer and Connolly (1984) list five different mental practice techniques:
performance practice, instant preplay, during performance, instant replay, and
performance review. Performance practice involves "visualizing the performance of a
specific skill that you want to develop or improve" (p. 58). It also involves visualizing an
ideal performance. In this technique, one might visualize a performance of a well-known
expert, and then imagine becoming that person. It can also involve visualizing one of
your own past performances that you consider to be perfect.
Instant preplay is a short, compact mental practice that occurs immediately before
the performance. A football kicker might use this form of practice immediately before
attempting a field goal, or a basketball player in the moments before attempting a foul
shot. During performance involves the use of metaphorical imagery during the actual
performance. As an example of this imagery, Syer and Connolly (1984) state: "Many
archers think they are blown around and can't shoot when it's windy. One British archer
we've worked with deals with such conditions by shooting 'as if' she were a steel stake in
the ground" (p. 64). In music, this kind of imagery is similar to Freymuth's (1990)
characterization of musical concepts, which is discussed in the next section.
Instant replay is the opposite of instant preplay, and involves the visualization of a
performance that has just been completed. It can be used to reinforce a good performance
or to review and analyze a poor performance. Instant replay forms "the basis for the
construction of a new instant preplay. The alteration of instant preplay, physical
performance, and instant replay, practiced methodically and well, ensures fairly rapid
improvement" (Syer and Connolly, 1984, p. 67). Freymuth (1990) suggests a similar
three-step sequence in music, discussed in the next section.
The final mental practice type is performance review, which involves recounting an
entire performance or rehearsal in order to analyze it. Syer and Connolly (1984) suggest
that a coach or instructor to be present when recounting the performance in order to take
notes and to ask questions that may trigger additional memories.
Syer and Connolly (1984) distinguish between "closed skills" and "open skills" in
their discussion of mental practice. Closed skills are "skills which are repeated,
predictable and not affected by interaction with any other performers" (p. 62). Diving and
golf are examples of closed skills. Open skills involve "interaction with team mates and
opponents and adapting to a variety of situations" (p. 63). Mental practice can involve
both open and closed skills. Syer and Connolly claim that the mental practice techniques
of preplay and replay involve mostly closed skills. Scales, arpeggios, or brief technical
exercises might be considered closed skills in musical performance, while a long
composition of varying musical passages might require a variety open skills. Ensemble
performing in music could be considered an open skill because the individual
performance depends in part on the other musicians in the ensemble.
Freymuth (1990) provides a thorough exploration of mental practice for musicians.
She states that mental representations can be divided into two categories: mental recall
and mental projection. She defines mental recall as "recreating an experience so that the
mental representation is identical to the past event" (p. 24). Mental recall can be used to
recreate an ideal past performance in order to provide a model of excellent performance
conditions. Mental projection, on the other hand, "is the creation of a mental 'model' that
embodies ideals that you strive for" (p. 24). Mental projection precedes a physical event
and represents a performance that the performer is striving for. "When projecting a
mental model just moments before playing, you are programming your nervous system
and directly influencing the performance" (p. 25).
Freymuth (1990) suggests that these concepts be incorporated into a "Three-Step
Practice Loop" (p. 26). The loop consists of mental projection, physical playing, and
mental recall: "First, project an ideal mental model. Next, try to match the model with
your physical playing. Then, recall and analyze this physical rendition" (p. 26). This is
similar to Syer and Connolly's (1984) alteration of instant preplay, physical performance,
and instant replay, discussed in the previous section.
Freymuth (1990) states that the success of mental practice depends on a high
degree of sensory awareness: "The more conscious you are of sensory feedback while
playing, the more clearly you can imagine playing. In turn, the more vivid the mental
work becomes, the more powerfully it can influence playing and performance" (p. 33).
Freymuth (1990) provides suggestions for teaching mental practice to younger
students. She states that although students may respond favorably to mental practice
training during lessons, they may not be able to perform mental practice at home without
guidance. She recommends that teachers write out "short, specific mental practice and
imagery exercises to make things more concrete" (p. 86). Mental practice techniques
should also be explained to parents.
To begin mental practice with children, students should "carry out a very short,
simple action followed by a mental rehearsal of the action" (p. 87). These actions could
be big motions of the whole body or an arm or leg. Eartraining should be approached the
same way: "First play a note, melody, etc., and have the child sing it back. Then play the
same thing again, and ask the student to repeat the sounds mentally" (Freymuth, 1990, p.
87). Lessons should involve alternating physical actions and mental recall until the
student is prepared to increase the complexity and frequency of the exercises.
Freymuth (1990) suggests that the imagination be used with young children to
develop their instrumental technique and musical ear. Teachers should think of stories
that can be expressed through music, and should characterize musical concepts using
staccato sounds like a jumping rabbit;
glissando swoops like a bird;
pianissimo is like tiptoeing around a sleeping baby. (p. 88)
Students should then be encouraged to move to the music and act out its imaginary
Freymuth (1993) suggests that regular mental rehearsal can serve as a form of
quality control. She states that the kind of imagery used in mental practice should
broaden as learning proceeds:
The focus of imagery probably should change from specific cues and sequences
(during early learning stages) to an overall auditory and kinesthetic Gestalt that
captures the flow of the performance. Appropriately applied, imagery has the
potential for refocusing attention, restoring concentration, and revitalizing
performance. (p. 142)
The mental practice method designed for this study attempts to follow this suggestion. It
allows the students to practice smaller sections of the music using specific forms of
imagery. The method eventually broadens to a mental rehearsal of the entire performance
incorporating all forms of imagery.
Prosser (2000) includes a visualization lesson in his method of musical ear training.
The exercise, called "visualization-improvisation," involves hearing an improvised series
of pitches in the mind and imagining the fingerings on a musical instrument. Although he
provides a picture of a piano keyboard for visualizing purposes, the exercises can be done
by visualizing the fingerings on any instrument. He states that the ability of
the musical mind to internally create or interpret external musical sound .. has
important ramifications for musical use: the skill to envision music as it is
composed, leaving only a final task of physical notation; the capacity to see printed
music and to hear that music without playing it on an instrument; and the
proficiency to hear played or recorded music and to understand its shape and form,
possibly to the extent of seeing in the mind's eye the notes as they are played and
heard. These are, most certainly, worthwhile abilities to seek through study. And
note that these abilities are both analogous and complementary to the act of sight-
reading. (p. 21)
Kirchner (2005) suggests that mental visualization may be a valuable tool for
coping with musical performance anxiety. She states that in addition to visualizing the
performance of a composition, musicians should visualize an entire concert performance.
This might involve a visualization of "walking on the stage, sitting down at the piano and
composing yourself, playing through the program, having the audience favorably
acknowledge the performance and walking off the stage" (p. 32).
Green (1986) suggests numerous practice techniques designed to improve
performance and reduce anxiety in musicians. Several of these techniques utilize mental
rehearsal strategies. Among the suggested techniques, Green suggests that musicians use
visual imagination to see what the fingers and body look like when playing, and even to
imagine that they are a famous composer or performer playing the piece. He recommends
various techniques where musicians try to see themselves performing or imagine a scene
that relates to the music in an attempt to increase expression by moving concentration
away from the printed music. He also provides suggestions for using auditory imagery in
Aside from these, the majority of Green's (1986) techniques involve relaxation,
focus and concentration exercises. Werner (1996) also provides imagery exercises for
musical performance that focus on relaxation and meditation. However, Peynircioglu et
al. (2000) state that mental strategies such as relaxation and focusing do not qualify as
mental rehearsal because they do not focus on specific actions. They state that "rehearsal
involves repeating or thinking about the specific actions that will be engaged in during
the performance. Thus, it is specific in nature; strategies such as attentional focusing or
relaxation are not rehearsal, although they are also covert or mental strategies" (pp. 145-
Campos (1996) suggests that mental practice techniques can be used to improve
trumpet performance. He recommends both visualization techniques and mental rehearsal
of the music. The visualization techniques involve imagining a successful performance.
He states: "Imagine yourself moving across the stage, the sound of the applause, and see
your friends and family supporting you. Take your place, breathing freely and deeply,
and start to play. Actually hear yourself playing the way you want the music to sound" (p.
71). He suggests that performers imagine details such as how they look and act, and
states that "it is imperative to imagine the type of attitudes and emotions you wish to have
on stage" (p. 71). Mental rehearsal of the music involves aural skills to imagine the music
the way the performer wants it to sound. Campos states that some performers "like to
combine the physical manipulation of the instrument, such as pushing the valves or keys,
while doing mental rehearsal" (p. 71). He also suggests that performers should not simply
mentally replay the music as they have just performed it, but as they want it to sound, and
recommends mental rehearsal in slow motion for difficult passages.
Pratt (1990) distinguishes between two methods of reading music. The first
involves looking at the notation and immediately reacting to it on the instrument. The
second method involves convertingn] the symbols into imagined sound, inside your
head" (p. 83). Pratt notes that the first method is a more reliable way to discover the
pitches in a piece, and that during imagery few musicians can imagine a score perfectly.
However, he claims that imagined reading has several benefits not provided by physical
performance alone. Sight-reading on an instrument has a tendency to focus on the
pitches, and incorrect notes are often replayed in order to be corrected, "creating a kind of
musical stammer" (p. 83). Pratt claims that silent reading provides an opportunity to
focus on the other elements of the music such as meter, rhythm, dynamics, texture, and
Pratt (1990) offers several exercises for developing imagery in music that focus on
"non-pitch" elements such as timbre and dynamics. One of these exercises seems
particularly adaptable to the school band rehearsal. The exercise involves "breaking down
the whole process into separate constituent parts" (p. 87). The student is presented with a
music staff upon which is written a second space A in treble clef. The student is asked to
image the notes as:
1. an A played at half a dozen different dynamic levels on a piano; 2. the same note
at the same dynamic levels on a violin/trumpet/flute/harpsichord; 3. the same note,
at various dynamic levels, on various instruments, but repeated in a regular beat
(2/4, 3/4, 6/6), at various speeds (MM=60, MM=90, MM=120), with accents on
first/second notes, from staccatissimo to legato. (p. 87)
This technique was adapted for use as an exercise in the preliminary exercises portion of
the mental practice method designed for this study.
Salmon and Meyer (1992) include mental practice as an alternative solution to
problem solving in practice. They state: "Is slow practice the only way to master a
technically difficult passage? ... What about studying the score away from your
instrument, visualizing in detail the placement of each finger on the keys or the muscles
used elsewhere in the body to produce the sound?" (p. 162). Salmon and Meyer claim
that mental practice strategies are "often hit-or-miss, depending mainly on the
effectiveness with which such techniques are employed" (p. 182). They state that in order
for mental rehearsal to be effective, it must be combined with appropriate practice and
preparation, and should concentrate on positive aspects of performance. They state that
mental practice techniques
cannot substitute for other forms of preparation, but they do provide an extra
margin of security because they can reinforce learning. One advantage of such
techniques is that they make it possible to visualize an ideal performance of a work
even if this level of accomplishment cannot actually be achieved. The performer
can imagine, for instance, playing a technically demanding passage in a musically
sensitive manner, free of technical limitations or mechanical errors. The effect of
such an image can be similar to that of attending a performance by an artist whose
interpretation of a piece evokes such a powerful overall image that it can, at least
temporarily, elevate the level of one's playing. Active rehearsal, particularly when
frequent and systematic, can help achieve and sustain such an effect. (p. 183)
The fact that numerous sources have recommended "frequent and systematic" mental
rehearsal is a central concern of the current study, as previous research has not tested the
effects of a regular or systematic approach to mental practice.
Salmon and Meyer (1992) claim that when we learn a piece of music we form a
mental representation of the music that we use to guide us through the piece. Developing
this internal representation involves a combination of visual, auditory, and tactile or
kinesthetic senses. A visual representation of the music provides us with a visual image
of the musical score, and an auditory representation provides an aural image. A tactile
(touch) or kinesthetic (movement) representation deals with the physical feelings of
playing a piece of music. "Ordinarily, our awareness of tactile and kinesthetic cues is
limited because we are more attentive to visual or auditory information" (p. 96). Salmon
and Meyer state:
A pianist, for example, will probably find it difficult to attend to the sensations of
his or her fingers and joints while listening to the effects of these hand movements.
Some pianists use "silent keyboards" for practice, but usually just to avoid
disturbing other people. However, such a device allows you to separate the sound
from the feel of music. (p. 96)
Wind instrumentalists can "separate the sound from the feel" through silent fingering and
"air articulations." Percussionists can also make use of silent keyboards and silent
Buffington (1989, cited in Salmon and Meyer, 1992) offers six suggestions for
effective mental imagery, summarized as follows:
1. Stress accuracy in mental practice. "When you mentally rehearse a piece of
music, work out a detailed image of how you expect the music to sound and
what you must do to achieve the desired effect. It's a good idea to write down
the features of your imagery exercise, so that you can make your mental
practice consistent from one time to the next" (p. 184).
2. Accompany mental practice with positive images of success and confidence.
3. Put performance problems in perspective one problem measure does not
indicate an overall failure during performance.
4. During imagery focus on performing rather than other factors. "Being task-
oriented in your mental imagery means you focus on hearing yourself play the
first few notes of a piece in your mind, rather than on how the audience might
react or how long you expect to be onstage" (p. 185).
5. Make mental practice resemble the actual performance as much as possible.
6. "Give the practice and refinement of mental rehearsal a chance to develop its
effect. This skill requires rehearsal, and may not work especially effectively
the first few times you try it. Pay attention to the circumstances under which
you practice. Just as active practice profits from minimal distractions, mental
rehearsal is likely to be most effective under relatively tranquil conditions"
Lisk (1987) includes imagery exercises in his book of band rehearsal techniques.
He suggests that students close their eyes to remove visual distraction and to create a
mental image of sound:
Stronger learning occurs when the students close their eyes and create their own
personal images of sound. They can "SEE" Pitch, Balance, Blend, Intonation, Tone
Quality, and Total Ensemble Sound in their MIND'S EYE. There are no exact
images or "pictures" used. It is the uniqueness of this "picture" or image the student
creates which is essential, and not what someone else sees, defines, or imposes. (p.
Lisk offers a teaching procedure that uses mental imagery in the sight-reading of rhythm
patterns. He claims that the practice of compiling and learning a large amount of rhythm
patterns is "unrealistic because it never deals with the most significant need. That is,
spontaneous mental reaction to rhythms when they are needed" (p. 134). According to
Lisk, it is mental awareness, rather than physical processes, that allow us to react to
rhythm patterns. He claims that his teaching technique "creates a spontaneous response to
[the musical] image" (p. 134). However, he suggests that the procedure works best in an
individual lesson situation rather than an ensemble scenario.
The teaching procedure involves showing the student a rhythm pattern written on a
blackboard or piece of paper. After the student sees the pattern, it is removed, and the
student is instructed to remember a picture of the pattern. A pulse is given, and the
student sustains a pitch while imaging the pattern. The student is informed that when the
teacher cuts them off, they are to perform the pattern. This procedure aids in the
development of music reading skills by developing thought processes rather than
continuous physical repetition. This procedure served as a model for an exercise used in
the preliminary exercises of the mental practice method designed for this study.
Lisk (1987) also provides a procedure designed to get students to imagine the
perfect performance. He states:
The mind cannot discern between real or imagined experiences (correctness and
incorrectness). When we use our imagination it is error free. We can hear
perfection in our "minds eye." It is only the mental understanding, not physical (the
students are already aware of embouchure, fingering, etc.), which is important. If
the proper mental understanding and process is in place, the mind will direct the
muscles to produce the imagined expectation. If the phrase or passage is properly
understood by the students, they will not hear mistakes! (p. 138)
His three-step teaching procedure starts with the student playing a passage that contains
technical problems. Then, the student silently imagines playing the passage while the
teacher conducts. Lisk suggests that the imaging of the passage should be done "at least
three times to assure no unnecessary attention to any preconceived problems" (p. 139). In
the third and final step, the student plays the passage as they heard it during the imagined
performance. This technique was adapted for use in the mental practice method of this
J. M. Laverty (personal communication, April 8, 2005) uses a mental practice
technique in the rehearsal of secondary and college level concert bands. In each step of
the method, one physical aspect of playing the instrument is removed until the student is
performing total mental practice. After playing through the passage, students are taken
through the following steps:
1. Air and fingers only. Students are instructed to hear the music played
perfectly in their heads while they silently perform the fingerings and
articulations and blow free air as if actually playing.
2. Fingers only. In this step the articulations and free air are removed, and the
student is instructed to hear the passage while performing the fingerings for
3. No movement. In this step the fingerings are now removed, so that the student
hears the passage in the head without any movement at all.
This method is particularly useful for student musicians because it gradually moves
the student from complete physical practice to complete mental practice. This technique
is similar to Zeigler's (1987) concept of active imagery, where imagery is accompanied
by physical movement simulating the performance. Active imagery techniques were
adapted for use in the mental practice method designed for this study.
Roland (1997) states that mental rehearsal "involves creating in your mind an
image of yourself going through your performance, or parts of it, without actually
physically doing so. This image includes all senses visual, auditory, smell, taste, and
kinesthetic, as well as emotions" (p. 42). He claims that although the reason for the
effectiveness of mental practice is not clear, it appears that "mental rehearsal creates
psychophysiological patterns in the body that prepare the artist to carry out the physical
actions in reality" (p. 42).
Roland (1997) cites four main advantages of mental rehearsal. First, a performer
can rehearse without becoming physically tired, which is an advantage close to
performance time in that the performer can save energy. Second, a performer can
rehearse even when injury prevents or restricts physical practice, or when there is no
access to instruments or practice areas. Third, a performer can train to complete a perfect
performance even when they are physically unable to do so. Finally, mental practice can
"enhance your memory of words, music or steps without having to go through them
physically" (p. 43). Roland claims that an artist can use mental rehearsal to build self-
confidence, reduce anxiety, and increase skill development. Connolly (2001) states that
the value of mental rehearsal is that it
can cut short the learning process and complement the actual practice of skills, as it
is in the brain where the ultimate learning of skills, and unlearning of bad habits,
takes place. The purpose of practicing a skill, mentally or physically, is to tell the
brain, as clearly as possible, how to organize the body's movement. (p. 17)
Although most of the literature cited in this section is not research based, it
provides a valuable insight into how professional performers use mental rehearsal to
improve performance. Much of the empirical research literature includes studies that ask
participants to mentally practice a task, but provide no instruction regarding specific
techniques that may be valuable in mental practice. One of the main purposes of this
study is to design specific exercises and techniques in mental practice for use with the
high school band. The non-empirical literature in this section is valuable in that it
provides specific mental practice techniques, some of which were adapted for the mental
practice method designed for this study.
Research Studies in Mental Practice
The following section includes research studies that have applied mental practice to
both musical and non-musical disciplines. Shanks and Cameron (2000) describe the
typical research study in the area of mental practice:
In a typical study within this research domain, participants have initially been
required to mentally rehearse a task. Common instructions have included asking the
participant to relax, to remain still, and to imagine performing the task successfully
from start to finish. Usually, a control group and a group receiving physical
practice are included for comparison. Following mental or physical practice, or
both, performance is assessed. Mental practice has been observed to have a positive
(enhancing) effect if the performance of the mental practice group exceeds that of
the control group on some measure of speed or accuracy. (p. 305)
Weinberg (1989) summarizes several problems inherent in mental practice
research. First, the covert nature of mental practice causes difficulty in determining what
the subjects are actually thinking about during treatment. This becomes more of a
problem the longer the amount of time mental practice is supposed to occur.
Additionally, "no manipulation checks have been employed in the control groups to
guarantee that these subjects have not been practicing mentally" (p. 202).
Second, Weinberg (1989) suggests that many of the studies involving mental
practice may have been influenced by the Hawthorne effect (treatment groups improving
simply because they received special attention) or other experimental biases.
Improvements of performance "may have been the result of expecting to do better as
opposed to the specific effects of MP [mental practice]" (p. 202). Third, Weinberg states
that individual differences such as skill level, imaging ability, or previous experience
could impact the effectiveness of mental rehearsal. Weinberg recommends that these
variables be controlled and manipulated in future studies.
Freymuth (1993) claims that contradictory findings in mental practice research are
due to the fact that "various ways of analyzing and interpreting results are both possible
and legitimate" and that there are often flaws in the research methodology or design. She
states: "Sometimes an hypothesis seems entirely logical and may even have extensive
anecdotal support, yet research results show no significant differences between
experimental and control groups. The central problem is obviously the subjective nature
of the data" (p. 142).
In his review of research on mental practice, Weinberg (1989) states that the
literature indicates "that mental practice was generally effective in enhancing
performance" and that it "should be used in conjunction with physical practice and
should not be thought of as a replacement for physical practice" (p. 195). The
effectiveness of mental practice seems to be dependent on several variables, including
ability level, type of task, conceptualizing ability, previous experience, and duration of
the practice sessions.
Suinn (1986) includes mental rehearsal as part of a seven-step method to peak
performance. He provides five stages for using imagery in rehearsal, which he calls
visual-motor behavior rehearsal (VMBR). The exercises involve relaxation techniques
whereby the individual switches on a "relaxation scene." Then, the individual is
instructed to switch on different scenes for mental practice, such as a "success-
competition scene" or a "winning-feeling scene." Suinn (1980) found that a skier using
VMBR had the same EMG muscle responses that would have been present in actual
Mental practice may be an effective strategy to help students with learning
disabilities perform motor skills. Gerich (1992) tested the effects of mental practice on a
scarf-juggling task on students with learning disabilities (n = 60). Students were
separated into four groups that performed the task using mental practice, physical
practice, a combination of mental and physical practice, or no practice. Performance was
assessed based on the number of trials necessary for skill acquisition and retention.
Results indicated that there was no significant difference in retention between the mental
practice and physical practice groups, but that the mental practice group required fewer
trials and was more successful in skill acquisition than the other groups.
Allbritton-Grant (1985) found that combined mental and physical practice
significantly improved subjects' ability to mentally measure length. She also found that
mental practice alone produced no significant improvement in the task. However, Shanks
and Cameron (2000) found that mental practice was less effective than either physical
practice or no practice in a sequential reaction time task involving dot location.
Guerrero (1991) interviewed Spanish-speaking college students to determine the
role of mental rehearsal as a strategy for learning a second language. Results of the study
indicated the presence of two major types of mental rehearsal: task-related and self-
related. Task-related rehearsal involves the mental practice of a specific activity or task,
while self-related rehearsal is defined as self-talk which is not directly related to a
particular activity or task. The study revealed that although a majority of the participants
used some form of mental practice, most of them claimed that they did not understand
what it was or how it could be used, and that the study helped them to better understand
mental practice techniques. This is similar to methods in music education where students
are asked to study a piece of music before playing it, and may naturally engage in mental
practice to some extent without actually knowing what it is that they are doing.
Whetstone (1996) examined the effect of mental imagery and mental practice on a
firearm marksmanship task of police officer trainees. The treatment group received a
two-hour imagery training session, ten mental practice sessions lasting five minutes each
and using guided holistic imagery, twenty hours of physical practice at the firing range,
and five minutes of mental practice at home. Guided holistic imagery refers to the
incorporation of all the senses in mental practice. Whetstone states that imagery must be
vivid to be effective, and that a multi-sensory approach increases the vividness of the
image. The control group received the standard firearm marksmanship training, which
involved physically firing between 50 and 150 rounds at targets. Results indicated that
participants in the mental practice group had an average gain score of over thirty points
higher than the control group. Results also indicate that belief in the effectiveness of
mental practice may influence its success. Participants who believed in the effectiveness
of the mental practice techniques scored an average of 42.63 points higher than
participants who had low belief in the technique.
Dijkerman (2004) found that stroke patients who participated in daily motor
imagery rehearsal showed greater improvement on an arm movement task than subjects
in a control group. Results suggest that imagery training could be a valuable technique
for reducing motor deficits in stroke patients.
In his review of the literature, Hall (2002) suggests that imagery practice may be a
valuable tool for learning surgical skills that are cognitive in nature. He lists five potential
applications of mental practice to surgical skills:
1. Early stages of learning a basic skill
2. Diminishing the learning curve for a new procedure
3. Transferring skills from an established technique
4. Hindering the decay of skills
5. Preoperation preparation for a complex procedure. (p. 468)
Hall also proposes a six-stage cyclical technique for mental imagery rehearsal: "1. Task
definition, 2. Prior learning, 3. Mental rehearsal, 4. Reflection, 5. Problem solving, 6.
Reality check" (p. 469).
In their meta-analysis of the literature, Driskell, Copper, and Moran (1994) found
that mental practice was effective in improving performance, but not as effective as
physical practice. Additional findings from their analysis suggest that:
1. Mental practice is effective for both cognitive and physical tasks, but the effect of
mental practice is highly correlated with the amount of cognitive elements
involved in the task.
2. The increase in performance from mental practice declines over time
(approximately three weeks). "To gain the maximum benefits of mental practice,
one should implement refresher training on at least a 1- to 2-week schedule" (p.
3. Mental practice is more beneficial if subjects have prior experience with the task.
4. More mental practice is not always better, and extended sessions can lead to a loss
of concentration. Results indicate that 20 minutes may be an optimal length for
mental practice sessions.
The following section presents research involving mental practice in music and
musical performance. Kohut (1985) states that mental practice "involves training the
unconscious brain to efficiently process and organize information (goals specified by the
conscious brain) and transform it into specific nerve signals to the muscles" (p. 127). He
claims that although numerous studies have been done on mental practice, intensive
research in the area of musical performance is still needed. Kohut warns that mental
practice may result in a decrease in motivation among some students because it lacks
immediate feedback. "Therefore, in order for mental practice to be valuable to us, it
needs to be judiciously alternated with physical practice. In this way the two types of
practice can supplement and complement each other" (p. 128).
In his review of the literature on mental practice, Brooks (1995) states:
Mental practice is a useful technique, elements of which are employed by music
students and music educators in a variety of familiar settings. For example, band
students may "air" and "finger" their parts as their director leads the ensemble in a
timed, silent exercise of an unfamiliar piece just before sight-reading it for a rating
at a band contest; choir members may mentally "sing" through their parts while the
director rehearses with another section of the choir; and conductors may mentally
"conduct" through the first few bars of the opening work of a concert before
walking on stage. (p. 4)
Based on the findings in the literature, Brooks concludes that mental practice is
influenced by task experience and the ability to conceptualize, and short practice sessions
of no more than five minutes are necessary to maintain concentration.
Sisterhen (2004) cites mental practice as a valuable technique for enhancing
musical performance abilities. In her review of the literature, she concludes that students
may benefit from tapping their fingers as if playing the piano while hearing the piece
mentally. She claims that because the "effects of mental practice can deteriorate after a
period of seven days .. students should be advised to practice mentally at least once a
week" (p. 34). According to Sisterhen, music teachers should be aware that mentally
imagining an unsuccessful performance could have a negative impact on performance.
She cautions that if teachers "warn their students to be prepared for anything that could
go \w ir lng. they may be creating a negative image in the student's mind ... Teachers
should remember to spend time in lessons telling students what to do in a competition or
performance, rather than what not to do" (p. 33).
Similarly, Wilson (1994) stresses that mental rehearsal should be optimistic and
should create a vision of success. He recommends that performing artists employ mental
rehearsal as well as visual imagery depicting a perfect performance.
Connolly (2002) examined the effects of a program in mental skills training on the
performance of university level musicians. The qualitative study examined subjects'
perception of the effectiveness of the techniques on their playing after two years in the
three-year program. Results indicate that subjects found mental rehearsal and relaxation
to be the two most useful techniques. Subjects reported using mental rehearsal to "correct
and rehearse specific techni (sic), for developing musical memory, for practicing
technical pieces in the music, and for improving communication, performance, and
musicality" (p. 98). Mental rehearsal was employed in the following manner:
Mental rehearsal was used to visualize an ideal performance both when practicing
and before concerts, or to visualize a specific passage of music to overcome some
technical difficulty (e.g., students envisaged themselves in the concert hall, on the
stage, playing their instrument to a supportive audience). It was often supplemented
with physical movement (e.g., looking at the score while moving the fingers).
Mental imaging was also used to help projection or communication in performance.
Adaptations of mental imaging included imagining the music as different colorful
landscapes; imagining an "ideal self" rather than an "ideal other"; creating stories,
paintings and images to help the performer to find a way through a piece and
connect with it emotionally. (p. 98)
Connolly and Williamon (2004) applied mental skills training used by athletes to
musical performance. They designed a mental skills training program and piloted the
curriculum with 58 conservatory students. Results of the pilot study consisted of
qualitative data obtained through interviews with the students to determine their feelings
and attitudes about the program's effect on their rehearsal and performance skills.
Connolly and Williamon state that in mental rehearsal, "the basic idea is that the senses -
predominately aural, visual, and kinesthetic for the musician should be used to create or
recreate an experience that is similar to a given physical event" (p. 224).
They also state that the two most significant points from the literature are that
"informed physical practice at the highest levels of musicianship can hardly take place
without some sort of cognitive or mental activity" and that "only through committed,
personal effort can the musician expand, differentiate, and fully exploit his or her
repertory of mental strategies" (p. 225).
Connolly and Williamon (2004) claim that the success of mental rehearsal depends
on several factors, including an individual's technical skill level and personal preference
for learning, the conditions of the particular performance, and the extent and method with
which mental rehearsal is practiced. They state: "Ultimately, it is not a question of
adopting either a mental or physical approach, but rather how to make the most of both
approaches. The two are simply not mutually exclusive at the highest levels of
performance" (p. 226).
Connolly and Williamon (2004) summarize several guiding principles for mental
1. Practice regularly.
2. Short, regular sessions are better than long, infrequent sessions.
3. Start with relaxation exercises.
4. Rehearse specific skills or qualities.
5. Be positive and focus on only those aspects that contribute directly to
6. Use all of the senses, including feelings and emotions, and continue to try
and improve the clarity of images.
7. Use both internal and external visualization. When correcting problems,
start with external visualization. When external visualization is correct,
move on to internal visualization.
Connolly and Williamon (2004) offer several strategies for mental practice, and
suggest that these strategies complement the physical practice process. While these
techniques are intended to supplement physical practice, they do not involve any physical
components the techniques are done apart from the instrument or sheet music. The
primary focus of the strategies is on visualizing a performance. Although the aural nature
of music is addressed, the techniques seem to center on imaging the visual and motor
aspects of performance. This may be result of the adaptation of the techniques from
sports psychology, which would not include an aural component in the same sense that
musical performance does. Emmons and Thomas (1998) have also recommended
imagery strategies for musicians adapted from the sports imagery techniques proposed by
Syer and Connolly (1984).
However, problems can arise when attempting to adapt mental practice techniques
used in sports to mental practice in music. First, mental practice in sports tends to stress
visual imagery and the visualization of gross motor tasks. The auditory nature of music
requires auditory imagery to be the primary agent of mental practice. Additionally, the
motor tasks required in musical performance involve fine motor skills rather than the
gross motor skills required of athletes. Therefore, it seems that visualization in sports
would be much easier and more beneficial than visualization in music. For example, an
external perspective visual image of oneself shooting basketball free throws (with large
movements in the hands, arms, and legs) can be a very clear image, compared to a visual
image of oneself performing on a wind instrument, where the only noticeable physical
action is that of the fingers.
Ungerleider (1996) supports this notion by recognizing the possibility that
"throwers, jumpers, vaulters and other field competitors use mental practice more
frequently than those in other events because field events have a large visual component"
(p. 13). He states that many athletes claim that imagery is easier "when you can stop,
visualize your performance and then set or correct the images before proceeding" (p. 13).
Clearly, musical performance differs from these kinds of sports in that it involves a
continuous performance of different tasks rather than a single task of one repetitive
action. In terms of mental practice, music may share a trait with marathon runners, "who
have more difficulty with the visual component and therefore visualize less frequently,
possibly because of fatigue and other distractions during a long race" (p. 13). In some
cases, mental practice in music may be more effective if applied to short, isolated
passages of music rather than entire compositions of great length.
Mental Practice versus Physical Practice
Several studies have attempted to compare mental practice, physical practice, and a
combination of physical and mental practice. In an important and widely cited study,
Ross (1985) found that college trombonists improved the most when using combined
mental and physical practice. Subjects (n = 30) were randomly assigned to one of five
treatment groups: physical practice, mental practice, a combination of physical and
mental practice, mental practice with simulated slide movement, and a no practice control
group. One etude served as both the pretest and posttest. The combined practice group
had the highest gain scores between the pretest and posttest, but was not significantly
better than the physical practice or mental practice with simulated slide movement
groups. It was concluded that a combination of mental and physical practice was just as
beneficial as all-physical practice.
In an attempt to explain why mental practice is effective, Ross (1985) states:
Mental practice, unlike physical practice, focuses the performer's attention on the
cognitive aspects of music performance with less emphasis on the sounds being
made. The performer can now think more carefully about what kinds of things
might be tried, the consequences of each action can be predicted based on
experience, and inappropriate courses of action ruled out. (p. 228)
According to Ross, the value of physical practice is that because it uses both auditory and
kinesthetic feedback, it provides necessary information to the performer regarding the
position of the muscles involved in performance. Therefore, the group that combined
physical and mental practice was "able to benefit from both the feedback associated with
physical practice and the increased concentration on the cognitive aspects of the music"
(p. 228). Ross states: "Because they had just finished a physical trial, the CP [combined
practice] subjects could benefit from the aural feedback obtained during the physical trial,
even as they mentally practiced" (p. 228).
Geerlings (1998) obtained similar results in her investigation of the effect of mental
practice on keyboard performance. Twenty pianists and twenty organists at the
undergraduate and graduate levels were assigned to three treatment groups: mental
practice, physical practice, alternating physical and mental practice, and a control group.
The control group was a no-practice condition that consisted of reading a short article
about sight-reading techniques. Two compositions were each divided in half to comprise
four excerpts: two pretest and two posttest selections. Subjects sight-read the pretest, and
were then allowed to practice the posttest using their assigned practice condition for five
minutes. Subjects then performed the posttest. This was then repeated using the two parts
of the second composition as the pretest and posttest.
Results indicated that the alternating physical and mental practice group had the
highest reduction of pitch errors, followed by the physical practice group and the mental
practice group respectively. For number of pitch errors, a significant difference was
found between alternating physical and mental practice and the mental practice and
control groups. However, there was no significant difference for pitch errors between the
alternating physical and mental practice group and the physical practice group. Geerlings
This finding supports one of the current trends in MP [mental practice] research
that states that PP [physical practice] and alternating PP/MP are often equally as
effective. The alternating PP/MP group was forced to think about what they were
playing. They relied not only on their motor skills during the rehearsal, but also on
their cognitive skills. MP has been found to be more effective in aiding cognitive
skills than motor skills. (p. 59-60)
This study supports the notion that guided instruction is better than rigid instruction.
Subjects "had the freedom to form their own conceptualizations and to use MP [mental
practice] in their own w\ ," (p. 61).
Pierson (1992) examined the effect of mental and physical practice on the musical
performance of fifth-grade beginning band students. Subjects (n = 58) were divided into
physical practice, mental practice, or no practice (control) groups. The mental practice
group practiced for three minutes by studying the music silently without any kinesthetic
movement. The physical practice group actually played the instrument for three minutes.
The control group counted backwards from 200 during the three minutes in order to
prevent any mental practice. Pierson defines mental practice as follows:
During this type of practice the performer analyzes the rhythms, notes, key
signature, and any other musical elements presented on the page, without the
benefit of physical movement. In addition, the instrumentalist tries to imagine the
pitches (audiation or aural imagery) that appear on the page and also tries to
imagine all muscular movement that will occur while actually playing the music.
Subjects sight-read selection 2 from Form A of the Watkins-Farnum Performance
Scale as a pretest. Subjects then practiced selection 2 from Form B of the Watkins-
Farnum Performance Scale for three minutes using one of the three practice conditions.
Subjects then performed selection 2 of Form B as a posttest. Results indicated that the
physical practice group scored significantly higher than the control group. There was no
significant difference between the mental and physical practice groups or the mental
practice and control groups. Pierson (1992) suggests that "it is possible that the
complexity of playing a musical instrument and young age of the subjects negated the
effectiveness of mental practice" (p. 47).
Theiler and Lippman (1995) compared the effectiveness of four practice conditions
on the skill acquisition of guitar and vocal performers (n = 14) ranging in age from 19-29.
Subjects rotated between the practice conditions in a repeated measures design similar to
the one used by Rubin-Rabson (1941). Each rehearsal condition lasted for a total of 12
minutes. The conditions were: physical practice for 12 minutes, alternating three minutes
physical and three minutes mental practice, alternating three minutes physical practice
and three minutes mental practice while listening to a model, and a control group of three
minutes physical practice and three minutes reading a book about performance anxiety.
Results indicated that guitarists reading from a musical score had the highest rating
for pitch accuracy when using mental practice, followed by physical practice, mental
practice with model, and the control condition. For vocalists, mental practice with model
was superior to the other conditions in the areas of pitch accuracy, dynamics, tempo, and
tonal quality. For tonal quality, mental practice was superior to physical practice and the
control condition. Practice condition had no significant effect on rhythmic accuracy.
When mental practice included a model, both guitar and vocal performers could perform
longer portions of the music from memory. Theiler and Lippman (1995) conclude that the
results "certainly confirm that mental practice is effective, but they also suggest that
features of a mental practice regimen should be adjusted to accommodate particular
applications, because different attributes may be optimal for various physical and musical
endeavors" (p. 338).
The effectiveness of mental practice in these studies may have been lessened due to
the fact that 1) students had no training in or experience with mental practice techniques
and 2) students need to be familiar with the task before attempting mental practice of the
task. Because they had no prior experience with the music, the mental practice group
would not have been able to access an auditory image of the piece for use during mental
Knowledge of Results
At least three studies have attempted to determine the role of knowledge of results
in musical practice. Knowledge of results refers to the immediate feedback that a
musician receives from the musical instrument, i.e. the sound itself. When knowledge of
results is denied, the musician receives no aural feedback with which to determine the
correctness or incorrectness of the performance.
Coffman (1987) examined the effect of mental practice and knowledge of results
on piano performance. Subjects were 80 graduate and undergraduate music majors whose
principal instrument was not a keyboard instrument. He employed four different practice
conditions: physical practice, mental practice, alternating physical and mental practice,
and a motivational control. These practice conditions were divided in half, with each half
of each condition receiving either a presence or absence of aural knowledge of results,
resulting in eight treatment conditions. All subjects sight-read a composition as a pretest.
They then practiced a different composition, which served as the posttest, using their
respective practice condition over six trials. The performances were analyzed for the
dependent variables of performance time, number of pitch errors, and number of rhythm
Results indicated that the physical practice and alternating physical and mental
practice groups achieved significantly greater improvement in reducing the amount of
time needed to perform the posttest than the mental practice group, but were not
significantly different from each other. Although all three practice conditions were
significantly better than the control condition, there was no significant difference between
the practice conditions in reducing the number of pitch or rhythmic errors. Knowledge of
results did not appear to be a significant variable for reducing pitch and rhythmic errors.
Coffman (1987) concludes that "modes using physical practice, alone or in alternation
with mental practice, were superior to exclusive mental practice" and that "alternating
physical and mental practice was no less effective than exclusive physical practice" (p.
Similar to Coffman (1987), Brooks (1993, cited in Brooks, 1995) examined the
effects of mental practice, physical practice, and knowledge of results on the performance
of college instrumental music majors. Three practice conditions were each divided in
half, one half using a recorded model and the other half using no recorded model. The six
treatment groups were: mental practice, mental practice with a performance model,
physical practice, physical practice with a performance model, a combination of mental
and physical practice, and a combination of mental and physical practice with a
performance model. Subjects were given a pretest etude, and then practiced a posttest
etude using their assigned practice condition for three practice trials. After the three
practice trials, subjects performed the posttest etude. Results indicated that the presence
of a recorded model did not affect the subjects' performance, and that mental practice
was as effective as physical practice in improving performance.
A related study conducted by Highben and Palmer (2003) examined the effect of
different mental practice conditions on the ability of pianists to perform music from
memory. Subjects participated in four different practice conditions: a normal practice
condition in which subjects played on the digital piano and heard their playing over
headphones, a motor only condition in which subjects moved their fingers on the
keyboard but did not receive auditory feedback (could not hear what they were playing),
an auditory only condition in which subjects heard a recording of the piece but were not
allowed to move their fingers, and a covert practice condition in which subjects did not
move their fingers and heard silence. Results indicated that the normal condition was best
and the covert condition was worst in terms of correctly recalled pitches. There was no
significant difference between the motor only and auditory only conditions and between
the normal and auditory only conditions. Performers with high aural skills were least
affected when auditory feedback was removed. Highben and Palmer suggest that aural
forms of mental practice assist in the learning of unfamiliar music.
Based on these studies, it appears that knowledge of results is not necessary for
musical practice, especially when the subject has strong aural skills. This suggests that
mental rehearsal should not be negatively affected by the absence of auditory feedback
(knowledge of results).
Mental Practice in the Ensemble Rehearsal
Very few research studies have attempted to apply mental practice techniques to the
ensemble rehearsal setting. Perhaps the only study to attempt this is by Keenan-Takagi
(1995), who examined the effects of mental rehearsal during observational learning in the
ensemble setting on the critical listening skills of high school chorus students. Seven
choruses were assigned to an experimental practice condition involving modeling with
mental rehearsal or a control group involving modeling with no mental rehearsal.
Directors were provided with a sample rehearsal script for each condition, which
included nineteen instructions that the director could use. These scripts differed only in
the addition of "the phrase and time to include mental practice" (p. 53) for the treatment
During modeling, the director instructed the students to listen to the model and sing
it back. During modeling with mental rehearsal, the director instructed the students to
listen to the model or various aspects of the model, practice mentally, and then sing it
back. For example, the control group was instructed to "listen and sing this back" (p. 123)
while the treatment group was instructed to "listen and sing it mentally first then sing it
back" (p. 120). Weymuth's Choral Music Achievement Test served as a pretest and
posttest. Results indicated that there was no significant difference between the
experimental and control conditions on the critical listening achievement of the subjects.
Several issues in the design of this study should be noted. Keenan-Takagi (1995)
states that "no time or rehearsal schedule was imposed on the directors" (p. 57), but that
each group was asked to record their amount of rehearsal time. However, the amount of
time spent rehearsing is not included in the presentation of data and may have differed
significantly for each ensemble. There is also no data regarding how much time was
actually spent using the provided scripts, so it is not known how much mental practice
was actually done. The study also did not attempt to determine whether mental practice
improved the musical performance of the subjects. However, this study remains valuable
in that it is one of the few studies to attempt to apply mental practice techniques in the
Sight-Reading and Mental Practice
McPherson (1994) examined the sight-reading techniques used by high school
trumpet and clarinet students in grades seven through twelve. He found that students with
the highest sight-reading scores scanned the music and mentally rehearsed difficult
sections prior to playing the piece. Typically, higher scoring subjects stated that they sang
the harder sections in their heads while executing the fingerings on the instrument.
McPherson states that one of the distinguishing characteristics of competent sight-readers
is an approach that involves "a brief period of mental rehearsal of the major difficulties
before commencing to play" (p. 229). He also suggests that high school students have not
been taught or are unaware that certain strategies may be used to improve sight-reading
scores. In the present study it is hoped that providing specific instruction in mental
practice techniques may help make students aware of a strategy that may help improve
their sight-reading ability.
Brucksch (1991) sought to determine the effects of mental rehearsal on the sight-
reading ability of beginning non-major college guitarists. She also attempted to determine
the effect of differing amounts of mental rehearsal time. Subjects (n = 43) were assigned
to one of two treatment groups or a control group. Sight-reading exercises were used as
the pretest and posttest, which were administered at the beginning and ending of a five-
week treatment period. Treatment group 1 received 5 minutes of mental rehearsal
instruction pertaining to sight-reading for five weeks or a total of 25 minutes of
instruction. Treatment group 2 received 5 minutes of mental rehearsal instruction twice a
week for five weeks, for a total of 50 minutes of instruction. The control group received
no mental rehearsal instruction:
Mental rehearsal instruction was provided by the teacher as follows: The students
were first directed to look at the music for technical information, i.e. time signature,
note values, rhythmic and melodic patterns, and intervals, for one minute. They
were then asked to look at the music for one minute and to imagine themselves
playing the exercise, visualizing the correct left hand and right hand movements
clearly, without physically playing the instrument. The students were then allowed
to play the exercise on their own for one minute, followed by another minute of
mental rehearsal without playing. The final sight-reading activity involved playing
the exercise for one minute (two times through) together as a class, at a pace set by
the instructor. (p. 40-41)
During the pretest and posttest, subjects were given 60 seconds to study the sight-reading
exercise before playing. The same exercises were used in the pretest and the posttest.
Results indicated that there were no significant differences in pitch or rhythm among the
Wirt (1992) studied the effects of mental practice on the sight-reading ability of
junior-high wind instrumentalists in grades seven, eight and nine. Subjects (n = 80) were
divided into four separate treatment groups and one control group. The groups were as
(1) Mental practice only, without movement or sound and without physical
contact with the musical instrument. (2) Mental practice with imagined physical
practice, without any sound and without physical contact with the musical
instrument. (3) Mental practice combined with physical practice while holding the
musical instrument in playing position, but producing no sound. (4) Actual practice
with sound, and (5) a "no practice" control group which performed immediately
without benefit of any kind of practice. (pp. 24-25)
Subjects sight-read a sixteen-measure exercise, were given three minutes to practice
using the practice condition they had been assigned, and were tested again using the same
exercise. Results indicated that there was a significant difference between the control
group and all four treatment groups. Wirt concludes that "even mental practice only (with
no interment) produces better results than no practice at all" (p. 33). There was no
significant difference between groups 3 and 4, suggesting that "mental practice while
fingering along on the instrument is statistically as good as actually practicing on the
instrument" (p. 33).
Several problems are inherent in this study and cause speculation about the validity
of the findings. First, it should be noted that group two was told: "you may make any
physical movements as you see fit" (p. 26). This seems to contradict the description of
group two listed above as "mental practice with imagined physical practice" (p. 24).
Furthermore, in the results chapter, Wirt (1992) describes group two as "mental practice
with instrument in hand/no physical movement/no sound" (p. 32), contradicting the
earlier statement that group two practiced "without physical contact with the instrument"
(p. 24). These discrepancies make the replication of this study difficult, and raise doubts
regarding the validity of the results.
Second, Wirt (1992) defines sight-reading as "performing music which the
musician has never seen" (p. 4). Because the posttest was the same exercise as the pretest,
the posttest cannot be considered a sight-reading exercise because the subjects had
performed it moments earlier in the pretest. The study by Brucksch (1991) listed above
presents the same problem. To completely understand the effect of mental practice on
sight-reading, subjects should be taught mental practice techniques and given a different
piece to sight-read for the posttest. What these studies may actually measure is the effect
of mental practice as a practice condition for rehearsed reading rather than sight-reading.
Length and Placement of Mental Practice
Cahn (2003) investigated the effects of mental practice on the musical performance
of tonal patterns of two difficulty levels. Specifically, he sought to determine the
effectiveness of different amounts of time spent on mental and physical practice.
Undergraduate students (n = 60) were assigned to a physical practice group, a mental
practice group, or one of two combined physical and mental practice groups. One
combined group was assigned a proportion of 66% physical practice and 33% mental
practice, and the other combined group was assigned a proportion of 33% physical
practice and 66% mental practice. Subjects performed a pretest, a three-minute practice
period, and a posttest. Results indicated that there were no significant differences
between the groups in terms of note errors. The two groups with the higher amount of
mental practice scored better on the easy pattern than on the difficult pattern. The scores
for the two groups with higher amounts of physical practice were not significantly
different for the easy and difficult tasks, and were as good as the mental groups on the
A pair of studies by Rubin-Rabson (1941a, 1941b) examined the effects of silent
analysis and mental practice on the memorization and performance of piano music. The
first study (1941a) compared different lengths of silent study prior to performance.
Subjects (n = 9) were given a short composition and allowed to study it silently for three,
six, or nine minutes. Subjects were not told how much time they would have to insure
equal intensity throughout. When time was called, the subject was instructed to write the
score from memory. The writing task was not timed and subjects worked at their own
speed. Subjects then learned the piece at the keyboard in trials in which they played the
piece from beginning to end until the piece was brought to a perfect memorized
performance. Two weeks later the piece was released to measure the retention value of
the differing amounts of preliminary study.
Results indicated that the six-minute period was significantly greater than the three-
minute period in terms of the amount of material transcribed correctly. There was no
significant difference between the six- and nine-minute periods. Rubin-Rabson (1941a)
states that the additional three minutes in the nine-minute group involved overlearning
and were ineffective in the transcription task. The three-minute group required the most
number of keyboard trials required to memorize the piece. The nine-minute group
required the least amount of trials, however, there was no significant difference between
the nine- and six-minute groups. No significant differences were found for retention
between the three study periods. Rubin-Rabson suggests that studying a whole
composition for structure and form, and then studying smaller units of a composition may
"prove more efficient than attempts to memorize and carry too large units" (p. 112).
In the second study, Rubin-Rabson (1941b) compared the effects of three different
practice conditions involving mental practice on piano performance and memorization.
The practice conditions were placed at different times in the practice session. During
mental practice, the participants (n = 9) were instructed to perform the material "mentally
with eyes closed, to maintain the image of the notes as firmly as possible, and to refer to
the music only when there was confusion or uncertainty in [their] mental performance"
(p. 595). Subjects were exposed to three practice conditions: mental practice in the
middle of the practice session, mental practice at the end of the practice session, and no
mental practice. Each condition began with five minutes of analytical pre-study. Group A
then played the piece for 5 trials, and then mentally practiced for four minutes. Subjects
then performed the material until they achieved a perfect memorized performance. Group
B was the same as A except that subjects did not do the final physical practice trials, so
mental rehearsal occurred at the end of the session. Group C played 5 keyboard trials and
then 4 minutes of extra keyboard trials with no mental rehearsal.
Group A (mental practice midway through the session) was significantly superior
to the other methods. It reduced keyboard trials required to learn the piece and achieved
retention as good as that of Group C, which offered four extra minutes of keyboard trials.
Rubin-Rabson (1941b) states that "the four minutes of mental rehearsal placed after the
learning is, apparently, an inferior procedure" (p. 600). It required more keyboard trials
and produced the least amount of retention. Placing mental rehearsal in the middle of the
session is superior because it "is a type of distributed practice, which, although it offers
no actual rest, nevertheless provides a period when the cessation of hand movements
relieves the necessity for maintaining an unbroken sequence, allows further analysis and
reorganization of points of confusion and presents a 're-seeing' of the small musical
figures against the general background" (p. 601). Also, Group B may have been
unsuccessful because "the intensity involved in reaching a learning goal is probably not
duplicated in a mental review after the goal has been reached" (p. 601).
It would be beneficial to replicate this study with the addition of a treatment group
that performed mental practice at the beginning of the practice session. Silent analysis
prior to performing a new piece is a common practice technique. Future studies should
compare the effectiveness of mental practice placed at the beginning, middle, or end of
the practice session.
Motivation and Mental Practice
In a case study of a young beginning clarinet player, Renwick and McPherson
(2000, cited in Parncutt and McPherson, 2002) found that mental practice techniques
were used when the subject practiced a piece she chose to learn as opposed to a piece her
teacher chose. When practicing the piece her teacher assigned, the subject "almost
exclusively used a play-through approach, playing her pieces from beginning to end with
little attention to correcting mistakes" (p. 41). When practicing the piece she chose to
learn herself, the subject displayed an increase "in the way she monitored and controlled
her performance, as evidenced in greater use of silent fingering, silent thinking, singing,
and more varied strategies for correcting wrong notes" (p. 41).
McPherson and McCormick (1999) found that harder working musicians were
more likely to use mental practice techniques. They administered a questionnaire to 190
pianists. Subjects then took a graded music performance exam in order to determine the
relationship between self-regulatory and motivational aspects of learning music. Results
indicated that "students who report higher levels of practice tend to be more inclined to
rehearse music in their minds plus make critical ongoing judgments concerning the
success or otherwise of their efforts" (p. 101).
Other Mental Practice Studies
The use of mental practice in piano performance was included in a study by
Amaize (1993), who identified and ranked twenty-nine musical concepts emphasized by
piano teachers, music teachers, and pianists. Among the concepts listed, mental practice
was ranked 18th.
Rosenthal, Wilson, Evans, and Greenwalt (1988) tested the effects of five different
practice conditions on the musical performance of college instrumental music majors.
Subjects practiced an etude for three minutes using one of the five practice conditions:
modeling (listening to a recording of the piece), singing, silent analysis, free practice, or
control. During silent analysis, the subjects were instructed to "please study the music on
your stand silently for three minutes" (p. 252). This type of silent analysis may have
provided an opportunity for participants to engage in mental practice. No significant
differences were found between the groups in terms of correct notes and articulation.
However, subjects in the silent analysis group scored the best in terms of rhythmic
accuracy. Phrasing was best in the free practice and modeling groups, while tempo
accuracy was best for subjects in the modeling, free practice and silent analysis groups.
Rosenthal et al. state that "silent analysis did not seem to provide any immediate benefits
over sight-reading except in subjects' performance of rhythms" (p. 254). They state that
this may have been because rhythms in the exercise were complex, so "the opportunity
for silent analysis enabled the subjects to work out the analytical aspects of the rhythms.
Had they received more time, the subjects might eventually have focused their
attention on the other elements of the music" (p. 255).
Rosenthal (1984) examined the effects of four different practice conditions on the
performance of graduate instrumental music students. The conditions were guided model,
model only, guide only, and practice only. A verbal script was used to direct the subjects'
attention to specific details of the piece during a six and one-half minute rehearsal. In the
guided model condition, the script was combined with a recorded performance of the
piece. In the model only condition, the subjects listened to the recorded model without
the presence of the script. In the guide only condition, subjects were presented with the
script alone, and pauses occurred after each main point in the script (where the recorded
model occurred in the guided model group script). This was done so that "subjects could
mentally rehearse the selection if so desired" (p. 267).
Results indicated that subjects in the model only group obtained the highest scores
on all variables. Subjects in the guide only and practice only group scored considerably
lower than subjects in the other two groups. The practice only group scored higher than
the guide only group in terms of notes and rhythms, while the guide only group scored
better in dynamics and tempo. Rosenthal (1984) did not attempt to determine or control
the amount of mental practice performed by subjects in the guide only group. Had
participants been instructed to mentally rehearse the selection during breaks in the script,
the study may have yielded different results.
Key findings from the literature presented in this section indicate that a
combination of mental and physical practice may be better than mental practice alone
(Allbritton-Grant, 1985; Coffman, 1987; Geerlings, 1998; Kohut, 1985; Ross, 1985;
Weinberg, 1989). It appears that knowledge of results is not necessary for effective
mental practice (Brooks, 1995; Coffman, 1987; Highben and Palmer, 2003). There is a
lack of research devoted to determining the effect of mental practice on the musical
performance of children and school performing ensembles. Keenan-Takagi (1995)
provides the only study using mental practice in a school ensemble. Her study measured
the effect of mental practice on the critical listening skills of high school chorus students,
and did not measure its effect on student performance. It remains to be determined if
mental practice techniques, as taught to a school music ensemble, will effect student
Several conclusions can be made from the literature regarding mental practice:
1. A combination of mental and physical practice may be better than mental practice
alone (Allbritton-Grant, 1985; Coffman, 1987; Connolly and Williamon, 2004;
Geerlings, 1998; Kohut, 1985; Ross, 1985; Salmon and Meyer, 1992; Weinberg,
2. Knowledge of results does not appear to be necessary for effective mental practice in
music (Brooks, 1995; Coffman, 1987; Highben and Palmer, 2003).
3. Short mental practice sessions may be more beneficial than longer sessions (Brooks,
1995; Connolly and Williamon, 2004; Rubin-Rabson, 1941a).
4. Mental practice should be practiced on a regular basis (Buffington, 1989; Connolly
and Williamon, 2004; Salmon and Meyer, 1992; Sisterhen, 2004).
5. All of the senses should be employed during mental practice (Bagley and Hess, 1987;
Carter, 1993; Connolly and Williamon, 2004; May, 1989; Moyer, 1992; Salmon and
Meyer, 1992; Taylor, 1995; Trusheim, 1987; Whetstone, 1996).
6. Mental practice may help improve sight-reading skills (Brooks, 1995; Karpinski,
2000; McPherson, 1994; Prosser, 2000).
7. Active imagery physical movement simulating the task performance during mental
practice may be more effective than passive imagery alone (Campos, 1996;
Connolly, 2002; McPherson, 1994; Salmon and Meyer, 1992; Taylor, 1995; Wirt,
1992; Ziegler, 1987).
8. An effective routine in mental practice should include points of slow motion imagery
(Campos, 1996; Fanning, 1988; Taylor, 1995).
9. In addition to mental practice on isolated passages or skills, performers should
mentally imagine the performance in its entirety (Campos, 1996; Freymuth, 1993;
Kirchner, 2005; Taylor, 1995).
10. The effectiveness of mental practice depends on the vividness of the imagery
(Freymuth, 1990; Marks, 1999; May, 1989; Murphy, 2005; Taylor, 1995; Whetstone,
11. Mental practice may be more effective if the performer has a strong belief in the
effectiveness of the technique (Whetstone, 1996).
12. It is essential that performers mentally rehearse positive scenarios and performances
with successful outcomes. Visualizing a negative outcome can be detrimental to
performance (Buffington, 1989; Connolly and Williamon, 2004; Sisterhen, 2004;
Taylor, 1995; Wilson, 1994).
13. Prior experience with the task may be necessary for mental rehearsal to be effective
(Brooks, 1995; Connolly and Williamon, 2004; Driskell, Copper, and Moran, 1994;
Feltz and Landers, 1983; Ginns, Chandler, and Sweller, 2003; May, 1989; Mulder et
al., 2004; Ungerleider, 1996).
14. Imagery perspective may influence the effectiveness of mental practice. Taylor
(1995) states that both internal and external imagery should be used. Similarly,
Connolly and Williamon (2004) claim that performers should use both internal and
external visualization. They recommend starting with external visualization when
correcting problems. When external visualization is correct, performers should move
on to internal visualization. However, other research indicates that internal imagery
may be more effective than external imagery (Hale, 1982; Mahoney and Avener,
1977; Moyer, 1992).
15. Mental practice may be more effective if it occurs in the middle of a physical practice
session, rather than at the end or beginning of a practice session (Freymuth, 1990;
Rubin-Rabson, 1941b; Syer and Connolly, 1984).
16. Professional musicians and more successful musicians seem to actively employ
mental practice strategies in their regular practice routines (Carter, 1993; McPherson,
1994; McPherson and McCormick, 1999; Moyer, 1992; Trusheim, 1987).
DESIGN OF THE STUDY
The purpose of this study was to develop and determine the effect of a structured
method of mental practice on the musical performance of high school wind and
percussion students. The mental practice method was based on various techniques
described in the literature, and involved three components: 1) exercises designed to
introduce, define and practice visual, auditory, and motor imagery, 2) exercises that
combined physical and mental practice simultaneously, and 3) exercises that alternated
physical and mental practice.
Five basic questions were addressed: 1) What is the effect of a structured method of
mental practice in ensemble rehearsal on the sight-reading performance of high school
band students? 2) What is the effect of a structured method of mental practice in
ensemble rehearsal on the prepared performance of high school band students? 3) What is
the effect of a structured method of mental practice in ensemble rehearsal on the prepared
performance of a high school band performing as an ensemble? 4) What is the effect of
mental practice on the musical performance of students in terms of grade level, gender,
and performing instrument? 5) What are the opinions of high school band students
regarding mental practice?
The research hypotheses were: 1) Students who receive specific training in mental
practice and whose mental practice sessions were structured by the teacher will make
significantly greater improvement in sight-reading performance than students using an
unstructured method of mental practice, physical practice, or no practice (control).
2) Students who receive specific training in mental practice and whose mental practice
sessions were structured by the teacher will make significantly greater improvement in
prepared performance than students using an unstructured method of mental practice,
physical practice, or no practice (control). 3) A band ensemble that receives specific
training in mental practice and whose mental practice sessions were structured by the
teacher will make considerably greater improvement in prepared performance than an
ensemble using an unstructured method of mental practice, physical practice, or no
practice (control). 4) Within each of the three experimental groups, there will be
significant differences in the mean gain scores of students with regards to gender, grade
level, and instrument.
The corresponding null hypotheses were: 1) There will be no significant differences
in the mean gain scores for sight-reading performance of students who practice using a
structured method of mental practice and those who engage in unstructured mental
practice, physical practice, or no practice. 2) There will be no significant differences in
the mean gain scores for prepared performance of students who practice using a
structured method of mental practice and those who engage in unstructured mental
practice, physical practice, or no practice. 3) There will be no considerable difference in
the mean gain scores for ensemble prepared performance of an ensemble that practices
using a structured method of mental practice and those who engage in unstructured
mental practice, physical practice, or no practice. 4) Within each of the three
experimental groups, there will be no significant differences in the mean gain scores of
students with regards to gender, grade level, and instrument.
A pilot study was conducted in order to better understand the application of mental
practice to the school band rehearsal. The study examined the effect of mental practice on
the intact ensemble performance of two middle school bands in North Central Florida.
Each band was designated as either the treatment group or control group. After consulting
with both band directors regarding the capabilities of the students and the grade level of
music typically performed, the piece Bristol Bay Legend by Robert Sheldon was selected
for use in the study. Each band sight-read the composition as a pretest. The bands then
practiced the piece using an assigned practice condition for 20 minutes a day over three
days for a total of 60 minutes. At the conclusion of the treatment period, each band
performed the composition as a posttest. Each band director conducted and taught her
respective ensemble in all rehearsals.
Band A served as the treatment group (n = 24). On the day prior to the pretest, the
treatment group received 20 minutes of mental practice instruction from the researcher.
This was done in order to introduce participants to the concept of mental practice and to
give them experience using mental practice techniques prior to the practice trials. After
playing the pretest, the treatment group rehearsed the piece using a mental rehearsal
procedure that alternated physical and mental practice. The procedure was designed by
the researcher but loosely based on the choral rehearsal script created by Keenan-Takagi
(1995). The method was not highly structured and allowed the student to choose what
kind of mental practice to use. Before engaging in mental practice, the teacher provided
the following instructions to the students:
Let's play (the first 8 measures) mentally first. Relax, put your horn in your lap,
and remain as still as possible. As I conduct the music, try to imagine yourself
playing the part. Feel your fingers moving to the right notes. Feel your embouchure
and tongue (lips, face muscles, etc.) moving to the right positions. Try to hear what
the rhythm sounds like. Try to hear what the melody sounds like in your head.
Don't touch your instrument with your hands and don't move any muscles. Just
think about playing the music and try to hear what it sounds like in your head.
Band B served as the control group (n = 19). The control group practiced the piece
using traditional rehearsal techniques that only employed physical practice.
Two independent evaluators graded the performances. Each evaluator was a music
education doctoral student with experience and success as a school band director. The
evaluation procedure was based on a method similar to that used by Morrison (2002).
Each ensemble performance was graded in seven areas: pitch accuracy, tone
quality/intonation, rhythmic precision, phrasing, articulation, tempo, and dynamics. Each
of these areas was graded on a five-point scale with 1.0 being poor and 5.0 being
superior. Both evaluators scored the performances at the same time, with the researcher
present to answer any procedural questions. Inter-scorer reliability was calculated using
the Pearson Product-Moment Correlation. Results indicated that there was a relatively
strong positive reliability between evaluators (r = .81).
The data was analyzed based on the mean scores of the two evaluators for each
performance area (5 possible points) and the total score of each performance (35 possible
points). Because the study examined the performance of the intact ensemble, statistical
analysis was not conducted due to a low N (N = 2). Table 3-1 shows the mean pretest,
posttest, and difference scores and difference percentages for each performance area.
There appeared to be a substantial difference in the pretest scores between the
treatment and control group. The treatment group scored higher on the pretest in every
Table 3-1. Pilot study results: Mean pretest, posttest, and difference scores and percent
difference for experimental (n = 24) and control (n = 19) groups
Performance Area Pretest Posttest Difference Difference
Experimental Group 1.5 3.3 1.8 36%
Control Group 1 3 2 40%
Experimental Group 1.6 2.8 1.2 24%
Control Group 1.2 2.95 1.75 35%
Experimental Group 1.75 2.75 1 20%
Control Group 1.1 3.55 2.45 49%
Experimental Group 1.8 3.25 1.45 29%
Control Group 1.25 3.3 2.05 41%
Experimental Group 2.05 2.75 0.7 14%
Control Group 1.35 3.35 2 40%
Experimental Group 1.75 3.45 1.7 34%
Control Group 1.15 3.25 2.1 42%
Experimental Group 1.95 3 1.05 21%
Control Group 1.05 3.55 2.5 50%
Experimental Group 12.4 21.3 8.9 25%
Control Group 8.1 22.95 14.85 42%
performance area than the control group, indicating that the two bands may have begun
the study with unequal abilities.
Scores for both groups improved between the pretest and posttest, and both groups
received similar scores on the posttest. An examination of the difference scores and
percentages reveals that the control group had a greater increase in scores in every area
than the treatment group. However, the difference between the control and treatment
groups appears to be substantial in only three of the seven performance areas. The two
groups did not appear to be substantially different in terms of improvement in the areas of
pitch accuracy, tone quality/intonation, tempo, and phrasing. The physical practice group
seems to have made a noticeable improvement in the areas of rhythmic precision,
articulation, and dynamics. These results suggest that mental practice may be an effective
alternative rehearsal technique for certain performance areas when used as a supplement
to physical practice.
Results of the pilot study presented several implications that were addressed in the
full study. In the pilot study, students in the mental practice group appeared to have
difficulty focusing attention on the task during mental practice. This may have been the
result of a lack of structure provided by the fact that students could choose whether they
mentally rehearsed the rhythm, melody, finger positions, embouchure formations, etc. It
was concluded that a more structured mental practice technique may be necessary for
students at this age level, and that students may benefit more if they are specifically
instructed as to what aspect of the music to attend to during the activity. The full study
addressed this by developing a structured method of mental practice.
Second, findings suggest that the results may have been affected by the fact that
students had no prior experience with the music. The mental practice group was asked to
hear the melody and rhythms in their minds, but may not have had enough experience
with the music to have properly encoded an aural model of the piece into memory. In this
case, subjects would not have been able to hear the melody in their minds in order to
mentally rehearse it. Therefore, the pilot study suggested that mental practice might be
more effective when rehearsing music that students' are familiar with because they
already possess an aural image of the music that they can mentally rehearse. The full
study addressed this concern by providing two weeks of physical practice for all
treatment groups before any mental practice on the music was attempted.
Because the pilot study compared the performance of two intact ensembles, no
statistical analysis was possible. Therefore, the full study sought to measure individual
student performance as well as the performance of the intact ensemble.
Selection of the Participants
Four concert bands from four different high schools in Roanoke County, Virginia,
were selected to participate in the full study. These schools were chosen based on their
similarity to each other in order to obtain as homogeneous a sample as possible. All of
the county band programs operated under the same music curriculum and teaching
philosophy. The county school system had an enrollment of approximately 14,000
students, and was named to the American Music Conference's "Best 100 Communities
for Music Education in America" in the three years immediately prior to the study (2002,
2003, and 2004), and in the school year the study was conducted (2006). Each band
rehearsed during the school day for approximately 250 minutes each week, and
consistently received ratings of "Superior" or "Excellent" at the Virginia State Concert
Band Festival during each of the five years prior to the study. Across the school system,
band has been offered to students beginning in the sixth grade.
In order to gain additional data about the students in each band, students were
asked to complete an information form prior to the study (Appendix A). Further data was
collected in discussions with each teacher and in a survey of the school system's website.
The four bands are compared in Table 3-2 in terms of characteristics of the school, the
teacher, and the band itself.
In terms of school characteristics, all four schools had a similar enrollment size,
with the school for Band C having slightly less students (815). Three of the schools
operated on a daily class schedule with 50 minutes for each class period. The school
schedule for Band B was a block schedule in which classes met every other day for 100
Table 3-2. Comparison of the four participating bands
Characteristic Band A Band B Band C Band D
Class meeting schedule Daily Block Daily Daily
Minutes per class period 50 100 50 50
Total school enrollment 1005 1143 815 1075
Years of teaching experience 5 7 5 28
Years at present school 5 7 3 4
Number of students 57 50 47 46
Girls 22 (39%) 24 (48%) 20 (43%) 25 (53%)
Boys 35 (61%) 26 (52%) 26 (57%) 22 (47%)
Average student age 15.28 15.96 15.23 15.58
Students in private lessons 1(1.7%) 7(14%) 6(13%) 6(13%)
minutes each day. The difference in class meeting schedule between Band B and the
other groups appears to be the most noticeable difference between the schools.
The teacher of Band D had the most teaching experience (28 years). The remaining
three teachers had similar years of teaching experience. No teacher in the study had less
than five years of experience as a high school band director. Each band had a similar
number of students with a similar mean age. Perhaps the most noticeable difference
between the bands is that only one student in Band A took private lessons, while no fewer
than six students in the other bands took private lessons.
Twenty-five students from each band were selected for individual testing for a total
N of 100 students. The assessment of individual performance was administered to only
those instruments considered to be the most common and numerous in high school band
classes. The instruments selected for individual testing were flute, clarinet, alto
saxophone, trumpet, French horn, and trombone. An attempt was made to select an equal
number of each instrument. However, the number of each instrument tested from each
band varied according to band instrumentation and size.
Due to various factors, several students were unable to complete the study. Nine
students from Band D were excluded from the study due to recording equipment
malfunction during the pretest. One student from Band B was excluded because her
instrument was broken during the pretest. Two students from Band C and one student
each from Bands A and B were unable to complete the study due to student absence,
withdrawal from class/school, or other reasons. This left a total N of 86 students who
completed the individual testing. The final number and instrument of students completing
individual testing are presented in Table 3-3.