To get ‘in the zone’ for music, meditate first

U. OREGON (US) — People seem to get more out of music if they’ve engaged in mindfulness meditation beforehand, even if it’s a piece they’ve heard many times in the past.

College music students exposed to brief mindfulness meditation before hearing a passage from a familiar opera engaged with the music as if they were “in the zone,” says Frank Diaz, a professor of music education at the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance.


In a study appearing online ahead of publication in Psychology of Music, he reports a rise of focused engagement for students who listened to a 10-minute excerpt of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Boheme” after listening to a 15-minute recording of a segment produced by the Duke University Center for Mindfulness Research.

Mindfulness is an ancient technique that helps direct a person’s consciousness into the present. In this case, listeners were reminded to focus on physical sensations or their breathing if their attention drifted.

The 132 student participants were divided into four groups. Those undergoing mindfulness preparation were then additionally divided into subgroups that were tested for two types of peak experiences, a highly emotional experience known as aesthetic response, and flow—the listeners’ effortless engagement or how “in the zone” they were as they listened to the music.

Control groups, which did not hear the mindfulness recording, were tested either for aesthetic or flow responses. Subjects were tested for real time responses using a Continuous Response Digital Interface, a device that allows subjects to simply turn a dial in response to how the music moves them.

Overall, 97 percent of the participants had either one or several moments of flow or aesthetic response. Of the 69 subjects who engaged in mindfulness, 64 percent thought the technique had enhanced their listening experience.

There was a discrepancy between the subjects’ responses gathered in real time and summative data—how they reacted by turning the dial while listening vs. how they recalled their experience at the end of the experiments.

Diaz says that the real time responses more accurately captured the attention being devoted to the music, and that the mindfulness technique helped drive participants into the zone of readiness to listen to music they’ve heard many times before.

“It tends to take habituated responses and renews them. It’s almost like a reset button,” Diaz says. “For musicians, if you’re a symphony player, you’ve probably played ‘Beethoven’s No. 9′ 10,000 times. Your response is so habituated that you don’t get any pleasure out of it anymore.

“The cool thing about La Boheme is that it has been used in music-related studies for years, and we have these patterns documented over time by people studying responses to music. That lets you compare past and present with a new group.”

The study, he says, has potential ramifications for music education. “Attention can be modified. … We really found significant increases in the participants’ aesthetic and flow experience. Some were intense. They were really in the zone.”

Source: University of Oregon