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Andrew Hodges
Category: Sound Research

Flow: In Music And Beyond - Andrew Hodges


Flow is a state of deep concentration and absorption in an activity. It is often characterised by a sense of timelessness, effortless effort, and complete involvement in the task at hand.

Flow can happen playing a sport, performing on stage, or working on a creative project that you are completely absorbed in.

This is the domain in The Musician's Way which relates to the Intuitive & Unstructured. It represents a sense of freedom, of just going with the flow. It has the potential to be chaotic even anarchic but it is from this mental framework that true creativity emerges.

How does Flow relate to music?

For many musicians Flow is a state they very much want to achieve. This is the point at which for the performer the music comes alive. In this state they become one with the music. In many ways they lose themselves within the depths of the music.

To achieve Flow does however require a certain amount of preparation which can often include the processes of mindfulness and meditation. Issues such as suspending judgement and permission for error need to be understood and worked through.

Naturally competency is much sort-after in musical performance but it can also inhibit Flow. It may seem somewhat counter-intuitive but beginners can often enter this state more easily than advanced players. Advanced players have much more to overcome, such as years of self-judgement and difficulties with letting go of strongly-held views and preconceptions. However once they do let go they find the experience enormously freeing. Instead of having to focus so much on being correct, musicians development a real playfulness and spontaneity in their performance.

So getting into a state of Flow is in fact available to everyone if they are willing to let down their guard, releasing their inhibitions. This is partly because it can occur almost accidentally even to the complete novice. In music an individual with an 'easy access' instrument (such as a xylphone or metalophone) in a group of improvisers working in a non-judgemental environment has the potential to move into a state of Flow. It is this author's experience that on numerous improvisation workshops beginners along with professionals have been able to not only create beautiful pieces of music but also report that they regularly entered a heightened state akin to Flow. The key therefore to enabling a state of flow is the creation of a safe space where judgement is suspended, where active listening is encouraged and all ideas are accepted and folded into the mix.

What does this mean in non-musical fields?

That last sentence applied everywhere. It's very obvious that if you want to allow a group to create with musical freedom then the above qualities need to be present. Leaders must focus their best efforts on facilitating these in their team or organisation. Team members will need to understand that their working environment will need to be different...more

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