- the brain decodes visual stimuli and aural stimuli in different areas. Decoding visual stimuli is more cognitive, which also means visual distractions can more readily be blocked out.
- Aural distractions, being harder to filter, will have a greater effect on us. The greatest of aural distractions is not just noise, but surprise, inconsistent noises.
What does this mean for musicians? Consider a solo instrumental performance. We make every effort to focus on, within the moment, our expressive music. But wrong notes happen (the trumpet "clam"). Science tells us that these shake us physiologically, breaking our focus, and putting future notes in jeopardy. There are two things we can do about this:
- PRACTICE A LOT: You'll miss fewer notes in performance!
- PUT YOURSELF IN PRESSURE SITUATIONS OFTEN: We may not be able to control the fact that audible distractions shake us, but we can control our reaction. Those that minimize the anger after mistakes are in the best condition to execute. Anger quickly raises the physiological stress indicators, and this makes playing an instrument more challenging, leading to more mistakes. A high-intensity, critical mentality may be useful in the practice room, but there is already too much heat on us while we are performing. A calm mind resists the mental "commentary" while we play. That is a good thing. How do we achieve the calm mind? We've got to perform as often as possible in many different pressure situations. Save your critiquing for after the performance and include a critique of how well you responded to your missed notes (the distractions). Did you dwell on it well after it happened? Did you allow your "blood to boil?"
Finally, the question begs to be asked - why do we put ourselves through this? In my opinion, playing an instrument in public is one of the toughest things to execute. The experience gained in the heat of the musical moment will definitely translate to other areas of life - public speaking, thinking quickly in a meeting, keeping poise when you are being judged (a job interview, date, etc.). Musical performances will stay with you all of your life. Make the most of them (prepare well & execute as calmly as you can), and you will always value and cherish the experience!
Sport Science: FT Distractions