Tag Archives: inner language

musical meditation technique: strengthening the mind’s ear

By knowing words you do not know the language. What you know is the outside language; the inner language is known by knowing the language of ideas.

Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Healing Papers

Meditative practice (i.e. playing music within yourself) has considerable benefits when learning a piece of music. Incidentally, it can also come in handy whenever your instrument isn’t within immediate reach (for example, if you feel like practicing whilst traveling, or if for health reasons you must avoid overusing your hands or wrists and refrain from playing for a while…). Following the advice of French pianist Jean-Claude Henriot (my mentor back in the days when I was a student at the Conservatoire in Évry), I recall making use of this technique in order to prepare for classical piano end-of-year exams and recitals.

All you have to do is choose a piece of music which, to the best of your knowledge, you are close to having committed to memory¹. Then play it in your mind as precisely as possible. “Hear” it in great detail, “feel” the touch of the piano². For beginner/intermediate pianists, Bach’s Inventions work really well because they consist of only two contrapuntal parts — not too arduous (particularly at slower tempi), but just challenging enough to try and hear simultaneously… Of course, you can choose virtually any piece of music. When a passage seems unclear, go back and “replay” it in your mind again, (much) slower if necessary. Repeat it as many times as needed, just as you would when practicing on your instrument, until you’re able to hear each note, each rhythm, each item of phrasing or expression, with utmost precision.

This kind of practice certainly requires sharp concentration, and thus works best in a calm environment. I used to go on long walks in the fields near my parents’ house to do this. Natural settings such as mountains, forests, or bodies of water are perfect for such meditative activities… As many of us live in cities though, any location where you’ll be able to enjoy some piece and quiet and remain undisturbed for a while will do just fine.

It may take some time to grow accustomed to turning your attention within yourself and practicing inwardly. But don’t give up; patience is key here! If practiced thoroughly, the benefits of musical meditation will certainly be felt upon returning to your instrument as soon as the following day (it’s often a good idea to allow the mental exercise to fully sink in overnight). Overall, your knowledge of your chosen piece of music will deepen considerably. As you rely less on muscle memory and more on hearing inwardly, your true memory, which stems from the heart, will take charge. No longer will you struggle to remember what notes to play. On the contrary: a sense of freedom will pervade your playing and enable you to wholly concentrate on delivering a vibrant message, with full expressiveness and musicality.

So the language of ideas cannot be heard by the ears alone, the hearing of the heart must be open for it.

Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Healing Papers


¹ By doing this exercise, you’ll likely find out that you were in fact relying on muscle memory too much — if not exclusively — before, particularly when playing the very sections that need the most polishing and internalising.

² This also works for non-pianists of course, as the goal is to develop the inner musical sense, in order to complement (or, should I say more accurately, provide a foundation for) the more familiar feeling of making music in the physical world. Just mentally recall the sensation you experience when playing your particular instrument.