Musicians at their most creative while away from their instruments

Research at Cambridge University casts new light on inspiration

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New research has revealed that musicians may be most creative when not actually playing an instrument.

The location of a performer’s musical inspiration could be far more mundane than was previously realised: singing in the shower, or humming to yourself, are both thought to be everyday activities which can significantly alter interpretations of music.

Professor John Rink led the research, carrying out studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and the Royal College of Music, which included questionnaires, interviews, focus groups, and the filming of lessons. They aimed to uncover the times at which musicians experienced the most intense creative processes.

Particularly interesting was a film made of a horn player practising alone. 34 creative episodes were experienced during practise, and 23 of these occurred while the musician was not playing his instrument, and was instead engaged in other activities to do with the music such as humming, tapping and conducting himself.

'By discovering for themselves key aspects of the creative process, the performers in our study have been able to reflect on what it is that makes them individually creative and to unlock more of that for themselves,' said Professor Rink.

'Although it was not our goal to change what anyone does, we have also been gratified to hear teachers who took part in our study say that they will approach their work differently, based on what they have seen and heard.'

The research was carried out by the Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice, which is a collaboration between the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, King's College, London and Royal Holloway.

More information can be found at the centre's website.

Laura Wagg