Zoning in on Experiential States

‹-- PreviousNext --›


It’s many years now since I first wrote about the different zones of experience, and I recently had cause to explore these ideas with The Telfordaires’ Music Team. We are preparing to welcome a group of relative novices to join us for a 6-week Learn to Sing in Harmony Course, and this model was a really useful way to frame the way we look after our visitors.

Established chorus members find rehearsal night a comfortable space. They know the people, they know their way round the venue, they know the routines. They have well-developed coping strategies for when they don’t know something. Our task as a Music Team is mostly pushing people out of their comfort zones to get them into their learning zones.

For people walking into the space for the first time, they are not in the least comfortable, everything is new. They are already deep in their learning zone just from the unfamiliarity of the experience. Our task is for these people is keeping them out their panic zones.

We discussed Daniel Coyle’s slightly different formulation of this idea for its useful diagnostic value. Rather than describe the zones in terms of subjective experience, he identifies them by the frequency and quality making mistakes. When people are making mistakes from which they can recover, they are in the sweet spot: the sound of self-correction is the sound of active learning.

When people are floundering in what Coyle terms the ‘thrash zone’, that’s where they’ll be feeling panicked and helpless and stuck. Someone who is struggling to find their way into the music needs our help not just to break things down into slower, smaller, more manageable steps but also to feel okay about being there, about doing this. We need to meet their safety and belonging needs as much or more than their learning needs.

Our baritone section leader Simon then asked a good question, as is his way. How do these zones relate to artistry? Clearly, artistry is absent in the panic/thrash zone, but there’s an interesting tension between the accuracy of the comfort zone (where nobody is making mistakes, but there’s little or no learning going on) and the imperfection of the learning zone where all the growth happens.

And of course, this tension between perfection and creativity runs through the aesthetics of musical performance. And thinking about it in terms of the rehearsal experience made us think through the way that the process of preparing for performance is largely about rehearsing something enough to bring it into our comfort zones. Taking it out into the performance space then pushes us back out of the comfort zone: the music might be familiar, but the environment, and – crucially – the relationship with external listeners is very different.

This is why we need to perform to grow as musicians. We can invent all kinds of exercises and games to push ourselves out in our learning zones in rehearsal, but these never offer the same opportunities for growth that you get by sharing the music with a different set of human consciousnesses.

...found this helpful?

I provide this content free of charge, because I like to be helpful. If you have found it useful, you may wish to make a donation to the causes I support to say thank you.

Archive by date

Syndicate content