Studies in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development > Vol. 8, No. 2 (2011)

In the zone: An autoethnographic study exploring the links between flow and mindfulness for a piano accompanist

Judith Brown, School of Creative and Performing Arts, CQUniversity Australia


This paper is part of a broader autoethnographic study of the phenomenon of flow as experienced by a piano accompanist. Flow is a “state of joy, creativity and total involvement with life” (Csikszentmihalyi, 2002, p. 213), that can be experienced when individuals are totally absorbed in a challenging activity. Csikszentmihalyi’s definition of the flow phenomenon describes an experience with seven distinct characteristics, and this paper explores the links between one of these characteristics: focussed attention, and one of the concepts related to flow: mindfulness (Langer, 1989; Wright, Sadlo & Stew, 2006). Using autoethnography, this study of the flow experiences of a piano accompanist teases out the complex nature of the music performance from a personal perspective. Ellis and Bochner (2000) describe autoethnography as the process where authors use their own experiences in their culture to look more deeply at self and self-other interactions. In these contexts, autoethnography, as a way of studying the self and connecting the personal to the cultural and social (Ellis, 2004), provides a framework for critical self-reflection for me as both a performer and teacher to examine my practice and the effects of my practice on my students’ learning. This critical self-reflection is also informed by the work of Schön (1983, 1987). Through the use of an autoethnographic narrative I aim to shed light on how one of the characteristics of flow - focussed attention, and one of the concepts related to flow – mindfulness, is experienced by a piano accompanist and how this informs my teaching of pianists as collaborative artists.

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