Mental imagery in music performance: underlying mechanisms and potential benefits
This paper examines the role of mental imagery in music performance. Self-reports by musicians, and various other sources of anecdotal evidence, suggest that covert auditory, motor, and/or visual imagery facilitate multiple aspects of music performance. The cognitive and motor mechanisms that underlie such imagery include working memory, action simulation, and internal models. Together these mechanisms support the generation of anticipatory images that enable thorough action planning and movement execution that is characterized by efficiency, temporal precision, and biomechanical economy. In ensemble performance, anticipatory imagery may facilitate interpersonal coordination by enhancing online predictions about others’ action timing. Overlap in brain regions subserving auditory imagery and temporal prediction is consistent with this view. It is concluded that individual differences in anticipatory imagery may be a source of variation in expressive performance excellence and the quality of ensemble cohesion. Engaging in effortful musical imagery is therefore justified when artistic perfection is the goal.