By Johanna Wilson
When a gymnast steps up to compete at a gymnastics meet he or she is being judged by adjudicators. However, when we sit down to play a musical piece to ourselves we end up being our very own judge, jury, and prison guard. We find ourselves determining whether we fail or succeed, grow or shrink, learn or disappoint before we have a chance of doing any of that. Here are three common things that we as musicians tell ourselves that have a negative impact.
1. Messed Up Again
Whether we pluck, push, pull, slide, or jiggle whatever instrument we play all of us have experienced the dreaded feeling of hitting a wrong note, or playing in a different time signature than we are supposed to, or forgetting that we are supposed to be playing mezzo piano. It can be a very frustrating and irritable thing to happen. Whenever such an occurrence happens to me, I tend to think terrible things about myself and my capabilities. Thoughts such as “You can’t do this. You messed it up this time you will probably mess up next time,” and much worse thoughts appear in my head. This is a good time to stop, take a deep breath and say or think something positive about yourself and the piece that you are working on. In multiple recent studies they have found out that the more you rely on the negative, such as playing something incorrectly from the sheet music version, you are much more apt to repeat it instead of learning and correcting the error. While positive encouragement through a rough patch stimulates your brain to believe that you can do it, and you will find out that you can.
2. Look At Them!
Whether or not you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced musician there will always be someone with more experience than you. This is an amazing opportunity to strive to grow and reach our goals, unfortunately this is often times not how we respond. I will be the first to say that I have listened or watched someone else play an incredible piece and immediately want to shrink into oblivion. My brain goes always jumps to comparing myself to the other person. And not in a good or healthy way either. This is a time when we get to enjoy others hard and determined work and look up to your own potential, a time to start dreaming about everything that is possible in your musical life. When we hear other musician’s pieces we tend to think about how much better they are then ourselves. This is a great time to, if at all possible, ask the musician what his or her practice routine looks like and what they would suggest an aspiring musician should focus on. By gaining knowledge and looking at this as an opportunity to grow you will go far.
3. You’re Not Good Enough
One thing my grandfather used to tell me was that nothing was ever as good as it seems. That’s something that I realized to its full extent when I am never able to play a musical piece good enough to please myself. At first glance I think the sheet music will sound amazing and that for the next 15 years of my life I will be playing that magnificent work of art. Yet I find myself frustrated after I learn the piece because it never seems to live up to my expectations of how I pictured myself playing it. I always find errors in what I do or berate myself for not sounding “good enough.” I get compliments from others all the time about the music I play, but normally the compliments go in one ear and out the other. Setting unrealistic expectations of ourselves just sets us up for failure. Instead of always saying, “nothing is good enough,” we need to feel a sense of accomplishment in our hard work and take the results as encouragement. One thing that I have always loved doing is recording myself. Now, there is a hitch to this, because often times when we record ourselves, we listen immediately to the recording and quickly start judging ourselves. This time after you record, set the recording aside without listening to it and in a month or two take it out and listen to it. Doing this helps us look back in the past to recollect and see ourselves as moving forward, growing, and accomplishing new tasks. Try doing this every month for six months and you will not only find yourself with a lot of laughs and smiles, but you will be able to see that there is growth to your music and that there is never an arriving point in how much you know.
Back to the Beginning
Dealing with negative self-talk is a struggle all of us have to deal with in our music. This is a time when we need to go back to the original reason we play. Music was not made to be constantly criticized or to achieve a certain level of aspiration. Music was created to express emotions and feelings, to share an individual’s creativity to the world, to ENJOY. Don’t forget that the next time you hit a wrong note, or listen to another artist, or finish a song. Celebrate your progress!