Written by & under performance, teaching.

Welcome everyone! In my last post I talked about the “Mental Game” of practice, positive mental strategies to develop efficient practice habits. If you didn’t read it, I encourage you to go back and look at it because not only is it important for all musicians, but it also ties into this post quite a bit.

Today I’m talking about the negative psychological factors of which we are all probably guilty. These are three mental states that we want to avoid and/or approach from different angles to create a positive approach to the problem. As a foreword, this discussion comes directly from a booklet titled “On Practicing,” by Ricardo Iznaola. In the book, Iznaola presents incredible discussions about various practice habits from goal-oriented practice to finding motivation to time management and much, much more. Every musician should have this book in their libraries and read it often.

Anyway, let’s dive in!

Three Negative Psychological Factors in Practicing

1.     Expectations. This is probably the most important part of our psychological training. We all have expectations of where we should be in a month, year, 10 years etc.… Those expectations can often be a great aid in our development IF we approach them by way of setting realistic goals. That being said, we often don’t take this approach but rather we say things like (and this is directly from the book) “I’ve been playing guitar for 3 years. I should be able to play a, b, or c.” That’s an easy way to trap yourself into a fruitless few years filled with needless stress and countless ‘failures.’ If you approach that same question from the standpoint of goals, you’re much more likely to find success in work. It would look something like “In three years I want to play x, y, and z and in order to achieve that I’m going to do a, b, and c by these dates.” Does framing the concept of expectations this way mean you’re going to magically achieve x, y, and z by your desired date? Absolutely not, but you’ve given yourself concrete steps on how to achieve your goals over the course of the next three years as opposed to just assuming that’s where you should be.

2.     Memories. This is an interesting one, and one that I, admittedly, hadn’t really thought much about. This is the balance of good and bad memories. Iznaola encourages us to leave the bad memories out of the practice room. Have you ever had a bad performance experience? Take notes from it but don’t give it the opportunity to influence your future practice and performance. I’ve had plenty of performances where I had a memory slip and then the next time I perform that piece all I can think about is how I memory slipped in the measures coming up! Do you think that helped me during the second performance? Nope. Figure out why you memory slipped during the practice sessions, work on it, and the next time you perform that piece don’t give past performances a second thought. Iznaola quotes the Russian theater director Stanislavski as saying “today, here, now.” We can learn from that. Live in the here and now and rely on the hard work you put into your practice.

3.     Comparisons. This is DEFINITELY one I think about all the time. Looking up to people is a fantastic source of inspiration. However, comparing yourself to others, more often than not, will lead to negative self-judgement. I find that most of these memories manifest themselves when watching our peers. When watching my peers, I begin to think “I wish I could do that” or “I could do that better.” Those are both such ridiculous thoughts it’s crazy! My biggest suggestion is this: Humble yourself so you can simply appreciate the value your peers offer the music community and then use that as inspiration to contribute your own value. That idea extends far beyond the walls of music. If you want to succeed in life, remain humble and appreciate people for their contribution, but you also have to acknowledge that you have a positive contribution as well. Once you can get into that state of mind, you will begin to see even more personal and professional growth.

These are three ideas that I think are of the upmost importance for your mental success as a musician and more generally as a member of the music community. It’s so easy to fall into a negative mental state as a musician because our music is entirely personal to us. We often don’t even know when we’re employing a negative mentality because those thoughts just seem to be normal. But if you take a step back every once in a while, and ask yourself, “Is this really helping me?” you’ll begin to see positive change in your practicing.

Until next time,

Jordan Taylor, DMA (ABD)