Afraid to Be Yourself and Make Great Music? This Might Help You Get Unblocked.

afraid to be yourself and create great music? this might help

Have you ever wished you could be someone else?

Someone for whom a particular skill or quality just seemed so easy, whether it was their warmth and positive energy, insightful and keen wit, or freewheeling dance moves?

Meanwhile we bemoan our inner Eeyore and cringe at past memories of uncomfortable attempts at humor and awkwardness on the dance floor and wallow in a downward spiral of self-doubt and discouragement.

How do we navigate around this tendency to underestimate ourselves and overestimate everyone else?

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Five Ways to Turn the Music up to 11 (and Turn Anxiety Down a Notch)

Five Ways to Turn the Music up to 11 (and Dim Your Nerves in the Process)

Clarinetist James Campbell once remarked that if you really know the music well, you can’t be nervous.

There’s a lot of truth to this – but not necessarily in the way that it might seem at first glance. On the surface, it sounds like a statement about preparation. That if you’ve practiced the piece enough, you should be confident about your ability to play it.

Sure, that kind of preparation is essential, but I think that misses the deeper, more compelling observation.

I believe this is a statement about the psychological importance (never mind the artistic value) of going beyond the notes on the page. Getting to know the music well enough, that you are too busy shaping and creating and communicating and expressing so many of the tiny details and nuances of each phrase and gesture that you simply don’t have any time to worry and think about mistakes, imperfections, and the opinion of the audience, critics, or jury.

It’s like trying to track your 5-year-old’s meandering story about what happened to the class hamster during nap-time whilst simultaneously trying to set a time-trial record on Rainbow Road in Mario Kart. It can’t be done. If you want to do either with any degree of success, you have to pick one to focus on.

So how exactly do we go beyond the notes?

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Why These Two Words Could Jinx Your Next Performance

want to jinx your next performance? say these two words

Have you ever gone to the doctor for a shot, and been given the oh-so-helpful advice to “just relax” right before they stabbed you with a needle?

Or been moments away from walking on stage to give a big performance, and encouraged to “just relax”?

Though completely well-intentioned, most of us know from experience that this is easier said than done.

But no big deal, right?

Well…for some, being told to relax might actually be the worst advice you could give (ok, not literally the worst advice ever, but it could do more harm than good).

How so?

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On Becoming Strengths-Focused, Whole-Hearted Artists

on becoming strengths-focused, whole-hearted artists

I loved the X-Men comics as a child, so I was pretty excited when my 8-year old started getting into the X-Men a few weeks ago.

As we geeked out about the different mutant powers, and talked about which character we would love to be, we also talked about why so many sought to hide their strengths, and were ashamed and afraid of what made them so special.

What I think he finds so compelling about the X-Men is that each one has a unique singular strength. And yet despite their great power, they are in many ways also very human, with many of the same physical, mental, and emotional vulnerabilities we all share – from fear, to shame, loneliness, and so on.

Silly though it may seem, our X-Men geekfest actually parallels two themes that have been gaining significant traction in the field of psychology in recent years.

One, the importance of focusing on our strengths – not just our weaknesses. And two, the role of vulnerability in forging deep meaningful connections with others.

So how might these themes relate to becoming better artists?

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Not an Optimist? How to Make Pessimism Work for You.

Not an Optimist? How to Make Pessimism Work for You.

When most four-year-old kids take a nap, they just lie down and go to sleep.

When I was four, my mom would turn on an endless loop cassette tape of whatever I was playing, and tell me to visualize myself performing until I fell asleep. 

When you’re four, imagining that you’re Itzhak Perlman rocking out a world-class rendition of Humoresque is child’s play. Heck, at that age, I also believed I could train myself to breathe underwater and read other peoples’ minds.

But as I got older, more skilled, and realized how much more there was to learn, my imagination began to fail me. 

I’d lie there dutifully visualizing myself performing on stage, but then I’d miss a shift. Oops. 

And then some notes would be out of tune. Argh!

And then I’d forget a fingering, or get stuck in an endless loop of my own where I couldn’t figure out how to end the piece. $#!&*! 

It got to the point where these mistakes in my head would freak me out a little. I’d worry that they were a sign of impending disaster. I also worried that by envisioning mistakes, I was increasing my chances of making them on stage.

Is this a potential downside of visualization? Can we really jeopardize our performances or sabotage our confidence if we visualize ourselves making mistakes and playing imperfectly?

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How to Get Those Distracting Thoughts Out of Your Head When You’re Trying to Practice

how to get distractions out of your head when you're trying to practice

“Argh…I really ought to clean out the kitty litter…”

“Hmm…I wonder if there’s a way to transfer MP3′s from my computer to my iPhone via wifi…”

“Crap…I need to find a good dentist.” 

That voice in your head can serve as a pretty helpful reminder service – though its timing often leaves something to be desired. 

These “Zeigarnik intrusions” can be helpful in some situations. But when you’re trying to get in the zone and have a productive practice session, it can be distracting for items from your to-do list to keep popping into your head. 

How can we reduce this mind-wandering when we have a bazillion things other things to do and need to make the most of our limited practice time?

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Is It Helpful to Listen to Music Right Before Your Audition?

Is It Helpful to Listen to Music Before an Audition

Do you listen to music while running or working out at the gym?

Well, you may be onto something. As it turns out music can enhance your workouts in a number of ways. For one, it takes your mind off how tired you feel, and can lower your perception of effort. Music can also put you in a more positive mood.

Hmm…so might listening to music also help enhance performance outside of the gym? Like on stage?

Many sport psychologists do encourage athletes to listen to music before competing, and you may also have noticed a number of athletes with headphones stuffed in their ears before their events at the Olympics.

So why do they do this? How does this help?

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