Sunday, September 24, 2017

Why you don't have time to be a stressed out practicer...

A few days ago, I got into a serious discussion with some of my music students. We talked about their goals and the kind of work it takes to achieve them. I tried to find the words to explain to them something I wished I had learned as a young musician.

Good musicians don't have time to be stressed out!

Think of it this way... 

If you are an independently wealthy musical hobbyist that sings or plays your instrument as a form of personal entertainment, you can afford to be stressed out during your practice sessions because you have plenty of practice time left after your freak out (and you don't have important performance deadlines to worry about anyway). 

If you are a music student on full scholarship with no friends, no family, no email, no smartphone, and no other classes, you can be stressed out when you practice because you can afford lots of hours every day to struggle your way through any musical challenges. 

If, however, you have work, classes, friends, family, and/or tons of messages, notifications, emails, etc. in your life, each and every minute you spend practicing MUST be high quality and focused in order for you to move forward as a musician. You simply cannot afford to waste time on stressed, tense, or ineffective practicing.  

Does this mean you have to be fake?

Nope! It just means you need to be self-aware. Instead of forcing yourself to engage in toxic, stressed out practicing, check the HALT acronym. Are you hungry (H)? Eat a protein bar. Are you angry (A)? Write and process those feelings in your journal. Are you lonely (L)? Chat with a friend online while you take a relaxing practice break. Are you tired (T)? Sit quietly and do some breathing exercises or meditation for a few minutes with your eyes closed.

Deal with your stress in simple, practical ways, and then get back to work as a better version of yourself. You'll learn faster, gain higher quality muscle memory, and connect with the music much more easily.

Happy Practicing!
Terri Sánchez

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Do you have the courage to practice?

Blue Rhapsody, Leonid Afremov

Why does practicing in a real and meaningful way take courage? 

In a world full of smartphones and notifications, nine-second attention spans, and a need for instant gratification everything, you demonstrate courage each and every time you show up to the practice room. You also need courage to stay the course and fight practice temptations along the way. Courage will help you see through disguises, listen with clarity, and know you're definitely good enough to handle the challenges ahead.

See Through Disguises
Practicing temptations come in clever disguises like distractions on your phone, instincts to "work on that part later," or impulses to hurry up and get done. They also show up as projected imaginings of an upcoming lesson or performance in which you are certain everything needs to be absolutely perfect (triggering imperceptible yet treacherously persistent increases in your physical tension and mental distress). They may even make appearances as persistent memories of frustrating musical experiences from your past.  

Be courageous and learn to pass right by those temptations. When you set aside your phone, dig into the hard parts, and take your time, your courage paves the way toward real progress. Remember you are human and can only do your best, but stay determined to make that best the best best you can possible achieve. 

Listen with Clarity
Practicing temptations also include the type of denial that closes your ears to the sounds you are making as you practice. Ironically, you may also be tempted to fall into hypervigilance, making every flaw in your practicing feel intense and overwhelming (like in the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle story when she sprinkles a special powder in a child's ear to make his hearing super sensitive). 

Be a courageous practicer by listening with curiosity and non-judgment to the sounds you are making. When you appreciate the beauty and actually enjoy smoothing out the rough edges in your playing, dealing with mistakes becomes a natural part of the practice process.

Know You're Good Enough
If you're not a professional musician with solid confidence in your abilities to turn practicing into effective performances or a student freshly validated with plenty of accolades to reassure you that you are truly talented, it can also be incredibly tempting to give into the subtle yet frequent thought, "What if I'm never good enough?"

It is in moments like this that you can show the most amazing kind of courage. Know that you are good enough before you practice, while you practice, and after you practice. You being good enough was never on the line in the first place. 

Once you are courageous enough to separate who you are as a person from the music you are practicing, you may find that the music becomes a part of you in a more meaningful and effortless way than you ever thought it could. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Loving Neutral and the Practice Room Mirror

Let's talk about "loving neutral" and facing the mirror in the practice room. In the picture below, the postcard of Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun's Self-Portrait is an amazing reminder that you can face yourself in the mirror for a long period of time with an objective eye but also a compassionate approach. Just imagine how long it took her to paint this while looking at her own reflection... what thoughts did she think? What emotions did she feel?

This loving neutral mentality is ESSENTIAL for musicians in the practice room. You need to look in the mirror. You need to learn how your body interacts with your instrument. In the case of singers (and really all musicians), your body IS your instrument. You've got to connect the visual with the auditory.  


You also have to find a way to look past the skin blemishes, the not perfect hair, the asymmetry in your face, and any other flaws that have the potential to distract you from your true purpose as you make music alone... for hours. Loving neutral is a way to look at yourself in the mirror with a personal mental filter that helps you see, but not obsess.

Honest and real, but also kind. 

Know that across the world, there are other musicians in practice rooms, looking in mirrors, facing just what you are facing. What do you want them to see? Can you see that yourself?

Every time you enter the practice room, you have the choice to criticize yourself or to look, listen, and learn. To give in to tempting insecurities or to see yourself as an audience would see you - a conduit for the gorgeous music filling the room. To hear the voices of imaginary critics in your mind or to find out who you really are as a musician.

Choose wisely, my friend. 

Happy Practicing!
Terri Sánchez