Improvement = Mindset
I was practicing the other day for an upcoming recital (Tiffany here), and I caught myself in a moment of paying absolutely zero attention.
I was practicing Scriabin and all the sudden I noticed that instead of thinking about the phrase, my air, or the intention of what I was doing, I was thinking about what I was making for dinner. I was even beginning to make a grocery list, and was probably 6 items into the list… romaine, chicken thighs, need some new curry paste, don’t forget the yogurt… when I stopped and was like “What are you doing?!”
I tried to snap myself out of it by putting on my metronome. After playing through half page doing that, it didn’t sound much better than when I wasn't even thinking about the music.
And I know exactly why.
My mindset wasn’t right.
I wasn’t actively engaged in the work I was doing - I was just going through the motions. But why was my first instinct to reach for the metronome instead of tuning into my mindset?
What actually makes us sound better?
I think because of the way we’ve been trained, when things aren’t going well, we tend to default into thinking we just need to build more skill. The instinct is to practice more scales or do a few metronome drills on repeat. THEN it will sound better - because practice makes us sound better.
And yes, of course technique building is part of sounding better.
But what I’ve noticed with so many students - and myself - is that playing with a mindset of confidence and commitment is as much a part of the equation of sounding good as your skill or technique. Especially when you're trying to go from 70 or 80% to 95%. Tuning into your mindset - how you’re talking to yourself, what you’re visualizing - is everything.
If I could go back in time, I would have experimented with this concept FAR before I ever did. I can’t imagine how much more efficient my improvement would have been if I would have accepted the fact that I really didn’t need to practice that articulation exercise for another 15 minutes. Instead, I needed to get quiet and think about why I was always so apologetic about how it was going, or why I hesitated to start the darn thing every time, or why my heart rate would accelerate just thinking about playing it in my next lesson.
Although, I am grateful I had an incredible teacher that eventually led me to realize that my improvement was dependent on my mindset.
It was how I thought about my playing that would improve it exponentially.
(To be fair, this was when I was 25 and had a decent handle on how to play the clarinet.)
I still have to remind myself that I learned that lesson all the time. Thankfully I’ve also learned that half of being a human is reminding yourself of what you already know.
We build confidence by believing in our ability, in what we have to say, and in trusting our practice. We sound better when we come at our playing with this conviction.
Practice playing with confidence and commitment - before you think you’re ready.
You have to practice going for it. You have to practice letting your mind go to “I know what I’m doing” and not “What am I doing?”
Maybe you say out loud “I’m not scared of making a mistake. I’m not scared of being “too” much. I don’t mind if someone doesn’t like it.”
When you do all of this, do you know what happens?
You sound better.
Improvement in this incredible craft of music making is not simply skill based. It’s emotional. It’s deeply personal. It’s about mindset. It's about wellness.
It isn’t about the next gimmicky practice routine, or exercises that promise overnight improvement.
It’s about practicing your mindset just as much as the craft.
So, here’s a challenge.
This week, can you incorporate practicing a particular mindset into your practice?
Is it a mindset of confidence? Is it being unapologetic? Is it staying in the moment? Is it playing everything with commitment? Is it believing what you have to say is important?
Write it on a post it, put it on your stand, on your fridge, whatever you need to do! Heck, make this image your lock screen on your phone!
Do something to remind yourself to come back to your mindset every chance you get. And, we’re pretty certain you’ll come out of it sounding better.
You will begin to realize that how you think about your playing can alone improve it. And your mindset when you're practicing will pave the way for what will be accomplished. And you can decide it.