Have you ever been told (or know someone who was told) “It’s too late to learn an instrument at this point in your life” or “You’ve aged out of all music festivals and haven’t landed a big job – it’s too late to progress”? This is part of an old, false belief that’s still making its rounds around the globe. It’s part of a fixed mindset epidemic that’s easier to fall into as we go through life.
Like most classical musicians, I occasionally have some very unwelcome guests in my mind – feelings of doubt, uncertainty, or insecurity. Having some of these feelings are quite normal and in fact, there is a way they can help us grow. However, they become a serious problem if we try to either force them out by faking confidence or dwell on them too long. The longer the negative feelings and thoughts stay, the more they push confidence and reassurance out, leaving us potentially feeling helpless.
This post won’t be about centering or visualization – both essential skills for improving our best performance under pressure. This is a deeper dive that explores what strengthens the roots of true confidence. I’ll briefly summarize 3 concepts as explained by bestselling author, athlete, and coach Steve Magness in his brand new book Do Hard Things. Continue reading “3 Practices to Achieve True Confidence on Stage”
Every spring (not counting 2020) toward the end of the academic year, many freelance musicians get BOMBARDED with gigs after the quieter months of January and February. Even those of us who spend a healthy amount of time practicing during the “off-season” suddenly experience a huge uptick in daily playing hours come spring. Continue reading “Injury-Prevention Exercises for Violinists and Violists”
Have you ever been really anxious to practice but just couldn’t seem to get yourself to pick up your instrument? It happens to the best of us. One of the hardest things about practicing consistently is simply getting started. Unfortunately for many people it doesn’t seem to get easier over the years. In fact, I know many professional musicians who have either completely stopped practicing regularly or had to take extended breaks at some point due to other life obligations. This was especially common during the early days of this pandemic when there were no upcoming concerts or other deadlines. No matter what kind of musician you are – whether you’re a complete beginner, someone who’s not yet used to practicing on a daily basis, or a seasoned professional who is working on regaining that momentum, let’s work on making it just a little easier to get started.
Let’s be realistic – not every big goal will come to fruition; especially not on the first try. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether it’s a good idea to keep going or call it quits and look for the next shiny idea. However, if your goal is nicely aligned with your personal values in life, there’s usually a valid reason to be stubborn and keep going. In every unique growth timeline, there are tipping points along the way – moments that can completely change the course of the journey and decide what happens next based on small actions you’ve taken across a long period of time.
Two breakthroughs in one day? Yes, it’s possible – especially if one small tweak takes care of two problems at once.
Have you ever experienced a plateau in your playing that seemed to stick around for years and years? You regularly practiced prescribed exercises in attempt to overcome a specific obstacle; you understood, and maybe even taught the concepts to others, only to come short in achieving a specific level of consistency yourself.
In my experience – both personally and through observing students and colleagues – breakthroughs usually happen in one of two ways, and sometimes in combination:
Two summers ago I developed severe pain in my left trapezius (specifically, the back of my neck extending toward the shoulders and across the upper back) while playing two Mozart operas back-to-back for an opera festival. This went on for a week straight with no days off, and was followed by a Wagner opera a few weeks later. The pain lingered around for hours after playing, and my own default “quick-fix” methods to relieve the pain were no longer working. It was time to take action beyond my instinctual behaviors (ie – limiting physical practice time, making sure I am sitting “correctly,” etc). Thankfully I was able to find an excellent physical therapist at Motion Sports PT in midtown east in Manhattan, and I didn’t have to take any “extended break” from playing the violin, which wouldn’t have helped anyway.
Last week, I had the privilege to attend Juilliard’s virtually-held Starling-Delay Symposium. One of the best events for me was focused around longevity and injury-prevention. Much of what I learned in physical therapy was echoed and explained in greater detail at Pamela Frank and Howard Nelson’s workshop titled Don’t Let This Happen To You. After overcoming a debilitating playing injury, Pamela Frank spent over a year retraining her posture and fundamental movement patterns both during violin-playing and other everyday activities (ie – sitting, standing, sleeping, etc). In this workshop we focused on how to keep a healthy body alignment and how to be more efficient in the practice room.
Routines are a great way to help us stick to a practice schedule and build up discipline, especially during times when there are no externally-driven deadlines (such as performances or lessons). But do you ever feel that a seemingly reliable practice routine holds you back sometimes? Perhaps after a while of following a schedule you hit a plateau, and practice starts to feel like a waste of time. And what about instances when something important comes up in your life and it no longer makes sense to stick to the plan? Routines have their time and place, but I think it’s equally important to recognize when it’s time to stray away from their rigidity.