Over the last few years, researchers have started confirming what millions of people have observed anecdotally for centuries: mindfulness practice can change your life.
And if you’ve ever tried practicing mindfulness, you know what a profound impact it can have on your life as a music teacher.
But it’s not always immediately obvious how to incorporate mindfulness into teaching.
Fortunately, this is one of my favorite topics. There are a bunch of ways to bring mindfulness techniques into lessons and rehearsals in surprisingly simple ways.
And you don’t have to be a meditation expert to share the benefits of mindfulness with your students – all you need is a sincere commitment to supporting your students and a willingness to try new things.
7 Mindfulness Techniques for Music Teachers
Mindfulness practice is simple. Perhaps not easy…but definitely simple.
In mindfulness practice, you focus your awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
By developing your mindful awareness, you (and your students) will notice improvements in your ability to focus, remain calm under pressure, and notice what’s happening around you in real-time.
1. Take 1 Mindful Breath
Take a deep breath in through the nose. Exhale slowly through the nose.
As you breathe, notice the sensation of cool air moving past your nostrils on the inhale…and warm air flowing past your nostrils on the exhale.
This (almost too simple) exercise serves as a powerful way to return attention to the present moment. No matter where the mind has wandered off to, a single focused breath will bring it back.
Try beginning each rehearsal or lesson by guiding your students through 1 mindful breath. Over time, they will learn to look forward to this centering activity. Then, sprinkle “mindful breaths” throughout rehearsals or lessons as needed.
2. Incorporate Silent Reflection
Have you ever finished a lesson or rehearsal feeling frazzled, exhausted, and like your brain has turned to mush?
Most of us move through each day from one highly stimulating activity to the next, never pausing for reflection or a moment of stillness. And (you probably already know this, but) your students do the same thing!
When your students finish performing a big piece in a rehearsal or lesson, rather than immediately jumping into the next thing, invite them to pause in silence for a moment to reflect on what they observed during the performance.
Encourage your students to reflect on things they enjoyed and things that offer them a learning opportunity. If you do this reflection with them, you might notice some unexpected learning opportunities!
And, over time, your students will start to habitually reflect on positive aspects of performance – a practice that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
3. Practice Mindful Listening
Play (or sing) one note. It doesn’t matter how long it is, or what pitch it is (in an ensemble, it’s helpful for everyone to play or sing the same pitch).
Repeat the note and listen to the quality of the sound. Repeat again and notice how the note begins. Repeat again and notice how the note ends. Keep repeating a few more times and listen specifically for dynamic changes, no matter how subtle, during the note.
The goal is to hear the note in as much detail as possible. Repetition encourages focus — turning this exercise into a semi-meditation. Present moment awareness is crucial for accurate listening, so this exercise serves the dual purpose of improving musical skills while simultaneously reinforcing mindfulness practice.
4. Demonstrate Thoughtfulness
Our students are always watching us. And that’s a good thing!
Even when we think they’re not paying attention, they’re noticing the subtle ways in which we speak, act, and react to the numerous situations that arise in a rehearsal or lesson.
So by demonstrating thoughtfulness — by always taking a moment to pause and mindfully consider what’s happening in the present moment (rather than rushing to the next thing), we can offer a powerful example for our students.
Next time you feel rushed to give feedback to a student or to jump to the next rehearsal spot, take a single deep breath and notice the energy in the room. It only takes a second or two, but the difference in your teaching will be profound.
5. Practice Mindful Movement
What might happen if your students were more aware of how they move their bodies?
Would it help with their technique? Would it improve their ability to correct postural issues? Would they be less likely to become injured later in life?
Yes, of course!
But building body awareness can be tricky, especially for kids who are growing.
Try taking a break in the middle of a lesson or rehearsal and have your student(s) move through a single simple movement.
For example, if you teach strings, have them put their bows down and air bow – really slowly – observing the tiny movements of their arms, shoulders, wrists, and fingers.
Or have your student(s) stand up (without their instruments) and lift their arms overhead until their palms come together. Then have them slowly lower their arms. Repeat 2-4 more times.
It seems simple, but you may be surprised to find that some students will struggle with even the easiest movements. Building in even the smallest amount of body awareness can unlock new levels of technical prowess that might’ve otherwise taken years to learn.
6. Check in During Stressful Moments
Ever feel stressed during a lesson or rehearsal?
Of course you do! (Assuming you’re a human…)
And that’s totally normal. But often, it can feel really difficult to move on from stressful moments in the day. Just think back to the last time a student talked back to you…or the last time something crazy happened during a dress rehearsal.
Next time a stressful moment arrives, take it as an opportunity to pause for a moment for 1-3 mindful breaths. Invite your students to join you in this exercise. When you start again (after only a brief pause), you’ll notice that you’re less stressed and more focused.
7. Keep it Simple
Over the years, I’ve learned that I have a tendency to over-complicate things. When I was in school, I received constant reminders to keep things simple when I’m teaching.
So now, when I teach, I remind myself: Go slower, take your time, keep it simple.
The same is true with mindfulness. When introducing mindfulness concepts to your students, keep it simple!
Here’s a great (and uncomplicated) definition of mindfulness that I use when introducing the topic:
“Mindfulness is the practice of becoming aware of things in the present moment.”
And if you’d like, you can introduce any of these concepts without even calling them “mindfulness.”
Just like you instruct your students to play the notes of a major triad without explaining the function of major triads in tonal music, you can experiment with these practices by simply incorporating them into your teaching.
Keep it simple. Take a mindful breath. One thing at a time.
Ready for more?
Want to learn more about mindfulness practice? In the Meditation Library for Musicians, you’ll get access to a growing library of guided meditations and mental training techniques that you can download and listen to at your convenience.
Get free access to the Meditation Library for Musicians by signing up here:
Ready to Maximize Your Efficiency in the Practice Room?
Join the 5-day Mindful Practice Mini Course! Develop the deep awareness, focus, and calm you need to reach peak performance starting today. Sign up for FREE!