Musicians lead busy lives.
We perform, we teach, we rehearse, we network, we gig, we practice…then we practice some more.
And as we rush from one demanding activity to another, it’s easy to forget the joy of being a musician.
Anxiety creeps in. We start dreading rehearsals. We fear performing. And we can barely focus in the practice room…there’s just so much to get done.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Mindfulness practice is an excellent tool for musicians to slow down, calm down, and focus.
Best of all, you don’t have to be a meditation expert to discover the benefits of mindfulness practice.
It just takes a few moments of mindfulness at key moments during the day to make a huge difference in your focus, your mood, and your productivity.
This is Part 2 of The Musician’s Guide to Mindfulness. Read Part 1 here to learn what mindfulness is, how to use it in everyday life, and how to build a mindfulness habit.
6 Key Moments for Musicians to be Mindful
If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed when trying to develop a new habit, this guide is for you.
When I first started practicing mindfulness, I was shocked at how challenging it was to stay in touch with the present moment all the time.
So if mindfulness is new to you, or you’ve struggled to develop your new habit, you can gain a lot by simply checking in at key moments during your musical day-to-day life.
In the Practice Room
We all know that staying focused in the practice room is crucial for long-term success.
But how do you actually do it?
Add a few moments of mindfulness practice to your practice room routine and your focus will skyrocket.
1. When You Begin Practicing
If you’ve been practicing your instrument for years…or decades…you may not put much thought into how you start practicing each day.
But the first few moments that you practice each day can play a major role in your mental and physical well-being.
Try the following exercise to bring your attention to the present moment before you start playing:
- Close your eyes and take a deep breath in. Then exhale.
- Observe how your body feels. Notice any areas that are sore, exhausted, or painful to touch. Notice any areas that feel relaxed and comfortable.
- Next, observe your thoughts. What do you think about as you prepare to play? Are you excited, worried, happy, stressed, relaxed, tired, full of energy?
- Take another deep breath in. Feel your body move. Exhale completely.
Over time, you’ll begin to notice patterns in how you feel each day, both physically and mentally. The awareness you build through this practice will enable you to skillfully adjust your playing habits to stave off injury and stay comfortable while playing.
2. During Difficult Moments
I’ll never forget the first time I heard someone yelling expletives in a practice room next to me.
We’ve all been there. We’ve all had at least one moment where we wanted to throw our hands up and throw in the towel.
But these bursts of frustration can serve as excellent opportunities to develop mindful awareness.
Next time you’re feeling frustrated in the practice room, shift your attention back to the present moment:
- Take a slow, steady inhale. Hold for one second. Then exhale completely.
- Breathe normally and observe your body. Are there any areas you can release tension?
- Notice your thoughts. Without getting caught up in any negative thoughts, simply observe that the thoughts are there. Then allow the thoughts to pass.
When we get frustrated, we often get distracted by the negative stories we tell ourselves. For example: “I can’t do this!” “What’s the point!?” “I’ll never be as good as ______!”…
So instead of getting caught up in anger, return your attention to the present moment. With a cool head, observe your thoughts and any tension in your body.
As you breathe, allow those thoughts and tension to pass.
3. When You Finish Practicing
At the end of a long day, it can be tempting to just pack up, go home, and try to forget about music (or teaching).
But a brief moment of mindful awareness when you finish your practice or teaching for the day can be really helpful if you struggle with burnout or motivation.
- As you pack up to go home, observe your movements.
- Gently notice your thoughts related to playing or teaching.
- Take a moment to reflect on positive aspects of your day. If negative thoughts come to mind, that’s OK – just observe them and take a round of deep breath.
By giving yourself a moment to recall your day before you switch into “at home” mode, you can gain insight into things that are going well in your musical life and things that you may want to change in the future.
One of my clients used to purposefully shut out the audience every time he performed. He would “put himself in a bubble,” imagining that the audience wasn’t even there so that he could feel less nervous and focus on the music.
Unfortunately, by trying to ignore the audience, he created a lot of extra psychological tension that didn’t translate well to successful performances. When a distraction got through his barrier, it would totally derail him. And on top of that, he was physically tight and would experience pain after long periods of playing.
So together we worked to find a way that he could embrace his audience — to fully experience the moments before and during performance. It was scary for him at first, but he eventually started feeling more connected to the audience, he was more at ease, and his fear of performing dissipated.
During the moments before you go on stage, you have a great opportunity to center your focus. Use the following exercise to calm your mind and embrace performing in the moment.
- Close your eyes and complete 5-10 rounds of deep breathing through your nose.
- Allow your attention to rest solely on your breath. As distractions arise, bring your attention back to your breath.
- When you are ready, blink your eyes open and set your intention to connect with your audience and communicate with them as you perform.
5. When You Take the Stage
Instead of pushing away your performance experience, embrace it with full awareness.
- As you walk out on stage, take your time. Notice the lights. Observe the sound of the audience and what the audience looks like. Notice the objects on stage and the sound of your footsteps as you walk.
- Before you begin playing, take at least one round of slow, steady breath. Then bring your attention to the music you will perform.
As teachers, we often become preoccupied by thoughts about the student’s progress, how we should instruct them, and what is most important to teach them next.
Not to say that these thoughts aren’t important, because they are! But when we are thinking about other things, we may miss opportunities to use mindful awareness to teach more effectively.
6. Listening to Your Students Play
As you listen to your students play for you in lessons, how much of your attention rests on what they are doing in the moment?
It’s easily to forget to listen when we feel the need to prepare what we’re going to say when the student stops playing.
Try simply listening and see how much you can observe. When the student is finished playing, your teaching will be even more insightful if you have listened mindfully.
- While your student is playing, listen intentionally.
- Observe the sounds your student is making and notice how they move.
- When you notice something to work on, simply make a mental note (or an actual note) of it and return your attention to listening.
You may be surprised at what you notice when you listen patiently.
And feel free to take a moment before teaching. We often rush to start talking after a student plays so that there’s never a lull in a lesson. But sometimes, it can be extremely beneficial to allow a moment to pass as you mindfully consider how to phrase your instructions.
How do you use mindfulness?
If you’ve ever use mindfulness techniques in the practice room, on stage, or when teaching, I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment below!
Ready for more? Read Part 3 of The Musician’s Guide to Mindfulness.
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