Meditations for Musicians/Battling Performance Anxiety
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
I’ve recently heard about a beautiful new approach to helping performers with the fears, challenges, frustrations and other emotional aspects of a career in music. A colleague and former student of mine who shared the following resources, described it like this:
If you take the concepts of ACT (acceptance and commitment therapy) methods and apply it to music, I'd say that it helps us learn how to make peace with our struggles... Being a musician comes with a level of anxiety and self doubt, and practitioners of ACT (like Deb Hart) offer diffusion techniques to help us break the cycle, so that our fears become less crippling.
Don Greene's books and coaching made a huge difference in my career.
Noa Kagayama's online performance classes are wonderful resource for all performing artists. This link is to the free EdX one through Juilliard, which I am interviewed on. He also has a website called Bulletproof Musician with another great online course you can take.
A beautiful description of Alexander Technique. I especially love the constructive rest meditation that she describes at minute 34:51.
My Alexander teacher in Philadelphia
College Prep for Musicians: A Comprehensive Guide for Students, Parents, Teachers, and Counselors is a one-of-a-kind book that gives a complete picture of the process of applying to music schools. Each of the three authors brings a different perspective and background to the subject, from top conservatory admissions experience, to years of teaching and professional performing, to Olympic coaching and audition preparation.
College Prep for Musicians decodes the complex process of choosing schools, clarifies the vocabulary around the admission process, and shows students exactly how to prepare their best audition. Young musicians will be able to follow detailed plans to get organized and to communicate with music schools and conservatories. This book provides tools, teaches habits, and demonstrates skills that students can use for the rest of their careers. College Prep for Musicians will help young musicians achieve their dreams.
Composed" is an inspiring film on this topic which is so near and dear to all of our hearts!
This app will help you learn the basics of meditation through hundreds of guided meditations.
Unwinding Anxiety is a step-by-step program developed by psychiatrist and neuroscientist Judson Brewer MD PhD – via your smartphone or tablet.
Mental Coaching on Conquering Performance Fears
This lady needs no introduction to the horn world: Dinka Migic-Vlatkovic, wife of Radovan Vlatkovic, is infinitely wise, experienced with horn players and immensely generous with her mental and physical guidance. Check out her work here:
Meditations for Musicians
We ALL get nervous when we perform!! Professionals, teachers, students alike! I try and combat that with: 1. Very deep and thorough preparation. 2. Incredibly detailed and clear musical goals to help me stay in the moment. And 3. Yoga, meditation, subdividing a Ton, performance coaches and books, and enderol. (lots of differing opinions on that last topic, I realize... everybody is different; do what works for you! :-)) Just remember: nobody can give the world what You can. Your voice, your sound, your musicality, is special, and is a gift to your audience!
Here are a few meditations that I use and teach, which I adapted from teachers, mentors and gurus (Don Greene, Julie Landsman and Jack Kornfield) for use in my own performance situations; please do take the time to consult those teachers, and their books and websites, for the originals! I cannot stress enough that Any and All meditations (google search the mere word and you'll find plenty of wonderful options!) will improve your performances and especially your consistency, dramatically, especially if you make it a daily practice, doing at least 5 minutes a day away from the horn, and using targeted "mini meditations" like these below, as needed!
Hoola Hoop (Variation on Don Greene's Centering Meditation. See dongreene.com for original). This is my long standing favorite "in the moment" meditation. It helps me to harness excess energy/nerves and channel it, or to become more focused. In orchestra and chamber concerts, I do this right before solos, or between movements if I get distracted, and before each excerpt in auditions, etc. Practice it at home until you can get it down to 15 sec or so, which is the way its most useful inside performances. At home, to create a more focused and mindful practice session, can do a standard "body scan" meditation first, then do this Hoola Hoop. Here it is:
"Imagine you are hoola hooping. Wiggle your hips quickly. Breathe in and out of your nose. Now imagine the hoola hoop, zip, getting absorbed into your body. It is now spinning two inches below your belly button and two inches inside your body. This is a "chi" spot, which means it's where martial artists fight from. If you concentrate deeply, you can sense the feeling, as if it's a ring of fire spinning inside your belly. The ring gets smaller, turning into a big spinning, shimmering, burning ball of fire, shrinking more and more until it is the size of a baseball. There it attaches to your spine and burns its way up your spine, full of power and purpose, up to your throat. Then take a deep nose breath and on the count of three, open your eyes and let the fire fly out of your eyes and burn a hole into the music in front of you on your stand. Now imagine the sound and style in your head, start subdividing, reconnect to what is going on around you in the piece, take a deep breath, and play!!"
Ten Toes Tree (Variation on Julie Landsman's "Ten Toes" mediation/ plus yoga "tree pose"). This is especially helpful before standing to play, when you want to improve your playing posture, to slow down your overall energy, and when you're feeling ungrounded or your mind is full of distracting thoughts. This is the long version, but I have found definite success with a shortened version, aka lifting both big toes at the same time, etc, especially in performance situations. Here you go:
"Start by breathing slowly, deeply in and out of your nose. Now as you inhale, lift your left big toe slowly, and as you exhale, sink it slowly into the ground... as you make contact with the ground, imagine a tree root growing out of your toe. Now repeat (inhale-lift, exhale- press) with your right big toe. Take one deep inhale-exhale, then lift your left second toe, and as you exhale and press it to the ground, envision your toe tree root searching down deep for water and nutrients, solidifying your connection to the gentle power of the earth. Repeat with your right second toe. Now lift your third left toe, sink it gently to the ground and as you press that toe down, feel your shoulders drop as well, and the back of your head, (Alexander technique-style) ever so softly lift, as if a puppet string is attached, and your body lengthens ever so slightly. Repeat with your third right toe. Now inhale and lift your fourth and fifth left toes together, and as you exhale-press them to the ground, imagine the tree roots tangling together into the earth and slowly raise your arms to the sky, stretching toward the sun rays. This will resemble the yoga position "tree pose". Now reach down and pick up your horn, preferably from a chair or high table, see if you can keep the same grounded connection and simultaneous lifted sensation, and raise your horn to play."
Lava Lamp Healing Meditation/Body scan (Variation on Jack Kornfield's meditation in "A Path with Heart"/plus a classic "body muscle scan meditation") This is wonderful for relaxing tense muscles, bringing your attention to the breath and to the body, and for healing physical and emotional pain and fears.
"Rest on your back and begin taking gentle, shallow, easy breaths. Now bring your attention to your toes, gently lifting and releasing them as you scan for muscle tension or hardness. Continue up your body, very slowly, gently engaging and releasing with exhales the muscles in your calfs, thighs, seat, belly, arms, neck, then lifting and releasing your chest, back, fingers, muscles of the face, and head, gently breathing away any tightness or tension or anxiety. Once you have very slowly fully scanned and released your body tension, now breathe and relax deeper into yourself and feel for any extra spots of pain or fear or knots of tension that are still present. We all have them! Now take a deep, loving, self-compassionate breath, and lift your hands in the air a bit. Now imagine your body as being filled with a cool, bright, liquid light, like you'd find in a lava lamp. It can be any color, so go ahead and pick a color. Feel your breath become watery, your body rubbery and jiggly. Your hands become infused with warm, healing, loving, understanding white light. Now let them gravitate to an area where you feel fear, or pain, or knots and imagine it red... let your hands hover over that spot, feeling the warmth and tenderness radiate from your loving hands to your body, surrounding and dissipating the upset and trauma therein. Imagine the red of that spot becoming lightened and brightened until it is finally a gentle, soft, healed white. Rest there, feeling the release, for as long as you'd like. Then take a few slightly deeper breaths and return slowly to the world."