After failure


Right now, at the commencement of this blog, I’m in a bit of a practise slump. A rather dismal first post, but I generally only pay a great deal of attention to the details of what I’m doing when I’m down – also, this stuff doesn’t often get written or even spoken about beyond one’s most private circles. In my case, such slumps are usually caused by a bit of a nasty thought pattern that goes something like: terror-procrastination-guilt-rage-guilt-depression. Recognising this pattern early can help, or it can just cause pre-emptive guilt, speeding up the process.

Once I hit the low it’s no easy thing to step back into things, even when I know many of the steps I need to take. And in this instance, the initial terrors and procrastinations were quickly followed by a rejection letter from an audition some three weeks earlier, which didn’t really help the “I’m a failure” mindset too much.

From looking back over slumps of this kind I’ve come out of in the past, it would appear that each slump needs a new discovery to really ensure renewed motivation and progress. This does mean that I’m building a little catalogue of techniques to deal with being a somewhat overly-ambitious, female (you roll your eyes, but this is relevant), endgaming, anxiety-suffering flute student without a particularly rigorous life-long music education behind me. Some of them:

  • Organising and monitoring what I eat. Not because I’m dieting, but because it’s a very short sharp slope from low energy levels to real depression. I’m vegetarian, so grain and legume mixing is crucial.
  • Getting enough sleep, and also enough exercise. Walking has been recommended to me by my flute teacher, doctor and two psychologists, so I am trying to do it every morning. I also ride a bike around sometimes, and do a once a week yoga class with my sister. This is all working on getting that energy up, although the walking also provides some space for thought exercises.
  • Blocking off every morning until 12pm for practise only (including breakfast and a walk, but no other activities – not even checking emails). Setting an ideal morning schedule, but also staying flexible (I’m a great one for making plans, then giving up on the moment there is the slightest discrepancy).
  • Setting positive goals. As a reminder to myself, this doesn’t mean deciding that I will, for example, get into some world renowned school (or orchestra/ensemble) or win a competition, big or small. This time around, I’ve decided that I’m going to make up a repertoire dream list, then realistically narrow it down to what I can work on over the next 12 months, then schedule it out so that I’m building up a base of repertoire to draw upon when I need it. I’ll perform all of these works, but that might just mean playing them to a few friends or in a performance class. Certainly they’ll all get performed in the future.
  • Making up a technical work practise plan, so that even when I can’t face pieces, I have a framework for low-pressure practise that will benefit me now and in the long run.
  • Identifying, then replacing negative thoughts with positive ‘self-talk’ (the general cognitive psychology strategy – Carmel Liertz gives a good outline in her book Performance Confidence, which is really very useful). Especially while out on walks and before/during practise sessions, just observing thoughts then replacing the bad ones with something positive and repeating it many times. More powerful then you think while doing it, as it does feel stupid and annoying.
  • On the insistent advice of my dearest friend Tabatha, which is in line with my own suspicions, I am this time going to make a particularly dedicated commitment to Alexander Technique. More on this in future posts I expect, and probably the very next post as I am heading off to an AT lesson directly upon finishing this. I suspect this could help rather a lot with avoiding and returning from my practise slumps, partly because I find it so incredibly difficult…

If any of my students read this, know that you’ll hear about these things the moment you complain about not practising – for whatever reason! These techniques might seem a little obvious, but this is the stuff I wished I’d learnt earlier. I’m still just beginning to learn it now. In fact, I’ve been learning a lot lately, and the last thing I want to do is forget the very process of learning, hence the appearance of this blog.


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