Enjoy a healthy, balanced life and abundant musical success.

Become the powerful artist you are meant to be!

August 16, 2014
Journey onwards! You're better than you think.
Journey onwards! You’re better than you think.

One of my students recently expressed his frustration in a lesson over the fact that – even after three years of diligent violin practice for several hours a day – he still cannot produce a phrase that sounds anything like the sound of a famous violinist, his teacher, or me.

“What’s the difference?” he asked.

It was an interesting question, one asked by beginners and the best, alike.

My first response was to note that three years of practice with the violin is actually very little time spent with the instrument compared to the lifetimes of experience of those he mentioned.  Add in the fact that he began his music studies in his late fifties, whereas I started when I was four.  It’s unfortunately true that it’s much easier for a young child to pick up an instrument and become proficient at it than for a mature adult.

But here’s the thing that I hope he takes to heart – and perhaps might help you, too, if you encounter similar frustrations on your musical journeys.

In reality, there is very little difference between you and the greatest musician.  Much less difference than you might think.  Let’s look at some of the similarities, when you’re at your best.  These things are within your reach.  The best musicians, and the best you, all do these things:

  • You know how to think and how to formulate a clear intention.  The best musician has had years of experience in refining that intention, but you know how to create one within your capabilities, too.  You know what you want it to sound like.  You can use your imagination.
  • You can discipline your mind-body to NOT think the thoughts and NOT do the actions that interfere with the realization of your intention.  This takes extensive self-training to be able to do consistently and under pressure (like when you’re performing and the person in the front row stands up and throws a fit and you keep playing like nothing out of the ordinary is happening).  Alexander Technique, by the way, is the technique par excellence for learning how to get out of your own way.
  • You are able to create an exquisite sound – if even for just one moment.  That is such a precious jewel – do you realize that?  Do you enjoy it?  Are you aware that you are already able to sound like the best?  It is such a gift that you can create a perfect sound from your heart, with love and joy, for just one moment.  Just think about it.  This is profound.  In fact, if you truly realized in all fullness what a miracle one moment of perfection is, you might not ever need more. And if you realize that you can already create that perfection for just one moment, then over time you can expand that moment into several notes, a bar, a phrase, and a movement of music.  “Patience and faith are everything.”
  • You know why you are a musician, and why you are practicing the instrument.  And if you don’t know why, then you’re still like some of the best musicians – a lot of them don’t know why, either – they just do it.  I highly recommend that you dive deeply into your heart to find those reasons – they will forever serve as inspiration for you.
  • As an artist, you feel deeply. You love music.  You are self-critical.  You feel negative emotions.  You get frustrated.  You sometimes get discouraged and want to give up.  You don’t feel like practicing sometimes.  You can be hard on yourself.  There’s always someone who can play something better than you.  You know there’s a lot of room for improvement.  The best musicians also feel that way much of the time.
  • Maybe you experience performance anxiety.  So do many of the top artists.  And you can learn tools to manage that, turning it into excitement and enthusiasm, and using it as fuel for profound personal growth. [I can teach you how…read more here…]

You’re not so different from the best of them, believe me.
You’re on your path, and they’re on their path.
Walking side-by-side.
Together.
No need to compete, no need for envy, no need for wistfulness.
The process is the goal, and you’re already there.

Now enjoy yourself and appreciate how far you’ve come.

With Love,
Jennifer

I’d love to hear comments!

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Tags

Alexander Technique, alexander technique cincinnati, Awareness, focus, instruments, love, mental practice, mind-body unity, music, musicians, negative thinking, orchestral musicians, positive thinking, practice, self-control, suffering


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  1. I’ve been that frustrated student. Still am at times. To him I would say: Asking a better question might be a good place to start 🙂

    “What makes his/her phrases sound (or feel) like that?” or…

    “What can I bring to the phrase that reflects my own musical sensibility?”

    1. Those are great questions, Bill. I particularly like the second one, where the student is reminded of his own uniqueness. There’s no need to sound like anyone else, because everyone has a unique personality and therefore a unique way to approach a phrase. Thanks for commenting!

  2. What if the mind is in a place and the body is in another? I can’t play like that. I want to play like that- not like him or her, but like what I want music to be. But it kills me that the more I know what I want something to sound, and the more I want it, the more incapable my body is of doing it. The more aware I am of how beautiful something can be, the more intimidating it becomes. And I can’t play fast. I can’t play fast. I can’t play fast. I can’t play loud. I freeze up in performance, I freeze up in auditions, I freeze up when it matters most to me. Can you realistically hope to catch up when you’re way behind technically? We can’t spend our lives playing slow music, a chamber music coach once told me. We can’t always be introverted and intimate and sentimental. Even if in real life we’re not, in music we have to be able to be funny, angry, rude (the way Beethoven is with his dynamics), crazy, wild. I can’t. I try. I tried. After two years I felt like my teacher gave up on me. Maybe this is what you are, shy and scared, and I should stop trying to change people. And I felt like the moment he gave up on me, I gave up on myself.

  3. Dear Anya,

    First of all: thank you so much for writing. Secondly, I apologize for my delayed response – I’ve been out of town and sick, and I just now read your comment.

    I’m so sorry you feel that your teacher gave up on you; even more so, that you have given up on yourself. But may I suggest that it’s never too late to change your perspective on things, and there’s always hope! It sounds like your love for music is very strong, and that’s great news for being able to turn this around.

    I think you touched on the most important answer to your problem in your first question. In the Alexander Technique, we don’t consider the mind and body to be separate; they are one united thing – which is YOU. But I know what you mean. I once performed the Chausson Poeme in front of an orchestra, only to realize after a full page that I had been completely “absent” until that moment. My mind was GONE, and I had been playing that difficult piece on automatic pilot. It freaked me out; luckily, I had to perform it again the next day, or else I might never have wanted to do another solo performance again in my life!

    So, the key is to bring our awareness into the body; to stop separating mind and body; realize they are one thing; stay present to experience. The Alexander Technique teaches us how to do this. We sometimes call it “embodied thinking” or “embodied meditation” or “direction” (those aren’t all the same thing, but related).

    The other thing is, examining your beliefs about what is possible. Your comment has a lot of “I can’t” in it. Are you so sure? Maybe you can’t right now, but are you 100% sure it’s true? Open up a little crack to let in the light of All-Possibility, and you might be surprised at the things you can do when you just experiment with all kinds of things that feel totally wrong.

    If you’re interested in learning more, please contact me personally. I help people with issues like yours all the time.

    Sometimes when you really truly give up and surrender to the All-Possible, with humility and curiosity, that’s when magic starts happening. 🙂 Wishing you all the best!

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