Mind games. Musicians and mental health.

In my last blog “What’s the point?” I discussed the dilemmas and motivational issues I was negotiating with, regarding maintaining a regular and meaningful practise regime throughout this Covid-19 pandemic.

Over the last few days, I’ve seen other musicians posting on social media that they were putting the instrument back in the case and waiting for things to show signs of returning to normality, before they started thinking about getting “back on the horse” and doing some serious practise once again.

For me that isn’t an option, for a number of reasons. Firstly, my sanity – I need something worthwhile to do! Secondly, I actually enjoy playing, albeit that playing at home is not the same as being alongside other musicians in that team environment. Finally, I need to maintain my core skills and technique. I’m not one of those “natural” players who can let it go for a few weeks and then pick it up as if it was yesterday.

So imagine my frustration, nay panic. Yes, PANIC, when things aren’t going at all well. I’m not talking about clipping a top C a couple of times, or not being able to play that tricky passage in the Allen Vizzutti Etude in that God-awful key that involves the third valve more times in one bar than you’ve played all year! I’m not on about an “off day”, where the chops are a bit bruised and battered from an over-enthusiastic session the previous day on the D/Eb Trumpet and carelessly omitting a proper warm-down afterwards.

No, this is when day after day for the last week or so, I feel my “chops” aren’t responsive at all, the tone is thin and airy, the range is non-existent and pieces that you enjoy playing sound like a proverbial zoo on fire! Yes, I warmed up properly each day. Yes, I played lots of long notes quietly. Yes, I accept it can’t sound perfect every day, but no I can’t accept that it can be consistently this dreadful for so many days on the bounce.

This serious confidence “wobble” all coincides with the recent push within the brass band movement by Tabby Kerwin regarding mental health awareness and at the same time, a friend – a string player – mentioning on social media, that he was dealing with nerves whilst performing.

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The Three P’s – Tabby Kerwin

Ask any musician and they will tell you that the demands of any performance are 50% physical i.e. the core skills and mechanics of performing the music and 50% mental, namely dealing with the stress, nerves, anxiety which then however causes physical problems affecting the mechanics, such as breath control, tremors or shakes, sweating etc. Some will disagree on the percentages, but all will agree that the mind has a very strong bearing on the successful (or unsuccessful) outcome of any performance.

To keep things simple, I’ll generalise and call the affliction “nerves”. Whilst nerves (in moderate doses) are a perfectly natural condition prior to and during a performance, in excess these can ruin perfectly good musicians and can reduce the most competent performer to a gibbering wreck in a very short space of time, if not dealt with immediately and correctly. It only takes one “off” performance or a few unguarded comments from another person to sow the seed of doubt in an individual, before those gremlins start their evil voices of self-doubt in your head and you enter a downward spiral of catastrophic proportions.

So for me, when the gremlins do rear their ugly heads every now and again, I revert to Howard Snell’s fabulous book “The Trumpet”, which has a Chapter dedicated to “Anxiety Control”. He prefaces the section as follows “For many players, the control of anxiety seems virtually impossible. As they see it anxiety represents an impenetrable barrier to achieving full realisation of their talent. In most cases the use of straightforward routines will comfortably control anxiety.” He goes on to advocate a number of methods and techniques which can tackle nerves/anxiety head on and shows that with a controlled approach, you can overcome this and you will prevail. The quote below certainly caught my attention!

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The Trumpet – Howard Snell

“When anxiety is an habitual problem for a player, it is futile to say that more effort, discipline and hard work are needed. While these attitudes are essential to building quality playing, anxiety needs to be dissolved rather than confronted. Habitual anxiety points to imbalances within the player’s overall approach. Realism, mental balance, patience, persistence and awareness are the key attitudes.” Howard Snell

Mental health issues are far more at the forefront of peoples’ minds nowadays, including musicians. There are many ways to address any problems that we might have, including Alexander Technique, yoga, hypnosis, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and a whole raft of publications, however talking to other musicians sometimes is just as effective and helps highlight that it’s not just “me” struggling to overcome issues. My friend the string player drew a number of friends and colleagues into the conversation and it was surprising to see how many people were admitting to having their own personal battle with anxiety, in ts many guises.

For me, this period of chaos is a blip. A brief hiatus where things aren’t going well. At least I very much hope so! Thankfully, I don’t suffer from stage anxiety (touches wood!) and my current issues are home-based, however it wouldn’t take long for it to morph into a bigger problem. It’s happened before and perhaps a couple of days off and a few binge-sessions of CSI New York or The Yorkshire Vet will give me some rest and space to clear my head and bounce back, as if nothing was wrong? That usually works. As Mr.Snell says “Realism, mental balance, patience, persistence and awareness are the key attitudes.”

If you have an “issue”, remember #itsgoodtotalk – get things off your chest, you’ll be amazed how much support and resources are available out there to help you with this!

Here are just a few links that may be of some help to you:

Tabby Kerwin: Mode for Publishing

Charlotte Tomlinson Performance Coach 

Howard Snell The Trumpet

Excerpts from “The Trumpet” (It’s Practice and Performance, A Guide for Students) by Howard Snell (published Rakeway Music) kindly authorised by the Author.

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The Trumpet. My greatest pleasure …. and my greatest enemy!

Thanks for reading the Music for You blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and if so, please feel free to share. Stay safe and stay healthy!

Looking ahead to a new decade

Happy New Year

Let me start the new year (and decade) by wishing you all a happy and prosperous 2020 and hope that your dreams and aspirations become a reality.

For years on end, like many others at the start of January I had always had the very best of intentions to make the new year a better one than the previous. The list of desired improvements would include the mandatory list of; lose weight, earn more money, spend more time with family etc. etc., but as always, I would falter and my plans would be in ruins within a matter of weeks (if not days!).

“The goal of this human adventure is to see what all we can become with all we have been given” – Jim Rohn

My “eureka” moment however came to me some 8 years ago, when I was introduced to the concept of personal development. I started listening to recordings and read books by leaders in this field such as Jim Rohn, Darren Hardy Robert Kelsey and Brian Tracy. Since then, I can honestly say that I am a different person and have been striving (with reasonable success, even if I say so myself) to improve, both professionally and personally and set myself targets and goals for each new year.

Sure I still fail to do things that I said I’d do, forget to ring my Mum, work in my office way beyond a sensible hour and neglect to go the gym as often as I should, BUT, the positives that I have benefited from by investing some time, effort and a little money in developing my existing skills, learning new ones, changing bad habits for good and allowing myself to dream a little and set some goals for the future – these range from tidying out the cupboard under the stairs, to paying off my mortgage early – cannot be under-estimated. I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today, without this help!

If you are someone who feels they are underachieving, or could get more out of life, but need some structure and guidance, give it a go and see where it takes you. You’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Music for You only exists, because I engaged in personal development and the ideas and inspiration for pushing the business ahead came from many sources, including the ones shown below. I must stress however, that the improvements and changes I have implemented are not just business related and cover my personal and lifestyle aspirations too, which have also benefited greatly as a result.

I would seriously advocate the following authors and publications:

Lee Duncan – Double Your Business pub. Pearson/FT Publishing

Darren Hardy – Living Your Best Year Ever. This is a journal which is my absolute must-have book each year now. I review my previous year’s achievements and then plan my goals and targets for the new year, with daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly reviews of my progress along the way. I can’t recommend it enough – it also comes with 3 CD’s so you can learn as you go in the car, gym or even in bed! – but don’t be put off by the price. If you can implement the methods in this book, you would pay double and not give it a second thought! And no, before you ask, I’m not on commission for this recommendation.

The Brilliant series of books – can be found in all good bookshops such as Waterstones and WH Smith

Robert Kelsey – Get Things Done pub. Capstone

I hope that these suggestions have inspired you to be more proactive in making things happen for you this year and for those of you that do bite the bullet, that it makes as positive and significant a difference in your lives, as it did mine.

As a parting thought, I’ll finish with the wise words of former US President, Thomas Jefferson:

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude”.

If you’d like some more advice on resources that I’ve found helpful, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line at andrew@andrewjonesmusic.com