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Recently I had the opportunity to talk with a great musician and mental trainer, Michael Gustorff, in Arnhem. I knew of him thanks to his book Practising without problems (Music Design, 2004). 

When I went to see him, I was thinking on talking about practice strategies. What I found was far more interesting for me: a new approach to practicing, to music, and to life as a whole.

Practicing from fear

Gustorff system is based in changing your attitude towards music. It is usual for us musicians to think about difficult passages, wrong notes, good and wrong playing, tough pieces... We have programmed our minds to think in that terms. So we have set a framework based on fears and anxiety. Just the fact of thinking in something as difficult makes our brain to put unconscious barriers to our development. 

We can develop a different attitude if we change these words for other ones. We can think in interesting pieces, challenging passages, and so on. In fact, it is all a matter of getting used to something. It isn't difficult to us to speak in our own language. It isn't either to walk, run, jump... even writing or typewriting, what in fact is an advanced skill.

We are able to do a lot of things without fear of failing, or fear of not making the expectations. Do we think we are not going to be able to have a conversation in our own language, due to a lack of skill? Do we face it with fear? Of course not. We know we can do it, it is easy for us. We are used to it.

It can be the same with music. Once you learn to play a passage, a song, rhythm, or whatever, it becomes easy for you. The problem can rise if we tag it as difficult, hard, tough, impossible... then our brain limits its own capacities, affecting our body and our learning process.

Learning a new way

Then, how can we change our mind? what is the alternative? The answer is simple, by starting towork in a different way. This doesn't mean necessarily to change the exercises we are practicing: the most important thing is to change our attitude. We have to forget about the high expectations we put in ourselves, and approach practicing as a exciting activity. Actually it is: when we practice we are investigating, going deep into Music. We are also discovering new things about ourselves. If we put apart the expectations, we can focus on the excitement of learning new things, opening our mind to what it is happening. We get in touch with the moment, and we can be aware of all what it involves: the sound, the room, the feel of our body in relation with our instrument, our breath. We can then flow with the muic, instead of fight to control it.

There are some things we can do to facilitate this state of mind. To invest 3-5 minutes to meditate, just focusing on our breath, can help us to put aside these expectations we have, and set our mind in the open state that I have mentioned.

But, does it really work?

I guess most of us have experienced how a small change in our approach to a given exercise or passage has brought a noticeable improvement in our playing. Thie same principles apply here. Everyone of us is different, and maybe there are people who don't want to give a chance to this kind of approach. I just can say that for me it is working really well. I am enjoying my practice time more than ever, and I am not anxious anymore. Before I was always thinking I didn't practice enough, and there is too much to cover. I wasn't living the everyday improvements I experience, because I was looking at the future. Now I enjoy every moment, and I dig deeper in every exercise. Minduflness gives meaning to my practice. And I've just begun to approach this way. I am eager to see what comes next!

I hope you can get something valuable from my experience.

Thanks for reading!

All images in this post are taken from FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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