Welcome to the latest part of our guide to Mindful Musicianship! The goal of these posts is to help you become a more effective musician simply by employing the power of your mind.
We’ve already seen how a handful of simple exercises can help enhance your musicality and foster a deeper connection between your mind, your ears, and your instrument. This time, we’ll explain how to assimilate a set of fundamental principles that are essential in achieving any goal.
Patience and confidence can be daunting concepts. We’re often told to “Just be patient,” or “Just be confident,” with little indication as to just how to do those things. It can seem intimidating – but there is great news! Patience and confidence might seem difficult to attain, but both of them actually have a common element that holds the key to becoming both patient and confident at once! That all-important common element is trust.
Let’s look at patience first, and consider how it works. Patience is all about being able to take your time, affording tasks and journeys the time they require and managing to put up with any difficulties and delays that may arise. This requires trust, because if you’re going to invest time moving from Point A to Point B and deal with any problems that crop up along the way, you need to trust that you will eventually reach Point B. If you lose that sense of trust it’s very easy to become anxious and impatient, getting frustrated and pushing yourself too hard and maybe even injuring yourself, forcing you to put down your instrument or stop singing for a while. Don’t worry, though – we’ll soon discuss how to avoid that route altogether!
Like patience, confidence requires trust. Confidence is the feeling that you are able to rely on someone or something. If you’re aiming to improve your musical abilities, you want to be able to rely on yourself, to feel a sense of self-confidence. In other words, you want to be able to trust yourself. You can’t rely on someone you can’t trust; if you gave an untrustworthy person fifty pounds and asked them to look after it for a week, you wouldn’t rely on them to do anything except spend it on themselves within the first fifteen minutes!
We can see, then, that trust is central to achieving patience and confidence. If you can learn to cultivate a sense of trust in yourself you will find it easier to take the time you need to improve your musicianship, deal with any setbacks without getting flustered or annoyed, and feel able to rely on yourself and your own abilities. In other words, you will be patient and confident!
The next step in your journey, then, is cultivating a sense of trust in yourself. Once you have that sense of trust established, patience and confidence will not be far behind. Let’s look at some ways to get you started on your journey toward a deeper, stronger sense of trust.
Here’s a simple way for a musician to prove his or her own trustworthiness: Keep picking up your instrument. Go to your guitar, and strum away. Sit at your drum kit or keyboard, and bash or plunk at it to your heart’s content. If you sing, open your mouth and belt out a melody, or hum a tune under your breath. Each time you do this, don’t fall into the habit of judging how well you’re playing or singing. Don’t compare how you’re playing now to how you played last time, and don’t label what you’re doing as “good” or “bad”. All that matters is that you picked up your instrument, and when you put it down at the end of your practice session you know, with no sense of doubt whatsoever, that you’re going to go back to it and pick it up again. If you think you suck, it doesn’t matter; embrace it and let it go, because all that’s important right now is that you are playing, you’re having fun doing it, and you’re going to keep coming back.
Another way to cultivate trust is by sitting down, with or without your instrument, and just focussing on your breathing. If you have your instrument to hand, you don’t need to play anything; just watch your breath. The great thing about the breath is that it’s reliable; you can always trust it. You breathe in, you breathe out, and it happens automatically. You don’t need to force the in-breath or the out-breath, and you don’t need to remember to breathe. Watching your own breathing allows you to directly experience trust. When you trust your own breathing, you’re trusting yourself; in other words, you’re experiencing self-trust, and by extension self-confidence and patience too!
Try remembering how this feels the next time you go to play – and if you have trouble remembering, try focussing on your breathing as you play. If you didn’t breathe while playing, you’d faint within the space of a few bars! By focussing your attention on your breathing, you can always return to a state of trust and confidence while playing your instrument.
As your journey continues, there will always be new opportunities to improve your sense of trust, and by extension your patience and confidence. You will encounter many challenges – but now that you know you’ll keep picking up your instrument you also know that you’ll have plenty of time to work on that tricky beat, lick, or exercise. If you feel frustrated you can focus on your breathing, feeling that always-available source of self-confidence and trust, and let it calm you down and carry you through to the other side.
Sooner or later, the challenge will be overcome – thus proving beyond all doubt that you’re trustworthy, reliable, and successful. That success will in turn breed more confidence, motivating you to pick up your instrument again and again, taking on new challenges, feeling the trust again, focussing on your breathing, staying patient and remembering that you’ve been through it all before, and eventually being rewarded with another win. You’ll look back on the times you struggled to do something you now find easy, laugh about it, and know that in the future you’ll look back on today and realise how much more cool stuff you’re capable of doing that you weren’t back then.
This is the path to success. Walk it with your head held high.