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On Practicing - Part IV, "Negative Psychological Factors in Practice"

Welcome back! In this installment of my series discussing Ricardo Iznaola’s “On Practicing,” I’ll be talking about potential negative psychological factors of practicing. If you’ve read any of my blogs so far, you’ll begin to get a sense that I believe the mental side of practicing is as equally, and sometimes more, important as the physical side of practicing. This lesson is truly excellent for anyone seeking to train themselves in any skill, not just music. So let’s jump in.

Possible Negative Psychological Factors In Practicing

1. Expectations.This is probably the most important part of our psychological training. We all have expectations of where we should be in a month, year, 10 years etc… Those expectations can often be a great aid in our development IF we approach them by way of setting realistic goals. That being said, we often don’t approach this idea in that way, rather we say things like (and this is directly from the book) “I’ve been playing guitar for 3 years. I should be able to play a, b, or c.” That’s an easy way to trap yourself into a fruitless few years of practicing. If you approach that same question from the standpoint of goals, you’re much more likely to find success in that situation. It would look something like “In three years I want to play x, y, and z. In order to achieve that I’m going to do a, b, c, d by these dates to prepare myself for x, y, and z.” Does framing it this way mean you’re going to magically achieve x, y, and z by your desired date? Absolutely not, but you’ve given yourself concrete steps on how to achieve your goals over the course of the next three years as opposed to just assuming that’s where you should be.

2. Memories.This is an interesting one, and definitely one that I haven’t really though much about. This is the balance of good and bad memories. Iznaola encourages us to leave the bad memories out of the practice room. Have you ever had a bad performance experience? Take notes from it but don’t give it the opportunity to influence your future practice and performance. I’ve had plenty of performances where I have a memory slip and then the next time I perform that piece all I can think about is how I memory slipped in the measures coming up! Think that helped me during the second performance? Nope. Figure out why you memory slipped during the practice sessions, work on it, and the next time you perform that piece don’t give past performances a second thought. Iznaola quotes the Russian theater director Stanislavski as saying “today, here, now.” We can learn from that. Live in the here and now and make the most of your hard work and talent.

3. Comparisons.This is DEFINITELY one I think about all the time. Looking up to people is a fantastic source of inspiration. However, comparing yourself to others, more often than not, will lead to negative self-judgement. I find that most of this manifests itself when watching our peers. When watching my peers I begin to think either “Man I wish I could do that” or “I could do that better.” Those are both such ridiculous thoughts it’s crazy! My biggest suggestion is this: Humble yourself so you can simply appreciate the value your peers offer the music community and then use that as inspiration to contribute your own value. That idea extends far beyond the walls of music. If you want to succeed in life, you absolutely have to remain humble and appreciate people for their contribution, but you also have to acknowledge that your contribution is a positive force as well. Once you can get into that state of mind, you will begin to see even more personal and professional growth.

These are three ideas that I think are of the upmost importance for your mental success as a musician and more generally as a member of this community we call earth (go check out my page on global citizenship for more on that). Once again, Iznaola really nailed it with this lesson. I wish you the best as you try to implement these into your learning process.

I would encourage every musician, regardless of instrument, to pick up a copy of this book as soon as you can. Below is a link to Amazon for your convenience. As always, if you’ve enjoyed this post leave a comment, send me a message, and share on your favorite social media platform!

- JB



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