Student Musicians: Getting Beyond “Stuck”

Most student musicians inevitably reach a point when they feel stuck. It’s as if they’ve reached their limit, their highest point, and can’t go any further. They keep doing the same routine over and over but don’t experience any growth.

by Donna Schwartz

If you are experiencing that stuck feeling, what you may not realize is that it’s only your own thinking that is keeping you stuck and holding you back from achieving your next goal.

Taming the Mind

Our minds can play really powerful tricks and convince us we are not talented enough to pursue our dreams. Half the journey to success has to do with our mindset. Telling ourselves we can achieve something will likely bring about change.

When I was younger, I would “beat myself up” if I didn’t do well at an audition or performance. I could hear in my head exactly how I wanted the performance to go, but got angry when it didn’t come out the bell of my trumpet. I demanded greatness from myself and most of the time got it.

But sometimes, I didn’t.

Those times, my performance was based in fear: fear of losing my seat in band, fear of not getting into All-State, fear of not getting into the college I wanted.

My practicing leading up to those performances was based in fear, too. My mind wasn’t clear and relaxed enough to reach my goals effectively and efficiently. It became a seesaw of emotions: extreme highs and extreme lows. I led myself to believe that music performance = fear.

My results were also lopsided. I got accepted into All-State one year but not the following. I got into 2 prestigious summer music camps but not into the college of my dreams.

The upshot? I had lots of great performance opportunities. But I had trained myself to think of performance as an event to be feared instead of enjoyed.

The Power of Believing

Beliefs lead our brains to act toward the end result of what we believe.

Does this mean that all you have to do is believe you’re great and then success and riches will follow? No! You still have to set big and small goals, realistically assess your abilities, and have the belief in yourself that over time, you will reach your goals.

For example, if you’re a jazz student, why not believe you are skilled at keeping time while soloing? To do this, you’ll need to keep listening to amazing jazz soloists, like Stanley Turrentine, Sonny Rollins, Freddie Hubbard, etc., to fill your brain with great information.

Action Steps

Pick one piece to work on at a time. If you’re a jazz student, set the metronome or Amazing Slow Downer app at a certain tempo, and work just on keeping your rhythms in good time with the beat. Push yourself to a faster speed, even if it’s just an increase of 1% every day. That 1% over time builds up to huge progress.

The key? While working on your goal, believe that you can achieve it.

When practicing, and especially performing, pick a superstar as your role model. Hear them play in your head when you perform. In time, what comes out of your instrument will be your own version of amazing.

By changing the way we think about ourselves, we can greatly improve our performances and enjoy making music. Granted, this is not easy to do at first, but starting small and looking for that 1% improvement on achieving a goal every day will, in time, yield big results.


music educationDonna Schwartz has been teaching music for over 26 years and has performed at all types of venues in the NYC metro area.

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