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5 Things We Should Normalize in Classical Music

Honestly, I don't love the word "normalize" but in this case, I think it's necessary to know that other people struggle with these things. Everyone thinks they're alone so much of the time, but you're not alone. I promise.

Chelsea Tanner Holding her flute


1. Non-Linear Progress

So much of the time, practicing and improvement are described in a linear fashion. If you practice, you’ll get better. But what about those days when you maybe didn’t retain what you did yesterday? Or what if today actually doesn’t sound as good as yesterday's practice? These moments can be SO frustrating. I get asked all the time about “bad sound days” and what to do when you feel like you sound worse one day. Consistent work yields consistent long-term progress, not necessarily short-term progress. If you’re having one of those days, here’s what I offer:

  • Remember this happens to everyone. You’re not alone. Thinking you’re the only one that has this problem is probably not helpful for improvement. You’re not the only one, I promise.

  • When you have an “off” day, know that it’s just part of being a musician, practice the best you can anyway, and cut yourself some slack.

  • You don’t always need to hear tangible progress to know that you’re helping your overall skill level. If you’re willing to stop judging yourself for having an “off” day, you’ll be more willing to practice through it.

2. Feeling Inadequate Sometimes

The number of DMs, clients, and students who share their concerns about feeling inadequate is staggering. Of course, since I talk about this openly online, people feel more comfortable reaching out, but I’m sure most people don’t. If you have felt like you aren’t good enough know that most musicians feel this way at some point or another. Nobody has it all figured out. We all have human brains, I’ve never met a music robot. If you struggle with not feeling “good enough” - listen to my podcast episode Good Enough Complex Here are some ways I deal with this because it was SO ingrained in how I was living my life.

I have gotten really good at recognizing the feeling when it comes up. I know then from that feeling that my brain is thinking some crappy thoughts about me. I know that it’s scared because doing something like taking an audition, or even going into a lesson with a teacher you really respect can be scary! I know that when my brain starts to be overly self-critical, part of me is scared. I’m scared of feeling embarrassed, or uncomfortable. I’m scared of what people will think of me. I’m scared of failure.


Then I remind myself of a few things:

  • I’m going to treat myself with love and kindness no matter what happens in any lesson or audition, I make a promise to myself that I'm not going to beat myself up.

  • Nothing a committee or a teacher decides means anything about me as a person or a musician. It also doesn’t mean anything about my potential. They are just thoughts in someone else’s mind.

  • It is okay to feel scared, and I am willing to feel the discomfort of whatever is coming so I can reach the goals I've set for myself.


3. Rest Days

I used to think that if I never took a break, I’d never be out of shape. If I never took a break, I’d always be consistent. This led to feeling guilty if I missed a day because I believed that I shouldn’t be taking days off. Not only that, I used to go non-stop and wear that as a badge of honor. I used to think that sacrificing everything would mean I’d deserve success more. But that’s just not true.

You can work extremely hard every day, never rest, and you still might not get to where you want to go. That’s the risk we take as musicians, it’s a harsh reality. I just realized that if I’m going to reach my goals, I’m going to do them my way. And that involves rest days, and not beating myself up. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with rest. It doesn’t always feel good. Spending the day not being productive at all still doesn’t seem like my ideal day, but I’ve made progress. I’m able to sit with my thoughts because of mindset coaching. My thoughts aren’t creating such a terrible environment anymore. If you don’t like sitting alone with your thoughts, think about the mental environment your brain is creating for you… Just observe, don’t judge yourself for judging yourself. I still have to remind myself that it’s okay to rest. Baby steps.


4. Putting Your Well-Being as a human first

Okay, this goes hand in hand with the rest days, but on a larger scale. This could look like not looking for jobs far away from your loved ones because you know that you’d be a mentally healthier person staying in a familiar place. Sacrificing your personal life for your career is celebrated in classical music. I think there can be a balance. Some musicians say to take every possible audition. I’ve tried that approach, and I’m choosing not to operate that way anymore.

Also, if you’re thinking “I don’t deserve to rest or take a break because I haven’t done enough to deserve it.” Take a step back. Your ability to play your instrument and the ‘status’ of your career is separate from your worth as a human. You are important as a person no matter how well you play your instrument. It is great to have a well-planned and executed practice schedule, but sometimes you’re just tired and need a break. One of my clients said, “I didn’t come out of the womb playing violin” in a moment of realization that they existed as a complete human before they joined orchestra class. And humans need to be cared for. Care for yourself as a human first. No job is worth sacrificing your well-being, no job will fix all your problems when you get it.


5. Be Kind to Yourself

If I could pick just one thing, number 5 would be it. Kindness is underrated - I’ll be making T-shirts with that saying on them eventually. Motivating yourself with encouragement and kindness is the best habit you can build. If you’re constantly putting yourself down to motivate yourself, your opinion of yourself will go down (a.k.a. your self-confidence). I see this happen on every level, from beginners to professionals. We all struggle with this.

Negative motivation and beating yourself up will never elicit positive results long term. Your thoughts create your emotions, so if you keep telling yourself you suck and you need to get better, you’ll probably feel guilt and shame. That guilt and shame are what fuels your practice session. Think about how it feels to feel shame when you practice. It feels honestly terrible. No wonder people don’t like practicing more! Practicing from a place of guilt and shame will only make you feel worse, it’s not going to elicit positive results. What I mean by positive results is feeling confident and in control when you’re performing and in the job you worked so hard to get.

If you’re wanting to start being a bit kinder to yourself in the practice room download my free guide! How to Stop Your Negative Self-Talk - It’s free!

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