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Learning to play an instrument is a rewarding journey that can bring joy, creativity, and self-expression into your life. However, it’s not uncommon for individuals to encounter certain beliefs that can hinder their progress and dampen their enthusiasm. I often refer to the mindset work around learning to play an instrument as the ‘head work.’ It often surprises people that they would need to do mindset work when learning how to play an instrument, but I assure you, it’s essential.
Musicians don’t always even realize that they’re having mindset issues until they understand some of the symptoms that stem from mindset issues and also some of the mindset issues themselves. Mindset issues can hold you back in big ways. These issues keep you feeling small and can ultimately prevent progress from being made or even lead to quitting music completely. If you’ve ever felt any of the common symptoms from the list below, it’s likely that you need to make some mindset shifts when it comes to your music practice and playing.
Common (and sometimes surprising) symptoms of mindset issues are:
- A lack of motivation to practice, even if you were initially very excited to get started
- Feeling like your practice sessions aren’t enjoyable
- Being anxious when you make mistakes or when it feels like your brain can’t go fast enough to keep up with the task at hand
- Comparing your progress to other musicians
- Disappointment in the amount of progress you make during each practice session
- An inability to receive compliments about your music skills or abilities
- Performance anxiety
These symptoms are common among adult music learners, and if you are experiencing any of them, you’re not alone. It takes a lot of time, energy, and effort to get to the point where you can play pieces through with freedom and fluidity. Along the way, there are bound to be some road bumps.
Let’s dive into the beliefs behind these symptoms and get you some tactical things that you can do to overcome these beliefs.
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Belief 1: Practice Makes Perfect.
The belief that “practice makes perfect” is a pervasive and damaging one. Contrary to popular belief, perfection is not an attainable goal in music playing or in life in general. Setting perfection as the ultimate objective can lead to frustration and disappointment. Instead, focus on the idea that “practice makes progress.” Progress is the key to growth and improvement in playing an instrument.
Every practice session should leave you feeling like you’ve made some advancement, no matter how small. Celebrate these incremental steps toward your musical goals. If you aren’t making the progress that you want during each practice session, it’s likely that you need to focus on smaller sections of music or that you need to slow down. Sometimes simply taking a breath and refocusing can bring the desired result.
Belief 2: It needs to be fast.
Many music learners fall into the trap of believing that progress should be fast or that they should play pieces at a lightning-fast tempo. This belief manifests in two ways:
- Impatient Progress: Some learners expect rapid results, hoping to master a piece in a short span of time. However, learning any instrument is a gradual process that requires consistent effort over time. It’s about the accumulation of small, deliberate actions.
- Racing to Tempo: The desire to play a piece at its intended tempo can lead to rushing through practice without attention to accuracy and precision. This haste often results in persistent mistakes.
To overcome this belief, shift your focus from speed to consistency and accuracy. Take your time to master each section of a piece thoroughly before increasing the tempo. Remember that speed is a natural byproduct of precise and consistent practice. A great concrete measurement you can use to know if you’re playing something consistently accurately enough is to ask yourself if you are playing the section or piece with 95% accuracy 95% of the time. If the answer is yes, you are ready to speed up or increase the length of the section you’re working on. If not, there’s a need for more slow, deliberate practice.
Belief 3: I Can’t Do It (because I’m too old, or because I lack an inherent ability, or because of x, y, z).
Believing that you can’t do something instantly or that you lack certain abilities can be a significant roadblock to progress. It doesn’t matter how many good reasons you have to support the belief. They aren’t true. This belief often sneaks into your practice when frustration sets in, leading to negative self-talk.
To combat this belief, adopt a growth mindset. Understand that your capabilities are not fixed, and you have the potential to achieve your goals with the right strategies and dedication. Consider maintaining a list of affirmations or reasons why you can achieve your goals. Remind yourself that you have the capacity to learn and improve over time.
These common beliefs have the potential to stifle your progress in learning your instrument, but with the right mindset and strategies, you can overcome them. Embrace the idea that progress, not perfection, is your goal. Focus on consistency and accuracy, not speed, and trust that you can learn and grow as a musician.
Remember that learning music is a journey, and every step forward, no matter how small, is a step closer to your musical aspirations. So, banish these limiting beliefs, practice with intention, and go easy on yourself.
If you want to dive deeper into the topic of mindset as it relates to your music learning journey, check out this YouTube tutorial that discusses the differences between growth and fixed mindset when it comes to piano playing.