A Quick Mindset Shift for When You Are Spiraling Downward
How you can find freedom through service
*Welcome to The Musician's Mindset! I'm Katie, a certified life coach and flutist who helps musicians overcome performance anxiety and bring their best selves to the stage. I would love to talk to hear your stories about being a musician and what happens for you on stage. Click HERE and we’ll find some time to chat!*
As musicians, we can easily become tangled up in a web of unhelpful thoughts and feelings. We can feel like an imposter in the orchestra, like our colleagues or teachers are judging us, or like we are simply not good enough to “make it.”
When the internal dialogue becomes loud enough, it can begin to affect the music we create through our instruments. Instead of feeling freedom and relaxation as we play, our shoulders tense and we lose concentration, making mistakes even when we are well-prepared.
It can feel impossible to see the forest for the trees in moments like this and, I for one, know what it is like to spiral downward during a rehearsal in both my mindset and my playing.
My guess is that it has happened to you, too.
That’s the thing about being a performer - we are never alone! One of the reasons I write this blog is to shine a light on the thoughts that every musician has in order to normalize these feelings and actively pursue solutions. We are not destined to be tortured artists. As a matter of fact, we create our best work from a place of emotional balance, confidence, and vulnerability.
I had a non-musician friend from many, many years ago give me advice that, to this day, I return to when my mind and heart are full of fear and self-doubt. This advice works just as beautifully within the context of being a musician as it does within the context of being a human.
When you are tangled up in negative feelings, lift your eyes up and serve others.
Sometimes the answer isn’t more self-awareness or digging into the deeper reasons behind our feelings. Sometimes, like when we are on stage!, we need a change of perspective to help knock us out of our ruminations or limiting beliefs.
3 simple ways to serve others while making music
1. Serve your audience.
There are hundreds of human souls sitting in the hall who have come to receive something beautiful. They have not come to judge you; they have not come to evaluate your worthiness as a player; many have not come for you at all! They have come for themselves. They have come because they want to spend time with someone special, because they want a respite from the cares of their week because they love the piece you’re playing tonight. There are as many reasons as there are people in the hall, but none of them come to a concert in order to stand in judgment of you.
When you have an orientation of service toward the audience, you understand what a precious gift you are giving them. It’s easy to forget that the world of classical music is absolutely enchanting to people. The audience stands in awe of your abilities to create sound that stirs their hearts and souls. You give them the time and space they need to reconnect to a deeper piece of themselves. None of this requires perfection; none of this can be derailed by a few mistakes. It is bigger than you.
2. Serve your colleagues.
When I started playing again after a decade of being off my flute, I would find myself paralyzed in rehearsal. Every mistake, every late entrance, every phrase where I didn’t match my principal player tied me in knots. However, when I lifted my eyes and realized that I was there to make them sound as beautiful as possible, I felt more freedom. I was able to release my tension and lean into my intuitive musicianship as I supported them in their work.
You have a critical role to play within your section or chamber ensemble. Your voice intermingles with the other musicians to create something exceedingly special, something that can’t be created without you. When you serve your colleagues, you become part of something greater than yourself and you allow them to do the same. Choose to be abundant in your music-making. Choose to be generous with your skills. Choose to believe that your contributions bolster the musicians around you, because they do!
3. Serve the music.
Imagine what it would be like to personify a piece of music. What would they look like? What would they desire? What would their greatest hopes and dreams be?
My guess is that music’s only desire would be to be played. As often as possible for as many people as possible. The music doesn’t care how perfect your double stops are, it just wants a chance to be heard. These pieces can go decades without being performed - what a gift to bring this music to life! The music cannot exist without you. It is black notes on a white page. Music requires the artist to breathe life and depth and emotion into it. When you serve the music, your work is directed toward something outside of yourself.
The idea of playing music as an act of service is simple at its heart. It is human at its heart. We are here on this planet for others. To love them, to encourage them, and to make their lives more beautiful and connected.
We have the privilege of doing that through music. Let’s never forget it.
Next Steps and Additional Resources
Here at The Musician's Mindset, we have some incredible resources for developing and implementing mindset practices that will transform how you perform on stage.
First, check out our Personalized Mindset Tools Quiz to discover the mindset strategies perfect for YOU!
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Schedule your call with Katie. It’s free. It’s my pleasure. And it’s the first step to releasing stage fright once and for all.
Founder of The Musician's Mindset
Katie is a certified life coach dedicated to helping musicians overcome stage fright and believe in their own unique artistic voice. She believes live classical music is a powerful antidote for the division, pain, and loneliness pervasive in the culture and strives to support all artists to confidently share their work with the world. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, three kiddos, a dog, a snake, and a goldfish named Orca.