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The mind-body connection stress reduction for musicians.

Performing music is very similar to competitive sports. The long hours of practice, the physical and mental preparation, the nutrition discipline, rest and skill development, all come together on the day of the performance.

Stress is an integral part of the experience. For some, stress equals challenge, but for others it generates fear, tensions and even illness. The bad news is that stress can have a negative impact on the quality of the performance, often creating feelings of anxiety, doubt and despair in the musician.

For those who experience high stress when performing, I have good news: reducing stress to manageable levels and mentally preparing for a peak performance involve simple body-mind skills that most motivated musicians can learn. In this program, participants first receive information, learn basic stress releasing and imagery skills, followed by brief experiences with the four key steps to a mind-body method for performing at their highest level.

First, "stressology" facts inform participants of the impact the "fight or flight" response has on performance. Participants learn to recognize their sources of stress and personal stressors. Since stressors are both external (our environment) and internal (our physical health and cognitions), the goal is to learn to catch the tension as it begins to build and reduce it. Next, information about the effects of the relaxation response prepares participants for an experience with the first key step, a basic relaxation technique.

Self-regulation of stress via relaxation involves sitting quietly, closing the eyes and performing a series of "tense then release" exercises of muscle groups. In just four or five minutes deep muscle relaxation begins to counter the impact of tense muscles generated by the stress reaction.

Following relaxation training, participants learn the psychology of peak experiences. Understanding the Yerkes-Dodson inverted U hypothesis, guides musicians to focus on achieving their peak level of performing. Also, the pitfalls of "trying too hard" are avoided. This information prepares participants for their second key step, using mental recall of best efforts.

Mentally recalling a personal best performance provides a virtual example of how the mind-body connection manages the pressures and tensions of preparing for and performing at one's highest ability level.

Mental recall of best efforts involves two steps. First, continuing to use a brief relaxation technique, such as a breathing method that employs the use of the diaphragm--also called yoga breathing--sends away body tension and calms the mind. Mental recall is simply vividly bringing into awareness the memory of a best performance. At the same time the person notices all the sensations and emotions of the event.

Positive self-talk, in the form of affirmations, is the third key step. This step involves creating a word, phrase or "mantra" to repeat as a means to maintaining focus on best effort. Affirmations are personal, positive and pinpoint the goal the musician seeks. Phrased in the present tense, the affirmation replaces any negative thoughts. By eliminating doubt and fear-based thoughts, the affirmation supports the goal of staying calm, focused and positive during the preparation for, and presentation of the performance. Generic affirmations include, "I am relaxed," or "I am focused and calm."

Using a relaxation technique, remembering a past personal best-performance and repeating affirmations are experiences that set the stage for the fourth key step, mental rehearsal.

The basic mental rehearsal format is added to the first three steps. The earlier steps reduce tension and stress, capture feelings of success and increase the belief that a peak performance is possible. Step four involves creating in your mind an imaginary dress rehearsal that includes calm, confident feelings and a peak performance. Mental rehearsal sets the stage for success "in vivo."

To summarize, practicing a four-step mind/body approach to minimizing performance stress increases the likelihood of a peak performance. The four steps are:

1. Choose a muscle relaxation technique, including "yoga"-style breathing

2. Recall a personal best-performance

3. Choose about three affirmations

4. Visualize the upcoming performance in full detail.

Musicians choosing to practice this simple, brief method will discover their stress is reduced and their enthusiasm for preparing to reach their peak is increased.

Robert McBrien is a licensed clinical professional counselor and author of a CD entitled Stress Control Basics. For more than 25 years he has been teaching natural relaxation therapy methods to help athletes and performers control stress.
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Article Details
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Author:McBrien, Robert
Publication:American Music Teacher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
Previous Article:Body movement for musicians.
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