Mental Toughness and Self-Worth
I divide my musical life in terms of before the first embouchure change that ended up being harmful, then the roughly ten years of struggling with range, tone and inconsistencies after that and after the second embouchure change to fix the first one. From six grade to my sophomore year in undergrad, I believed in myself as a player and that what came out of my bell was worth offering to others and listening to. It wasn’t just in music that I had this inherent knowing of my worth and what I had to offer the world. I knew my work was good and that my thoughts and feelings mattered.
Obviously, our upbringing and parents largely affect how we learn about the world and ourselves, but can we instill in ourselves and our students (for teachers) that what we sound like on your good and not so good days are all valid and worthy to be heard? I personally think that our mistakes can be more instructive than hearing someone play well or “perfectly”.
I think my inherent self-worth got me through those demoralizing times. But what if someone is less resilient? I hope very much that those reading this won’t give up on themselves and their growth as a player. I also hope educators won’t give up on their students. I found the exact right teacher at the exact right time who knew he didn’t fully understand everything that was wrong in my playing and referred me to someone he believed could help me. So the right teacher matters greatly. (I am eternally grateful to and for you Brian Kauk and Doug Elliot!)
You also need to have the desire and passion to work through the discomfort and at times anger of not sounding what you would like to. Your WHY. My why was/is I loved music and performance. I very much identified as a lifelong musician and was willing to do anything to keep on learning and growing.
What’s your WHY? What is the thing that you can remind yourself of to get you through the rough days and maybe weeks/months?
It’s your desire to attain a goal that will fuel your why. You have to be able to draw strength from yourself or others sometimes. Listening to recordings is always helpful for me to remember why I continue choosing to be a musician. What can recordings/podcasts/social media groups can you listen to and follow to help keep your cup full? To keep your internal fire burning?