DID YOU KNOW: Being a music major is widely considered highly stressful. A friend of mine made a joke the other day about how she is always on the verge of tears, she is so stressed as a musician. Then she saw a squirrel and started crying because it had an acorn. Keep in mind, my school has been in session three days. And while that might be a bit extreme, that constant sense of stress is something a lot of musicians are familiar with.
However, just because being stressed is considered normal, does not mean that it’s good for you. Taking some time for yourself to wind down and relax is important. It’s better to get into that habit now rather than once squirrels start triggering breakdowns. So here’s some tips!
Know when you need to take a break from your instrument. I get a LOT of messages from people who say “I can’t force myself to play my instrument.” That is a red flag right there. You shouldn’t have to force yourself to do something you love! If you’re feeling like you need to force yourself to practice (different from just kinda not wanting to practice) then it’s probably time to take an intentional couple-day break to refresh and recharge. Then you can start noodling around on your instrument, and see if practice is easier from there.
Accept that you are constantly improving. I kinda hate listening to old recordings of myself, because I usually feel like I sucked in that particular recording. That’s because in the time since those recordings, I’ve improved. I’ve used this knowledge to help myself after a less than stellar performance many times. If you’re constantly improving, then a bad performance now is usually miles better than a bad performance last year. And you are. You are ALWAYS getting better at your instrument, as long as you’re still using it.
Stretch before and after you practice. No one likes practice-related injuries. As a singer, I try to warm up really thoroughly, and then just do some full body stretches. If you’re an instrumentalist, I guarantee that there are YouTube videos that will show you appropriate warmups for your instrument. It also makes you feel better during and after practice, because stretching just feels nice!
Practice without using your instrument. Score study is practice. Researching the piece is practice. Listening to other performances of the piece is practice. If you need a break from the daily practice-room grind, go spend some time in the library instead. It will inform your musicianship and get you out of your normal bubble.
Critique your playing exactly like you would someone else’s. If you’re the kind of person to berate yourself after practicing or performing, I want you to stop and think a second. Pretend your best friend had just performed exactly that piece, exactly that way, with exactly the same amount of practice. Would you look at her and say “Hey, that was complete and absolute rubbish. You suck.” No? Then don’t say it to yourself. Say “That could have gone better, sure, but this went okay, and that mistake you’ve never made before so it was probably nerves.” You are a constantly improving work of art, and constructive criticism helps make it better. Insults don’t. Take care of yourself like you would your best friend.
Music is stressful in academic settings, yes. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take care of yourself the best that you can. Be kind to yourself, and you’ll be surprised at how much nicer life is.