Practicing in New Environments

I feel completely comfortable practicing at home, but over the past couple of years, trying to practice in a different environment around different people has been torture. I guess it’s due to the fact that I have been so self-conscious of late, and I also keep thinking about other people listening to me practice and imagining the negative things that those people must be saying about my playing. It’s a vicious cycle, but one that I am facing once again as I have to end my summer vacation.

In recent years, I used a practice mute in order to allow myself to feel comfortable playing in public. Of course, using a practice mute on a regular basis isn’t the greatest of ideas. Those torture devices can not only mess with your intonation, but also wreak havoc upon your embouchure.

All jokes aside, I do feel a lot of anxiety when I am practicing or warming up around other people, musical or non-musical. Of course, the only way to get over this issue is to face it head on, so I will be forcing myself to practice in more “public” situations over the next few weeks. Once I get used to practicing in public again, I will be one step closer to learning how to positively cope with my anxiety.

I really thought that I was past this stuff. When I was in graduate school, practicing where other people could hear me wasn’t a problem. I do, however, recall some instances on the audition trail that caused my “practice” anxiety to resurface. One happened at an audition for the Canton Symphony in Ohio. This was my third professional audition, and it was my first time driving through Ohio. I got lost and was running late to the audition, so things were already stressful. Once I got there, the warm-up room was just an open room. There were plenty of other horn players sitting around and talking, but no one was playing. I was afraid to be the only playing in front of all of these people. I didn’t want them to judge me, and I could already hear their criticism in my head. Needless to say, since I didn’t really warm up before the audition….it was pretty terrible. I learned two valuable lessons that day. One, leave really early when travelling to an audition. Second, make sure you warm up before playing an audition.

There were other factors that led to that horrible audition, but my anxiety and stress levels were very high, leading me to have severe dry mouth, shortness of breath, shaking, etc. At the time, I addressed some of these issues, but they have resurfaced and magnified since my injury. I know that my anxiety is mostly a mental manifestation of my thoughts and fears. During graduate school, I was able to overcome a lot of these anxious feelings and thoughts by being prepared and being positive. I have not been very positive about my playing since the injury, and I wasn’t practicing much, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I started to fold under the pressure.

Now, I have a regular practice routine that is pretty extensive, and I am learning to be more positive in my approach to playing the horn. Whenever I have a negative thought, I try to replace it with a more positive thought, or at least something that is constructive. I am a self-described perpetual pessimist, so I feel that most of my battle is learning how to be optimistic. Changing a natural tendency is never easy, but I am up to the challenge, so we’ll see how the “pessimist to optimist” journey unfolds.

Remember: Be positive, Don’t worry about what other people think, and Use your air!


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