Avoid Frustrations in the Practice Room


There is a lot of frustration inherent in learning any skill at a high level. This frustration comes not only from the large number of hours that must be invested in order to obtain consistent, repeatable results, but also (at least in the case of the French horn) the seemingly hundreds or thousands of ways in which things can go wrong quickly and with no (apparent) warning. However, there are ways that you can avoid frustrations in the practice room and reduce anxiety while performing, thanks to the work of psychotherapist Albert Ellis.

This Business Insider article by Eric Barker references psychologist Albert Ellis, who developed the Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), which hypothesizes that humans don’t get upset merely at their current difficulties, but at how those circumstances interact with their (often unrealistic) beliefs. The Business Insider article gives the example of being stuck in traffic:

It’s as simple as ABCD. Really.

A is adversity. Traffic is awful.

B is your beliefs. And often they’re irrational. “This shouldn’t happen to me.” Well, guess what, Bubba? It is happening.

C is consequences. You get angry, frustrated or depressed.

In very few cases can you change A. But you can change B. And that will change C. So let’s bring in the 4th letter.

D: Dispute your irrational beliefs. “Wait a second. When did the universe guarantee me a trouble-free existence? It didn’t. Traffic has happened before. It will happen again. And I will survive.”

It doesn’t take a lot to see how this can translate into reducing anxiety and frustration during practice and performance. Here’s just a few examples of situations where irrational actions or beliefs can cause trouble down the road:

  • If you can’t count the rhythms out loud, how do you know how they fit within a steady beat?
  • If you’ve never played a piece with a metronome, how would you know that you are playing with a steady and consistent beat?
  • If you don’t know what different intervals sound like, how can you be sure that you are playing with high accuracy?
  • If you don’t know the definition of the words in your music, how can you be sure that you aren’t missing an important instruction?
  • How can you expect to sightread either easy or difficult music if you don’t know all of your major (and minor) scales and arpeggios, in however many octaves you can play?
  • And on, and on…

A good friend (and excellent horn player) James Rester once summarized this very succinctly: “Accept, don’t expect”.


About Colin Dorman

Colin is a freelance horn player and teacher, as well as a fan of tech of all sorts, aviation, and increasingly complex flight simulators. He also enjoys beer, bourbon and fitness - but not at the same time. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, as well as right here at ColinDorman.com!