If you’ve been unhappy with your playing, or you’re wanting to improve your practice effectiveness in 2020, it may be worth your time to worry less about how you practice and focus more on what you listen to.
This doesn’t just apply to the music and recordings you listen to. This also means paying more attention to your own self-talk soundtrack and making sure it is helping to move you forward, instead of holding you back.
Monitor Your Self-Talk
I feel like it’s pretty obvious that your self-talk can have a large impact on your self-esteem and performance quality.
For most people (myself included) your self-talk during practice can be overly harsh (or downright abusive). Over the next few weeks, pay attention to what you say to yourself (either silently or out loud) whenever you make a mistake. Chances are, you probably wouldn’t say it to a student, colleague, or friend. If that’s the case, you shouldn’t say it to yourself!
Additionally, during a stressful performance or audition, many people have even harsher self-talk, which can lead to a pretty drastic downward spiral from their normal abilities. Even your body language can be a form of self-talk to pay attention to. In an experiment covered (where else) by the Bulletproof Musician, just the act of shaking a head up or down (as if saying “yes”) or back and forth (as if saying “no”) had an impact on performance.
Monitor Your Influences
One of the more common sayings in motivational or self-help books is that “you are the average of the 5 (or 10) people you hang around most”.
This is, of course, an oversimplification, but it’s not without quite a bit of truth.
It also doesn’t just apply to people you hang around with. If you haven’t invested the time to find good recordings of pieces you’re working on then you may be putting bad (musical) ideas in your brain. It’s also a good idea to listen to good artists on other instruments (both in and out of your instrument family) to expand your musical horizons. For example, if you’ve not listened to Yo-Yo Ma play the Bach Cello Suites, Puccini's opera Tosca, Tchaikovsky’s Symphonies 4-6 played by the Leningrad Philharmonic, the Busch Quartet's recording of late Beethoven string quartets, or a young Daniel Barenboim play Mozart's Piano Concertos, maybe this year you should.
I also have quite a wide variety of horn-related artists and recordings here, if you’re looking for something more specific to French horn. But some of the best recordings of the best music has no horn in it at all!