This article was published in the September 2017 issue of the Southeast Michigan Flute Association Newsletter.
Taking auditions and competitions is a very large part of building a career as a professional musician. Many musicians spend months and months preparing for success at these events, and sometimes come out of them with less than desirable results. Every year during my heavy audition and competition season, I always try to remind myself about the importance of staying positive, humble and determined to achieve my own personal goals throughout the year. I strive to work on eliminating as many negative thoughts in my practice room as possible.
I recently just finished reading Sharon Sparrow's book titled "Six Weeks to Finals" where she speaks about the importance of mental training during audition and competition preparation. This passage in the book spoke volumes to me, because mental training is the exact element that I believe has been missing in my own audition preparation. I have experimented with positive meditation before each practice session, I practice yoga regularly, but I have never truly crossed the boundary of incorporating this specific type of mental training into my regular practice routine. After reading Professor Sparrow's book, I now know the importance of placing myself in a good mental state before I begin practicing. I try to remind myself to stay positive during each practice session in hopes of generating the same mindset when the time of the audition arrives.
I have been experimenting with a variety of ways to stay focused in the practice room without getting frustrated, and I have come up with a few exercises that work well for myself. Since every musician is different, the things that makes you happy in the practice room may differ greatly from what makes another person happy. I have been starting my practice sessions with some improvisation, playing melodies that please me aurally and focusing on my sound development. This has turned into a form of meditation, and has helped me reach a positive and open mindset before I begin my daily warm-ups. I have also begun to set goals for myself in each practice session that I know are attainable, so that I do not have to worry about falling short and "failing" in my personal progress. For example, I will choose a difficult section of a piece I am working on, and I will set a goal to play it perfectly at a very slow tempo by the end of my session. The next day, I will speed up the tempo marking about ten clicks. This slow practice time also helps me to learn the music more carefully, so that when I finally take this section up to the written tempo, the dynamic contrasts and musical markings will be very apparent. Slow practice is a wonderful way to save time and build confidence in your practicing, because you are practicing success rather than failure.
Another method of bringing positivity back into your practice room is a concept that the BGSU Flute Studio uses very regularly. Practicing your repertoire with the same energy and character that you hope to perform with is not only essential, but it makes practicing much more fun! To try this, take a section of your concerto or solo piece and assign a character, mood, color, or storyline to it. Create this character based on how this section makes you feel when you listen to it. Does it remind you of anything? If so, proceed with your normal practice regimens, but keep this character in mind the entire time. Apply it stylistically as well. Focus on building this character into your note endings, the way you shape each phrase, and any articulation and dynamic markings as well. Visualize all of these different elements of the music as existing within this character, and every musical element will become a different part of the storyline that you create for this section. While this may not work for everybody, an important thing to take away from this concept is that it is essential to practice in the same way you would like to perform. You cannot expect to get onstage and perform with vivacious stage presence without first incorporating that same energy into your practicing.
I have struggled with building self-confidence in my playing, and as I begin to open up to my colleagues, friends and family about my feelings, I realize that I am not alone in my fears and worries of failing. While I realize that motivation to win is a vital component towards our success as musicians, it can also become a great hindrance. The culture of our society is sometimes guilty of training us to instinctively cut down our competitors in order to raise ourselves up. Professor Sparrow states in her book the importance of focusing on your own individual preparation and your own audition on audition day, and not worrying about "who" or "how many" you are competing against. The music industry thrives on connections. Treating colleagues kindly and respectfully, while working as hard as you possibly can and pushing yourself to be the best musician you can possibly be, will help you become a colleague that other fellow musicians will always love to play with. We cannot effectively create music without harmony between the musicians creating it.
By: Francesca Leo