Being a musician is a life style as much as it is a career.  You spend a lot of time alone in a room.  A lot of your career, you are the only person around to motivate you.  It takes a lot to stay committed when you aren’t winning the competitions you enter or have a job or are playing the way you want to.  Every musician, ever, has been frustrated and felt disheartened.  The big thing that separates those that are excellent and those that are good is the ability to pick yourself up when you get down and to continually find ways to motivate yourself.

It’s hard learning a craft that is so personal and not taking criticisms and comments as personal attacks.  One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from Dr. Mallory Thompson who told me to separate you the person from you the musician.  Just because I have a bad practice session in the morning does not mean that I am a bad person or that my entire day is going to be bad.

Seeing where you want to go can be daunting because perfection seems so unattainable.  That’s because perfection doesn’t exist.  But yet, we still think that is the goal, the perfect performance.  Perfection is NOT your goal.  Your goal is to improve every time you pick up your instrument and to see how good you can become.

Every day you practice is a deposit into your “better musician fund.”  There are no withdrawals from this fund, only deposits.  So if you don’t practice for a day, don’t beat yourself up, that doesn’t actually accomplish anything but make you feel bad.  If you have a light practice day, don’t beat yourself up.  A lot of musicians feel guilty, that no matter how much practice they are doing, they should be doing more.  Well, that may be true, but you can only do what you do in a day.  Some days are better days than others.  There is no point in walking around feeling guilty all the time that you should be practicing more, instead view your future playing as this musician fund.  Eventually when the balance gets high enough, you’ll be at that next attainable level.  How fast you save for the next level is really up to you. Where the next level actually is, well, that’s up to you too.  You will improve; just keep putting deposits in your “better musician fund.”

Take a day off!  It’s ok to take days off, you can’t possibly work 7 days a week your entire life, that wouldn’t be healthy physically or emotionally!  If you’re going to take a day off, enjoy that day.  There is no point taking a day off if you are just going to feel guilty the entire day that you aren’t practicing!  I try and schedule one day off every week.  (Notice that I said “schedule” because I plan my days off just like I plan my practices so that they come at times when I need them, when they won’t conflict with my concert schedule, or when there is some other activity I really want to do already scheduled.)  On my days off I do other activities that I enjoy.  It’s like my reward for working so hard the remainder of the week.  It is really important to have a life away from your instrument.

Do not say things to yourself that you would not say to a colleague or student.  When I get done playing something I hear my self-critic come center stage and say things like “that was horrible” or “why do pretend to be a bassoonist” or “you should just quit.”  Well, none of those internal comments are constructive or encouraging.  I would NEVER say that to someone else, so why should I say it to myself?  You are always your hardest critic, but make sure that you treat yourself with the same kind encouragement you do to everyone else.

At times I feel anxious about my playing or feel like I’m not progressing.  To counteract this I keep a journal and before I go to bed each night I write in my journal one thing that improved that day from my practice.  Sometimes the progress is one tick on a metronome, another day it may be that I crossed everything off my list in both practice session I executed that day.  The point is, motivation over a lifetime is hard.  Many musicians struggle keeping positive and constantly motivated.  Reminding yourself at the end of each day that you did accomplish something (no matter how small) can make it easier to pick the instrument back up the next morning!

There are a LOT of books on the mental side of performing.  Read them!  Find solutions and ideas that work for you.  Read other practice tips.