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  • Writer's pictureBecky Mercer

Being a musician and language

Updated: Aug 9, 2022

I would like to tell you the story of an audition I did whilst applying for Masters degrees.

I don’t like being late for things. Due to miscommunications within emails, I was late to my audition. I was given around 5 minutes to ‘warm up’ (which consisted of approximately two arpeggios once I I had gotten my horn out and calmed down a bit) and then went into my audition room. I was already nervous enough and I felt like this had tipped me over the edge. I wrote off the whole audition before it even begun, assuming that because I was late and hadn’t warmed up properly, my playing wasn’t at its best and I wouldn’t get in. Two weeks later I received my acceptance email. Whenever someone asks me about my audition, I tell them it was a fluke and if I didn’t have that adrenaline from running late I probably wouldn’t have got in.

What’s wrong with that story?

I told you everything that went wrong instead of what went right, and it wasn’t until really recently that I realised I was even doing it. 

Using negative language about or towards yourself in any capacity - especially regarding your skills as a musician - can be damaging. This is because, at the same time as being really complicated, the human brain is very simple; if you tell it something often enough, it will start to believe it.

The more you think a thought, the synapses that activate when you think that thought get closer together, and eventually your brain will rewire itself so those thoughts are triggered more easily. That means the more I tell people that my audition was ‘a fluke,’ the more I’ll start to believe it myself. Luckily for us, the same applies for positive thoughts, which is why, now more than ever, it’s so important to be kind to yourself. That doesn’t just mean ‘cutting yourself some slack’ or taking a day off at the weekend, it means actively being kind to yourself and celebrate all of your victories - even the small ones.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean telling yourself that you’re amazing every time you practise, because not every practise session will be amazing. You’re human, you will make mistakes, and that’s okay. What you need to do is concentrate on the language you use when you are reflecting on your practise. 

When writing in my practise diary, I like to do ‘Two Stars and a Wish,’ which is very primary school but it works! Write down two things in your practise that went well and you’re proud of, and then write down something that maybe didn’t go as well, but the reason why (if you know) and how you plan to work on it to improve it. The key is to keep it positive and constructive; Talk to yourself like you’re talking to a friend who has asked for feedback on a piece they’re working on, you aren’t just going to tell them they sounded rubbish and then walk away, are you?

For example, instead of saying “That section went badly,” say “That section needs work, I will improve it by playing it slowly and speeding it up.”

This shouldn’t just stop when you leave the practise room though, you need to continue to use this positive language as much as you can in order to make those connections in your brain The more you do it, the easier it becomes! A place where I personally can fall short is comparing myself to others, which can be a huge trigger of impostor syndrome. Again, the best way I find I can tackle this is to review the language I use when I listen to others play, whether it’s in a performance class or listening to a professional recording.

Instead of “They’re so much better than I am” say “They’ve worked hard to get where they are and I can work hard too”

I try to remind myself that, when you listen to a performance, you are likely not listening to a polished product. You haven’t heard the time spent in a practise room with a metronome and a tuner, you haven’t heard every time they made a mistake or how slow they had to start before getting it to where it is now. 

Your journey is your journey, no one else’s. You may not always be at the same point of the path as your peers - or even on the same path at all! - and that’s okay. Focus on yourself and what you can change and if you find yourself comparing yourself to someone else, then it’s time to reset and bring yourself back to where you are in this moment. That goes for comparing yourself to the person you were yesterday…

Now, it is time to rewrite the way I tell my audition story. Here are a few things that I didn’t mention the first time around:

  • Because I was more nervous - I made myself take bigger breaths than usual so my sound was better

  • I absolutely nailed a run that I had never gotten right in context before which made me feel more confident

  • I had a really positive interview and consultation lesson afterwards

With that all being said, here is the story of an audition I did whilst applying for Masters degrees.

My audition went well. Due to a miscommunication, I was late for my audition and didn’t get as long to warm up as I was used to or would have liked. However, because I had put a lot of work into my preparation for the audition, I still managed to play well. I made myself take some deep breaths to try and stay calm and I used the adrenaline to my advantage, taking a few more risks with my playing, which paid off. I even nailed a run that I never had gotten correct in context before. My interview was positive and I was also able to use my consultation lesson to go a bit more in depth with my audition pieces and show off even more what I was capable of. I’m sure that the adrenaline was a positive push in my audition, but I don’t know what would have happened if it had been a different time or a different day. I also don’t need to know, because I did my best and it paid off, that’s all that matters.

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