Psychotherapy from violin practice

I was delighted to discover Laurel Thomsen‘s Violin Geek podcast. It’s full of tips for the beginner (and not-so-beginner), and already I’ve found a more comfortable thumb position and am improving my ear training, thanks to Laurel. What I wasn’t expecting was an episode on self-criticism that turned out to contain wise words beyond the violin setting.

Her advice for dealing with self-criticism, when it begins, is:

1. Adopt a “detective” approach. Instead of thinking, “I really screwed that up!” try asking “Why did the sound come out that way?” I like this because it not only keeps things on an even emotional keel, it also keeps you detached enough to adopt a problem-solving perspective. It makes sense that you’d have a better chance of fixing things in this state of mind than if you’re getting angry and frustrated with yourself.

2. Find the positive thought that lies underneath the self-criticism. This was a new one on me. For example, you’re kicking yourself because you keep flubbing the three-measure run of sixteenth notes. You ask yourself why you’re frustrated. Your answer might be that you really want to get this piece right for the recital next week, so you can avoid embarrassing yourself in public. Or maybe you’re a general perfectionist. Or maybe you want your parents to not regret the lesson money. Or maybe you want to impress your girlfriend. Whatever it is, likely it’s more positive than the self-flagellation is, and it can be a motivating thought to focus on during difficult exercises. (She also comments that some motivations, like practicing only because your parents want you to, might indicate a need to switch instruments or hobbies.)

From there she transitions to a discussion of “unmet emotional needs,” and that’s when it really starts feeling like a therapy session. But I appreciated what she had to say, and it’s a reminder that those of us prone to self-criticism should watch out for it even in recreational hobby settings!

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