How many times have we heard that at the highest levels of performance, “It’s a mental game” or that a high-achieving performer is “mentally tough”? This mantra is repeated constantly in sports, business, and the performing arts. We are told time and time again how important it is to master the “inner game,” and yet, in most cases, our teaching systems include systems for building skills but not mindset. Some of us may have had students that have it and students that don’t have it, but we’re really not sure why.
As educators, we were taught to teach students to play strokes, scales, rudiments, dynamics, grips, excerpts, and exercises by the hundreds, but our education classes rarely taught us to teach students how to build their self-image. Most of us own numerous percussion method books, but may or may not have a copy of Barry Green’s book The Inner Game of Music on the mental aspect of music performance. Teaching students how to think about themselves in a healthy and positive way is vital for the highest level of performance.
Students can be trained to think of each self-evaluative thought as one of three things: great, good, and needs improvement. This allows for accountability and diagnosis in their thought process without a negative emotional reaction. Even if a performance of an etude was extremely poor, the most productive thought should be “That needs a lot of improvement.” Teachers can guide students through this process, both in ensemble and individually, to help frame their responses to success and failure in a way that leads to musical and mental growth. Discussing the process for tackling adversity, asking students to diagnose problems and pose solutions, and helping them evaluate what led to the mistake are all valuable approaches. As students learn to diagnose and reengage the problem, they will learn to trust their instincts and training. This process allows the teacher to build an evaluation process that is not reactive, but instead reinforces the systems for building musicianship and a positive mindset.
Michael Huestis teaches at Prosper High School in the North Dallas area. He serves as the assistant director of the Music for All, Sandy Feldstein National Percussion Festival, is serving his first term as the Texas PAS Chapter President, and is the founder of the Percussion Solutions for Band Directors social media group. Huestis’s ensembles have performed at PASIC, Music for All National Percussion Festival, MENC Biennial Conference, Bands of America Grand National Championships, President Bush’s inaugural parade, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the Drum Corps International World Championships.