2021 is the year of the Tokyo Olympics, that wonderful international celebration of sporting success which can provide inspiration to us all, musicians included. Of course, Olympic triumphs do not come easily, and every medal winning athlete, indeed every participating athlete, will put their success down to hard work, commitment and focused training, day in day out. Athletes at this level commit to the training regime because they are driven to achieve and because they love their sport.
The parallels between elite sportspeople and musicians are striking, and whether professional or amateur, we can train (practice) like an Olympian:
Commitment and Discipline: practice regularly, ideally every day. You don’t win gold medals on one training session a week. Regular practice = noticeable progress
Focus: get into the habit of knowing which aspects of your practice need most attention. It might be technical work or a tricky passage in one of your pieces. Learn how to pinpoint problem areas and work over them in a focused way
Self-belief: tell yourself you can do it and trust your musical instincts. Don’t let fear of failure hold you back and learn from every mistake you make.
Dream big, aim high: set yourself challenges and clear goals – a Distinction in your next exam, first prize in that competition, an involving and exciting concert performance – and “go big” on the day. Work hard, but don’t stop loving what you do.
Orff: Carmina Burana: Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi: O Fortuna
Keep fit: like an athlete, a musician should stay healthy. Do warm up exercises to help relieve tension, look after your body, get enough sleep, and never play through pain.
Be creative: if you are finding your practising boring, think of ways to make it more interesting. Don’t be afraid to try new approaches and take advice from teachers, mentors and other musicians.
Train the brain: learn how to deal with performance nerves and fear of failure. “Download” your anxieties by writing them down: this can help you to step back from your nerves and rationalise them. Get used to the pressure by filming or recording yourself performing. Use relaxation techniques such as deep-breathing, repeating a phrase or “mantra”, or visualising yourself in a successful performance situation.
Get inspired: go to concerts and masterclasses with the professionals, and find out what makes them tick, how they prepare for that big event, and what motivates them to keep going.
Celebrate achievement: take pride in every success, whether it’s passing your Grade 1 exam or winning an international competition. It all counts, and each success should inspire you to aim higher and greater.
Love what you do: every single musician, professional or amateur, that I’ve met does it because they love it.