Thoughts on Straight Mutes

*Just a quick note that all of the mutes discussed in this post are Rittich-style mutes. Per Horn Matters, Eugene Rittich of Toronto, Canada, who was Co-Principal Horn of the Toronto Symphony for many years, is responsible for designing this most popular style of mute, used by professionals and advanced students alike. It is a simple cone shape, with a movable inner tube for tuning purposes.*

We as musicians, especially horn players, are truly blessed, because we have so many wonderful equipment and accessory options from which to choose. When I bought my first real straight mute, back in 2004, I didn’t have a lot of options. At the time, I had been using a Stone-Lined mute for years, and it was time to upgrade. I considered getting a Trumcor, but my teacher recommended a straight mute from Ion Balu, so that’s what I ordered. It was a Walnut Balu mute that cost $110, which I still have and use to this day. I had to replace the corks on it recently, but it has held up very well over the years. The market for wooden straight mutes has severely inflated over the past decade, so many of the top brands will cost anywhere from $130 to $250.

Today, a Balu mute will run you approximately $200 (US Dollars), so I’d say that the price has increased a little over the years. It has a great reputation, and it is still one of the best all-around mutes that you can buy. The Balu mute is heavy and solid, but due to its robust construction, it produces a warm and full-bodied sound that other wooden mutes tend to lack. When comparing to other brands, I am always very impressed with the quality of construction concerning the Balu mutes. I don’t feel like I’m going to break it when I hold it or put it in the bell of my horn.

Ion Balu Mutes
Balu Straight Mutes

A great “middle of the road” option, which is reasonably priced and well-made, is the Trumcor straight mute. There are a number of models available by Trumcor, but the most recommended wooden straight mute is the 45T model. The 45T is tuneable, which is what the “T” stands for, and only costs approximately $130 (it’s listed for $105 on the Trumcor site). It is also available from multiple sources, such as Woodwind Brasswind, Musician’s Friend, and even some local music stores. I know many professionals that use this model mute, and I do recommend this particular one for many of my college and high school students. It’s rare that a young student will be able or even willing to pay $200+ for an accessory that they may not use that often, so I’ve found that this Trumcor mute is a great compromise. It produces a nice sound, not stuffy or too bright, and it also feels very durable. It should be noted that Trumcor mutes are not completely made from wood, but are also made using “a specially formulated resonant fiber material.”

Trumcor Model 45T (Tuneable)
Trumcor 45T

Staying in the “affordable” range, is another wooden, Rittich-style mute produced by the Denis Wick company (sorry, no relation to John Wick). The Wick company is located in England, and it is well-known throughout the brass world for producing top-quality mutes, mouthpieces, and accessories. Like the Trumcor mutes, the Wick wooden straight mute is also lined with a special fiber that helps to dampen the sound. The sidewalls are constructed of birchwood, and the bottom panel utilizes marine plywood, which is a type of wood that is able to withstand lots of moisture accumulation. The best price for this particular mute may be found at Hickey’s Music, $108.50. Personally, I was only aware of the metal Wick mutes until recently, so I don’t have much experience with the wooden mute. I did try it once, and it seems like it would be a fine option for a younger player. It would at least be better than using the metal “silver bullets” by Wick or Jo-Ral. I would still recommend the Trumcor mute over this one, but this seems to be one of the cheaper options on the market.

Denis Wick

Another “affordable” option is the Moosic Mute, which I believe is only available through Pope Repair or Hickey’s Music. I thought that these mutes were made by Jacek Muzyk, the Principal Horn of the Buffalo Philharmonic, but I can’t find any information to support this claim. Either way, it has one of the most unique designs, and I have always wanted to try one. It is handmade, and the “design uses two layers of spiral-cut walnut and poplar veneer to create a responsive and resonant sound. It has no plastic or fiberboard and gives a very natural all wood feeling, (Pope Repair).”

Moosic Mute

The RGC mutes, which are available through Houghton Horns and produced in Spain, are a very affordable option offered in six different choices. There are three different conical versions: Ash (offers more clarity of sound and articulation), Black Ash (darker sound than the regular ash, but with same sense of clarity), and Solid Cherry (focused and projects very well, lighter than the previous two woods). All three are available for $119, and play well considering the price. Recently, after being able to try these three models at a workshop, I have begun to recommend these more often. The other three options utilize a 12-sided design, which raises the price a little, $125-$179, depending on the wood. Here are the 12-sided choices: Solid Cherry ($125, similar to the Conical version, bright sound, great projection), Cherry and Ash ($149, the Ash is meant to balance with the brightness of the Cherry), African Rosewood and Ash ($179, heavier, with a darker tone). I’m not a huge fan of the Cherry, primarily because it is a little too bright for my taste, but the African Rosewood and Ash is one of my favorite mutes. While being absolutely beautiful to look at, it also produces a very nice sound. I don’t personally own one, but after trying it numerous times at different workshops, it’s on my shortlist. My only complaint with the RGC mutes, and many of the mutes on this list, is that they are very light in comparison to my Balu mute. I’ve been using a Balu mute for so long that when I pick up other mutes, I’m always taken aback by the difference in weight. I know that all of the mutes on this list are well-made, but many of them feel flimsy when compared to my trusty Balu.

RGC Mutes Button

The last mute before we start looking at the more expensive options is the long straight mute by Don Maslet. It is currently available through Osmun Music and Elemental Brass at approximately $135. Unlike the other mutes in this list that are primarily comprised of some sort of hardwood, the sidewalls are constructed of carbon fiber, with the bottom plate being made of wood. Due to the materials, this mute produces a very bright and brilliant sound, while also being super lightweight and extremely durable. I haven’t tested this theory out myself, but I can only assume that this mute would work well for solo work or any type of muted passage that needs to cut through a big ensemble. It could also potentially work well in a brass quintet type setting. I didn’t find the brightness of this mute to be as offensive as that of the Cherry RGC mutes, but this could be due to the difference in material, carbon fiber vs wood.

Maslet_Straight
Maslet Straight Mute

Now, we’re starting to creep closer to that $200 threshold; however, we still have two makers that offer very nice mutes. The first is Marcus Bonna. We all know and love the cases, but the company also produces some very nice mutes. MB evidently has a carbon fiber option, but I’m only familiar with the regular wooden Rittich-style mutes. The latter can be found for approximately $175 from many of the major horn retail shops, and it is constructed of fiberboard and wood. MB does offer mutes with different designs on the sidewalls, but these options are also a little more expensive. Since Marcus Bonna utilizes fiberboard, their mutes are a little bit lighter than the Balu mutes, but otherwise are pretty similar in playing characteristics. If I’m already going to spend close to $200 on a mute, I would probably opt for a Balu mute over the MB mute, but at this point, it’s really up to personal preference. I prefer the solid, heavier feel and sound of the Balu mute, and I’m sure that other players might prefer the opposite.

Marcus Bonna Straight Mute for French Horn
Marcus Bonna

Horn-Crafts is a mute-making company based in the Netherlands. These mutes are sold by many of the big music retail companies throughout Europe. In the U.S., they are distributed by Dillon music, Osmun Music, Patterson Hornworks, and Pope Repair. Horn-Crafts currently offers three different models: Sylva (Beechwood), Betula (Beechwood), and Khaya (Mahogany). The Sylva and Betula models are the heavier options, 130 and 140 grams respectively. These two are also the cheaper options that are normally available for approximately $180. These models are very nice mutes, but the Khaya model, which is made of African Mahogany and weighs 125 grams, is my favorite. I normally don’t enjoy the lighter mutes, but this mute just feels and sounds better to me. It also costs about $250, which is the primary reason why I don’t own one of these models. The Khaya is a fantastic mute, but unless you have an abundance of money to spend, I would stick with the other two models. The Sylva and Betula models are very comparable in sound and feel to the Balu and MB mutes.

Horn-Crafts Horn Mute – Houghton Horns
Horn-Crafts

The Tom Snyder mutes, which are primarily sold through Pope Repair, are produced in Canada and available in the following options (wood): Koa, Walnut, Cherry, and Ebony. They are priced at $230, but I paid $200 for my Ebony mute back in 2016. I loved the look of the Ebony mute, and I loved the sound of it at the time. I tried all of the mutes that I could find at the 2016 International Horn Symposium in Ithaca, NY, and the Ebony won. It fit pretty well with the horn that I played at the time, which was a Wunderlich Schmidt. After I switched to an EB (Elemental Brass) Custom Yamaha 87, I did everything to make it work, but no matter how hard I tried to fix the issue, I couldn’t play in tune with it. I recently sold it, which is a shame, but if I couldn’t play it within a section, then the mute wasn’t worth keeping. It not only projected well, but technical passages were extremely clean on that mute. This just goes to show that a mute won’t work with every instrument, so be sure to try one before you buy it. Even though it didn’t work out in the long run, these are still great mutes, and I highly recommend them.

Snyder Mutes
Tom Snyder Mutes

This next one isn’t necessarily a new mute, because it is made by Ion Balu, but it is new to the market. It was designed by Dan Vidican, the maker of the wonderful Lukas Horns, and this mute is evidently the “Beast Mode” version of the regular Balu mutes. The Lukas mute seems to only be available through Pope Repair and is priced at $255. The site mentions that the process for making this mute is much more labor intensive, and the following characteristics are listed: “quick response, evenness across the range, and a brighter, crisp sound full of stage presence and projection in the hall.” I have not personally tried this mute, but due to my preference for Balu mutes, I can only assume that I would enjoy the Lukas mute. Would I buy one? If I performed regularly in a professional orchestra, I would maybe consider it, but as I stated previously, it’s difficult for me to justify spending more than $200 on a mute.

Lukas Mutes
The Lukas Mute, made by Ion Balu, designed by Dan Vidican

The Cadillac/Rolls Royce of the horn mute world, the Woodstop mute, which is available in Maple ($225), Cherry ($245), and Walnut ($255). These mutes are sold through The Horn Guys, Elemental Brass, and other places, but it’s actually cheaper to order the mutes directly from the Woodstop website. The Maple has a “very lively sound with a bit of edginess” and plays with great response. The Cherry is a free-blowing mute with immediate response that “gives the traditional sound with a bit more warmth.” The Walnut “gives a very warm sound with no edginess.” It is responsive and the playability is supposedly very “similar to that of your open horn.” These mutes are played and endorsed by numerous professional musicians throughout the United States. I have never tried one, mainly because it is above my pay grade, but the straight mutes and stop mutes are both world-renowned, so you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.

walnut stright compressed.jpeg
Woodstop Walnut Straight Mute

Well folks, we made it! I know that there are other mute brands out there, but the ones listed in this post are the most “well-known” horn straight mutes available today. Unfortunately, if you’re looking for some profound wisdom concerning the “perfect” straight mute, then you are out of luck. There will always be debate over which one is the “best,” just like how we constantly fight over which horn is the best. It all depends on personal preference, which is why you should always try it before you buy it, or you might just get stuck with a $200 mute that you never use.

Composer’s Corner: Caccia for Solo Horn

I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, and since I’ve been gifted some extra time due to the quarantine, now is the moment to start sharing more information about some of my compositions. This particular piece, Caccia for Solo Horn, was somewhat inspired by the 2019 Southeast Horn Workshop in Cullowhee, NC. I had made a few previous attempts to compose a work for unaccompanied horn, but I abandoned those projects with little to show from it. For some reason, I just didn’t have the right concept or melodic ideas to make it work. I was trying to write a piece that sounded like Interstellar Call or Laudatio instead of creating my own work.

There wasn’t a particular performance that inspired Caccia, but being at Western Carolina University and exploring the beautiful mountain region surrounding it sparked an idea. The image that came to mind was that of the hunt, and I immediately began to think of the various rondos that I’ve performed throughout my career. In the beginning, I envisioned something similar to the Rondo in B-flat by Arnold Cooke, and it would be based on this central motivic figure:

Ex. 1 – Opening Motif


The “tonic” key of the piece is technically B-flat major, another homage to the aforementioned rondo by Cooke, but the opening passages do tend to gravitate more towards the dominant, F major. The opening section serves as an “Introduction,” exploring the main melodic material, which is a fusion of two different ideas: hunting horn calls and heroic motifs. I didn’t want to just write a bunch of hunting horn calls, but rather an infectious melody that conjures thoughts of heroism. I also wanted the music to give off a sense of constant forward motion, whether through rhythm or the melodic material itself. Horn calls can often halt the motion in some music, because these musical ideas are used more to draw attention and can “stop the action.” I didn’t want this opening to be a “call to arms.” We are joining the story in the heat of the chase, as the horses and hounds are barreling through the forest at breakneck speed.

Even though the piece is fairly short, approximately 2-3 minutes in length, there are four distinct sections, and each section is separated by a measure of rest. This measure of rest should be a brief pause, with a quick emptying of water if needed. Since the first part serves as an introduction, the second part is a quasi “Development” section that takes the opening motifs and expands upon the material. It contains stopped horn, mixed meter, and lots of technically challenging passages. Even though the technical difficulty is more demanding throughout this part, the music should sound fluid and effortless, which is reminiscent of a fox bounding through the forest, desperately looking for a place to hide. The performer should keep the tempo constant throughout, but some liberties and rubatos may be taken at the performer’s discretion. Slurs are marked in the part for ease of playing, but speed and keeping this section from sounding laborious should be the primary goals. If more slurs are needed in order to achieve this objective, then add more slurs. The performer should have fun with this section and keep driving the music forward.

Ex. 2 – Technical Passages from “Development” Section

The third section is much shorter than the previous one, and serves as a “Segue” or “Transition” before the final section. Here, the melody is slurred, contains less motion, and is softer. This softer, more subdued melody then gives way to a light and playful sequence of arpeggios. If continuing with the narrative approach to the music, think of this part as a slight lull in the action (a change of pace). Imagine that the hounds have lost the scent of the fox, and the animal can finally breathe a sigh of relief for a moment. The horses slow to a stop, and just as the hunting party is about to move on, the scent is suddenly rediscovered, and the chase is back on. During this part, the tempo should not change, only the mood and style should be altered. This section is also written in bass clef using new notation.

Ex. 3 – Melodic Material from Section 3 (*Bass Clef)

The “Segue” ushers a return of the melodic material of the “Introduction,” which is often referred to as the “Recapitulation.” Obviously, this isn’t a real “Recapitulation,” but I am reintroducing the original opening motifs. I added a stopped section, seen in Ex. 4, before the mad dash to the end.

Ex. 4 – More Stopped Horn

In the end, I hope that people will enjoy this piece and have fun playing it. Like I stated previously, it’s not a long piece, so it isn’t meant to be a stand alone work. It should be performed in the context of a recital, and I think it would be a great “change of pace” type of addition to any concert. While I wanted to include a lot of technically challenging issues, I intentionally kept this work from being taxing on the chops. It isn’t a clear “low horn” piece, but it definitely does include some low horn playing. As of the writing of this post, Caccia for Solo Horn has yet to be published, but it will be published soon by Brass Arts Unlimited. If you have any questions about this piece, or if you would like to perform it, please let me know. I was supposed to perform the premiere at this year’s Southeast Horn Workshop, but due to COVID-19, it did not happen. I’m hoping that I can perform it soon, but I will gladly share the piece with anyone else that is interested and wants to perform it, even if that individual is able to perform it before me.

I will update this post when it is published, and when it is performed.

The Millenium Kopprasch Series

I’m always in the market for a new etude book, so I recently ordered the new Kopprasch books compiled by Jeffrey Agrell. Most of the horn world should know Agrell from his “Creative Hornist” articles that were regularly published in The Horn Call for many years. These new books by Agrell aren’t just another edition of the same etudes, but rather a reimagining of the original material. If you’re a horn player, then you own the original 60 Selected Studies (Low Horn), Op. 6 by Kopprasch. It’s a book that all players use, even other brass instruments, to develop technique, flexibility, and endurance. I started working on these etudes during undergrad, and I still use these etudes in my own practice to this day. Still, we all get tired of working on the same things, so it’s nice to have a new way to practice Kopprasch.

Currently, there are three books in the Millenium Kopprasch SeriesPreparatory KoppraschRhythm Kopprasch – Vol. 1, and Harmony Kopprasch – Vol. 1. Agrell describes his process as follows: “What we do in the Millenium Kopprasch Series is to take something familiar and stretch it, that is, we take Kopprasch’s etudes and dramatically extend them in various ways (through this series) so that the millenium musician acquires the depth and breadth they need to survive and thrive almost two hundred years after those first original etudes were written.”

After spending some time with each of the books, I can honestly say that I really like them. The Preparatory etudes are fairly simple and should be easy for the seasoned player, but I think that they will be perfect for younger students. These are a great way to introduce high school students to Kopprasch, and I have already started using them with a few of my private students. I’m even planning on using them with some of my college students. I think it will work well to pair each of the Preparatory etudes with its corresponding Kopprasch etude. With the Preparatory etudes being so accessible, I feel that working through them first will give students the confidence to tackle the original Kopprasch etudes.

I really enjoy the other two books, Harmony and Rhythm, and they definitely add a new level of difficulty to the whole process of working through Kopprasch, especially for those of us that have been using Kopprasch for years. The Harmony book is challenging, because each etude modulates through several different keys. Plus, Agrell utilizes more than just the basic major and minor modes. In the first etude, the progression is as follows: C harmonic minor, G Phrygian, Ab natural minor, Eb Dorian, D7, F Whole tone, E Whole tone, C Spanish Phrygian, Db Lydian, Gb Major, G Diminished. The etudes themselves are basically the same, except for the new harmonic framework. I can honestly say that it has been fun working through these new etudes. This may sound odd, but the hardest thing for me has been the accidentals and remembering which ones carry through the measure.

The Rhythm book is great, but it is difficult. I can play through the Harmony book without too much thought or practice, but the Rhythm etudes are going to require some woodshedding. It contains lots of syncopation, odd meters (3/16, 5/16, 7/16, etc.), lots of meter changes, odd tuplets, etc. I’m enjoying the challenge that these new etudes present, but I would be careful not to assign many of these to younger students. The Rhythm book seems more suitable for advanced undergrad, graduate, or professional players. I’m only trying to point out the fact that some students may become very discouraged while trying to learn some of the Rhythm etudes, so just be mindful when assigning them to students. Select some of the easier ones first, like K6 or K10, and work from there. I remember my teachers doing the same with the Reynolds 48 Etudes. They would assign some of the more straightforward and melodic etudes first to build confidence, and then ease students into the more technical and mentally challenging ones.

These new books by Agrell definitely won’t replace the original, but they are wonderful companion texts. He plans to release more volumes over the next few years, so horn players should be excited. I’m definitely excited, because these books will not only change the way that I practice Kopprasch, but they are also going to revolutionize the way that I teach it. As I mentioned previously, I’ve already started utilizing the Preparatory Kopprasch with my younger students, and I can’t wait to start using the Harmony and Rhythm books with my older students.

I’ve been telling everyone to buy these books, because they are very affordable at $7-$10 for the paperback version. The only thing that I don’t like about the paper version is the binding. The books are high quality, but the binding makes it difficult to keep open on the stand. It’s going to take a lot of breaking in…or I may just take it somewhere and have them put spiral binding on it.

All of Agrell’s recent publications are available for purchase through Amazon and they are all eligible for Prime shipping. The great thing is that many of his books are available for free if you have Kindle Unlimited. I believe the only etude book not available for free is the Harmony book. I myself like to have a tangible copy, but I know that many people are switching over to paperless, and a lot of musicians are now storing their entire music libraries on tablets. I will probably do this eventually, but I don’t think I will ever get rid of my books. There’s just something about reading the notes or words from an actual page. Either way, there’s no excuse. If you’re a reading this and are a horn player, then you should own these books and keep your eye out for the next volumes.

Horn Matters on Anxiety

Everyone in the horn world knows the Horn Matters site, and if you don’t, you need to check it out now. Dr. John Ericson of Arizona State University and Bruce Hembd, do an awesome job, and there is just so much wonderful information on the site that you could spend days sifting through it all. I’ve spent a lot of time on Horn Matters, and for a period of time, I visited this site every day in order to stay up to date on everything horn. When I began my battle with depression a few years ago, I stopped, because it just made me feel even worse. I know that I’ve missed out on some great articles over the past few years, so I decided to see what Horn Matters has had to say on performance anxiety. Ericson and Hembd have written so many articles over the years that I’m sure I’ll miss something, but here is a quick overview of some of the articles dealing with anxiety:

“Annie Bosler on Dealing with Nerves and Performance Anxiety”

This is a video that I have yet to watch, so it’s now on my list. Ericson doesn’t give too much information about the video, but mentions that it is definitely worth checking out. He also briefly talks about another video on YouTube that features an expert in the area of performance anxiety, Dinka Migic Vlatkovic. He is a therapist and mental coach who was interviewed by the great Sarah Willis during one of her Horn Hangouts. Yet another video to add to the list.

“Beta Blockers or The Inner Game

For some reason, I have never read The Inner Game of Tennis, by W. Timothy Gallwey . I have read The Inner Game of Music, but I just never went back to read the original. However, I plan on reading it this time around, and I will definitely devote a post to talking about said book. This post on Horn Matters brings up an interesting question: Should one use beta blockers to help ease anxiety when performing?

Ericson’s stance is quite clear on this issue. He encourages his students to try the concepts put forth in Gallwey’s book, and I definitely agree. I think it is very important to be able to gain the level of focus needed to play at a high level under pressure. On the flip side, I feel that some people, including myself, suffer from a different kind or level of anxiety that only medicine can subdue. Beta blockers by themselves won’t help you to play flawlessly, but I do believe that a combination of medication and focusing techniques could help most people suffering from performance anxiety come closer to reaching their full potential.

On a personal note, I have used beta blockers in the past. I liked how the medication took the edge off, but I still had to be able to play at a high level, which meant that I still needed to be able to focus and block out distractions. This is something that I have always struggled with, even with the aid of medication, so I would highly recommend checking out The Inner Game of Tennis or any other book/exercises that aid in clearing and focusing one’s mind.

As Ericson states in his article, consult with a doctor before taking any medication.

“Confidence and Final Audition Preparation”

I think that confidence is something that every performer needs in order to perform well. If you are not confident in your abilities, then you will never achieve the type of success you desire. I also believe that one of the best ways to gain confidence is through preparation. If you prepare to the best of your abilities, then there is no shame in what happens. I like this quote from Ericson:

“For me, careful preparation and knowing I have plenty of chops helps a great deal                 in relation to confidence and nerves.”

This is so true, because, for a brass player, if you have these two things, then everything should go as planned. It’s simple, but I think most of us tend to “overthink” when under pressure. Sometimes, you just need to stop thinking and trust the process.

“Onstage Relaxation Techniques”

A short article by Bruce Hembd that shares some of his tips for easing tension while performing. A couple of these you should probably only do if you’re playing in the orchestra pit, but you might be able to hide some of these if playing on stage. I can attest to the importance of breathing and utilizing controlled breathing exercises during rests. We often get very tense or begin to breath in a shallow manner if we are under stress, so doing some deep breathing during rests should help to relieve that tension.

“A Few Thoughts About Performance Anxiety”

Through reading many of his articles on anxiety, it is very apparent that Dr. Ericson has never had many issues with performance anxiety, which he states in this article. For him, preparation and learning how to focus under pressure has served him well. All people are affected by anxiety differently and normally deal with or handle it in different ways. Ericson states that there are different types of anxiety that can be roughly grouped into four categories: Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety, Specific Phobias, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

He also gives this wonderful bit of advice:

“If your underlying world view is different than that of the book or if advice focuses on         dealing with a type of anxiety that you don’t really experience you may need to look to           different resources.

I suffer from both General Anxiety and Social Anxiety, so I am aware of how these two disorders can affect one’s performance. Honestly, I don’t think outside distractions matter for me as much as my thoughts of self-doubt. It’s what happens in my mind that wreaks the most havoc. Instead of visibly showing how the situation is affecting me, I normally internalize things. I may look normal on the outside, but my mind is running circles on the inside. This is why I tend to focus more on altering my mindset, rather than physical strategies. For others, physical triggers are the problem, which is the reason why it is so important to understand your disorder.

There is so much advice out there, but not all techniques will work for every individual. We are all different people, and as Ericson states, we all feel or experience anxiety differently, so some of us will cope with our feelings in different ways. I think it is wonderful that we have access to so much knowledge, so it is inevitable that each of us will find something useful.

“Confidence, Optimism, Fearlessness, and Trusting Yourself”

Ericson did a survey on Twitter asking horn players to pick a word or mindset that best describes themselves and what they’re thinking when performing at a peak level. The four mindsets are in the title and Confidence and Trusting Yourself gained the most votes in the survey. Ericson mentions in the article that these words probably mean different things to different people, and he is correct in my case. Fearlessness does not have a strong connection with me, because I’m never truly without some form of fear. I’ve just learned how to cope with it. Optimism does not resonate with me as much either, because I’m not a very optimistic person; however, I do feel that it is important to be positive and enjoy your performance rather than dreading it and wanting it to be over.

Confidence is definitely a feeling or mindset that I need in order to perform well. When I feel confident, I don’t worry about messing up. The inside chatter isn’t as much of a problem, and I’m able to focus more completely. Trusting Yourself also falls into the same category, because if I’m playing confidently, then I will trust myself and my abilities, which will inevitably lead to a good performance.

“Deeper Insights 2: Anxiety”

In this article, Ericson gets personal and discusses life lessons learned from raising his son, who has Down syndrome and Autism. First off, having two young children myself, I know how difficult it is to balance personal and professional life, especially when involved in such a demanding field as music. Being able to balance the practice time, teaching schedule, and performance schedule is rough. Also, being an Elementary music teacher and having contact with special needs children on a regular basis, I know how delicate and demanding things can get. Kudos to Ericson for being such a consummate professional, while also being there for his family.

Ericson talks about the severe anxiety that his son experiences when things don’t go as planned, which I can relate to on a lesser level. For my anxiety, it is best when things go as planned. The few orchestral auditions that involved some sort of travel mishap always ended badly. I’d get there late, my nerves already frazzled, and things would spiral even further out of control once I went in to play.

Don’t overlook something as simple as keeping a regular routine leading up to a performance or audition. It could be the difference between success and failure.

“Deeper Insights 3: Fearless Optimism”

Again, I just don’t like the use of the term “fearless” (or “fearlessness” for that matter). There’s nothing against anyone that uses the term, but it just doesn’t resonate with me. I would rather focus on being positive, which is really what Ericson is getting at. I love this quote:

“Honestly, I think you might be better off cultivating optimism and faith in your life than fearlessness.”

It’s all about mindset and having the correct approach to everything that one does. Don’t worry about what happens to other people, because you can’t control their lives. You can only control your own life, so it is your obligation to do what is needed to succeed. If you’re doing everything right and things still don’t work out, then maybe you’re not in the right situation yet. Things have a way of working out for the best, but don’t be afraid to adapt and change your perspective as needed.

“They Think You Are Nervous”

If your chops are stiff during a performance or audition, then your response is going to suffer. We’ve all been there and have had to deal with it, but non-brass players don’t realize that it’s just a side-effect of playing too much. Sometimes, they might get the impression that the player is having issues, because they are nervous. This misconception is understandable, because both circumstances affect response, but brass players can normally tell the difference.

In my own experience, I will sometimes become more anxious and nervous if I suffer from response issues during a performance. Even if it isn’t related to my anxiety, it’s still a mental issue. I have to remind myself that everything is fine, but that I might not be as accurate as I would like. When I was a young undergrad, I would often struggle with issues similar to this, but as I grew as a musician, I was mentally able to deal with these circumstances. Unfortunately, as I have been battling severe anxiety issues during the past few years, this type of inner struggle has occurred more often. I honestly don’t really have a cure for it, but you just have to keep working at it. As long as you practice and continue to improve all aspects of your playing, the situation will get better. With more confidence in oneself, comes greater control over one’s feelings(anxiety).

“Anxious? A Couple of Books to Read”

The Inner Game of Tennis by Gallwey and Performance Success by Don Greene are two books that are essential reads for any serious musician. As I’m writing this, I just downloaded the Inner Game, because I’m a little ashamed that I have never read it. I read Performance Success during my doctoral studies, and I used the training log as I prepared for an audition with the Buffalo Phil. I didn’t win the audition, but I came away from that experience as a much better player.

“Nerves and Bananas?”

Another post that discusses the use of beta blockers and some other natural alternatives. Ericson also shares a link to a very informative article concerning the use of beta blockers amongst musicians: Beta Blockers and Performance Anxiety in Musicians. I have taken beta blockers in the past, and I will probably experiment with them again. I don’t feel that they enhance one’s abilities, but rather make it possible for those of us that suffer from severe anxiety to perform at our full potential. It’s not a performance enhancing drug.

I have used bananas before with limited success, but Ericson also mentions that dairy products and turkey may also be beneficial. In my experience, I have also tried drinking low sodium Gatorade before many of my performances. It has a lot of potassium, and the electrolytes help to give a little bit more energy. I had a lot of success with this strategy, but you have to make sure that you get the low sodium version, otherwise you might get too much sodium in your system, which could dry you out.

“The Dilemma of Performance Paranoia”

“Play by sound. not by feel.”

This article by Bruce Hembd discusses that wonderful moment that all brass players dread. The moment when we realize that our chops feel pretty stiff, but the show must go on, for better or for worse. For the seasoned player, this is nothing new, but for a younger player, or even someone with serious anxiety issues, it can be very traumatic. It’s second nature for brass players to play by feel, because inevitably this is how we learn to play. Usually, if what we play on our instrument sounds good, then it is going to feel good, or rather, feel like we are playing efficiently.

Playing on tired chops is not efficient, and it feels like a constant struggle. You’re having to work extra hard to sound good, which is going to have a negative effect on your psyche…unless, you don’t give in. The quote above is something that has helped Bruce get through difficult performances, and this concept is also what helped me to overcome my playing issues. Hembd doesn’t give the name of the teacher that supplied this quote to him, but I know that I myself have heard this line from many different people throughout my career. It’s something so simple, yet extremely difficult for brass players. It goes against all of our instincts to not pay attention to how our chops feel. However, it makes sense, because if you just focus on the sound, you get your mind out of they way and allow your chops to do the work. We’ve all worked hard and logged countless hours in the practice room, so just go for it. It may not be perfect, but allowing those thoughts of self-doubt take over will be much worse.

If it sounds good, then don’t try to dissect it. Don’t try to figure out what you did differently, because you didn’t actually do anything different. You were finally able to trust yourself, which is something that most people with anxiety are unable to do. Most people with severe anxiety don’t even like themselves, let alone possess the ability to trust themselves. I was finally able to get to this point, but it took countless hours of practice and a number of really good experiences for me to finally feel comfortable.

Professional players still have bad days, but they just know how to cope and forget about their mistakes. They don’t listen to their inner chatter, which is very difficult for people with anxiety. It takes a ridiculous work ethic, acceptance of a more positive mindset, and putting yourself in difficult situations and working through it. Not an easy task for people that normally shy away from adversity, but necessary to finally overcome those demons.

“Quote of the Week – Farkas on Stagefright”

This particular article, written by Ericson, attacks anxiety from a religious perspective. A religious approach doesn’t work for everyone, because not all people are very religious and some may not even believe in a higher power. Having faith, no matter the religion, can be difficult for people with anxiety, because it is difficult for us to stop worrying and believe that everything is going to be fine. We not only need tangible evidence that the issue is going to be resolved, but we also need it to happen right now, because we can’t stop thinking about it. When anxious people worry about something, it will not only affect their quality of life, but can also be detrimental to relationships, job performance, and other similar aspects of life.

I’m not trying to say that faith isn’t helpful, nor am I trying to sound negative towards religion; however, I am trying to make the point that just praying and then waiting for something to happen or for a problem to fix itself is not ideal. It’s good to have faith and to believe in a higher power, but you have to log the work and effort needed to attain your goals. You won’t become a “fearless” player overnight just by praying for it to happen. It takes a lot of hard work, and you have to be willing to fail. Failing isn’t the end, but rather a beginning. Giving up is the end.

In the case of Farkas, he used his faith to remind himself that he was in this position for a reason. The circumstances that led him to becoming the Principal Horn of the Chicago Symphony were not by luck or happenstance. He was there because he worked very hard, and he believed that God put him in the right place at the right time. Farkas had faith that he was put in this position for a reason, and therefore he didn’t need to worry or be nervous.

The text that Ericson discusses in this article is from the book, The Art of Musicianship, which is one of a few books that Farkas wrote. This one in particular isn’t just for horn players, but is meant for all musicians. The following quote speaks to the wisdom and confidence of Farkas:

“So it wasn’t just a series of unrelated, random events which eventually put me on stage. It was a series of incredibly interwoven and predestined events which put me there…I was there because I had been led there by an amazing chain of events, not just mere coincidence, and, because I had been led there, certainly I could do the work assigned to me, and failure was not a part of the plan.”

We are all musicians for a reason, and those of us that have become professionals, have gotten this far because we have earned it. Sometimes, we just need a reminder that we are worthy. Farkas had strong faith in God, and he was very wise to use this to his advantage. Ericson mentions in the article that Farkas would often read a certain scripture before performing:

“The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me…”

This text is taken from Psalm 138:8. Many performers will utilize text, certain words, and even visualization or pictures to get them in the right mindset before a performance. There are countless options out there, but I will give just one bit of advice. Whatever you choose as your “centering” device, it needs to be something that has true meaning to you as an individual. This is why the text that Farkas utilizes is so helpful, because he is very strong in his faith, and this text has a very profound and deep meaning to him. His text may work for you, but don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t. Find something that is meaningful to you, whether it be religious or not, and try it out.

Conclusion

Horn Matters is a wonderful resource, and as I mentioned previously, if you’ve never visited the site, then you need to right now. Here’s the link: Horn Matters. There is a wealth of information available on the site, and I know that I might not have been able to find every article written about anxiety. These are the ones that seemed pertinent to my research. In writing this post, I’m not in any way trying to imply that Ericson nor Hembd did an insufficient job in their presentation of the material. As a person that suffers from severe anxiety, I’m merely trying to add my unique perspective. I think that those guys do an amazing job, and I hope that one day I can be on the same level as them.

 

 

 

 

A TED Talk by Jeff Nelsen

 

 

This talk happened a while ago, back in May of 2011, but it’s still worth a watch. I have always admired Jeff Nelsen, and he is definitely one of the top horn performers and teachers out there today. I was first introduced to his playing a long time ago, when he was still performing as a member of the Canadian Brass, one of the few full-time brass ensembles around at present. A friend of mine had me listen to a track from one of their CDs, which was the group’s rendition of the Paganini Variations, featuring Nelsen. To say that it was incredible would be an understatement. His playing was both flawless and effortless, and it was also super fast. Since then, he has definitely been one of my favorite horn players to listen to, and I tried to setup a lesson with him once, but it unfortunately didn’t work out. I’ve also been fortunate enough to see him perform live on a couple of occasions, and it was awesome. He even said “Hi” to me in passing at the IHS Symposium in Ithaca, which was an exhilarating moment as well.

Jeff is Professor of Horn at Indiana University, and is also the pioneer of Fearless Performance, which is his systematic approach to dealing with performance anxiety. He even hosts a seminar on Fearless Performance every summer at IU. I would actually love to attend one of these, but it’s not cheap. In the near future, I do hope to possibly interview and take a lesson with Jeff, but for now, this video will have to suffice.

In the video, he mentions that we not only perform when we are on stage, but that we perform all the time throughout our daily life. Nelsen states that “you are engaged in performance, when what you are doing matters.” Now, just let that sink in for a moment. If this is true, then we are all engaged in performance on a constant basis. Our jobs, when we cook, parenting, and everything else all require us to perform. So, why do we get so nervous and afraid when we step on a stage or have to do a presentation? It’s fear, but Jeff mentions that we are not innately programed to fear, rather it is a learned response that we all must learn how to diffuse.

The first step, or really the only step, is to take the fear out of the equation. Jeff speaks about focusing on what we are doing and making it the only thing that matters. Block out all of the outside noise, especially the noise coming from our own selves. The self-doubt, worrying about what other people will think, or worrying about anything else. Focus on what you can control, which is your performance. This is especially difficult for me, and I’m sure this is also difficult for others that deal with anxiety on a daily basis. We feel anxiety, because we cannot stop thinking and worrying about what other people think. We don’t only feel this when we perform, but we feel it concerning all things: our appearance, the way we talk, everything. So…how do we turn this off? I don’t feel like Jeff gives a complete answer to this, but he does give a framework of a solution. It’s a process that will take time, and probably a little bit of indoctrination on our part, but his concepts are sound. Things won’t drastically change overnight, but if we are willing to change our lifestyle and adapt/believe many of these concepts, then it could have a resounding affect on not just our performance, but on our daily life.

He does this great thing with the audience during the video. In order to demonstrate/simulate the fear that we feel before performing, he asks a random audience member to say her name. Jeff talks about the rush that one feels from being asked the simplest of questions. He then scares the entire audience by saying that there’s a spotlight that he intends to shine on a random person in the audience. That person will then be required to do the same easy thing, state their name. It’s seems silly, but we all know the feeling. On the first day of class, whether you’re in grade school or college, we all get the same feeling when the teacher goes around the room asks each individual to say their name and maybe give an interesting fact about themselves. We don’t want that attention to be focused on us. It makes us feel uncomfortable, but why should it? We all know our name, and it should be easy to say something about ourselves, because well, who knows you better than yourself? Fear is a choice and is often caused by the fact that we are always overly aware of our surroundings. Again, this goes back to caring too much about how other people may or may not perceive us.

Back to the video, Jeff continues by talking about the three facets of performance, and then discusses three factors or ideas that can help one on the path towards fearless performance. The facets are “The What, The How, and The Why.” For musicians, the first two facets represent the music and our technical abilities. We all focus on those things way too much, but how many of us focus on “The Why?” Why do we get on stage and perform? Why do you pick up your instrument and practice every day? Why do you write, draw, create, etc.? If we are more aware of “The Why,” then the performance becomes more personal, and we can stop worrying so much about the outside noise.

Jeff then goes on to discuss the “Fearless Factors” and starts by reminding us to “Surrender.” He doesn’t want us to surrender to our fears, but to surrender our fears. Stop worrying about every little thing and focus on what you can control. We must all learn that we can only control the presentation, not the perception. If we have prepared, then there is no need to be nervous. We’ve done the hard part, which means that the presentation of our hard work should be enjoyable, not stressful. The second is to “Be Creative” and find ways to fool yourself into not thinking about fear. Jeff lists some helpful words of wisdom, or mantras, in the video, and he also reminds us that we have to perform often. Don’t wait until you’re bulletproof to put yourself out there, because it’ll never happen. The last factor that he mentions is to “Share.” If you are only in this for yourself or to get something out of it, then you’re not thinking about it the right way. Performing is about sharing, and that’s why a lot of us became musicians. We love music, and we want to share our love of music. See it as intention or motivation. What is your motivation to perform? Focus on that and replace your fear with your intention or motivation. It sounds simple, but it’s not easy for those of us with anxiety, which is why Jeff reminds us to perform often. Train yourself in the art of redirection or replacing, learn how to efficiently and effectively replace your fear or redirect your focus to something more positive.

“How to Overcome Stage Fright” by David Bolton

This was another free book available through Kindle Unlimited, and it definitely read like a free book. It was far better than the previous book I reviewed, but there were many sections that were written in an unprofessional manner. My biggest complaint with the book is that the author, on a few occasions, makes inappropriate sexual comments. I understand that Bolton is using these “sexual” examples to make a point about how the human mind works, but it comes across as inappropriate, and I feel that he loses some credibility, especially from me, due to these comments.

One in particular that I had a problem with concerns an exchange that he writes about between he and one of his students. During this instance, Bolton is trying to get this particular student to overcome “stage fright” by imagining herself playing a flawless recital. The student has trouble with this and basically says that the scenario is too far-fetched for her to imagine. She couldn’t possibly imagine herself playing a flawless recital, because she believes that it would never happen. Bolton then responds in this manner: “I proceeded to ask her if she ever had any sexual fantasies.” Now, again, I understand what he is doing. A sexual fantasy is something that is normally not realistic, and a majority of people have them; however, I don’t think I would ever blatantly ask one of my students this question. If I were ever asked this during a lesson, I don’t know if I would go back. It’s just not professional and it’s very inappropriate, especially when you’re in a situation involving a man and a woman. There could be a lot of legal ramifications that accompany that sort of questioning.

Aside from the unprofessional nature of the writing and certain content, Bolton does leave us with some interesting things to discuss. First off, he devotes a couple of chapters to the topic of hypnosis. I am a skeptic by nature, so hypnosis has always seemed like a gimmick to me. When I think of hypnosis, I see this image of a guy waving a pocket watch back and forth in front of the subject’s eyes, speaking in this monotone voice, telling this person that they’re getting sleepy, and the person eventually falls asleep. The hypnotist says/does what they need to do while the subject is asleep, they snap their fingers, the person wakes up, and they are magically cured. It seemed contrived and too good to be true. To be completely honest, I did actually consider using hypnosis to cure my playing issues at one time, but I didn’t really believe that it would work, so that thought was short-lived. Hypnosis depends on belief in order for it to work.

Much of the book focuses on the use of autosuggestion, which is the book’s “saving grace.” Bolton even dedicates a chapter to one of the pioneers of this process/technique, Emile Coué, and I will probably be reading some of Coué’s work in the future. Autosuggestion is a form of hypnosis, but it is done through the use of self-suggestions. Coué began his career working at an apothecary and found that patients would get better faster if their prescriptions were accompanied with a positive note implying that the medicine would work and that the patient would feel better soon. He turned this idea into his theory of autosuggestion, which uses positive suggestion to help people overcome fears and anxiety. This is very similar to one of my previous posts about perspective. If a person believes that they will fail, then that is the outcome that they will experience. However, if a person is able to change their mindset and begin to believe in oneself, then the possibility of success increases dramatically.

Over the past few months, I have been experimenting with autosuggestion, and I really believe that it can be extremely useful in the battle against anxiety. I didn’t really know that I was using autosuggestion, but I’ve been trying to change my mindset and think more positively about my playing. Instead of being afraid of playing, I’ve tried to turn that fear and anxiety into excitement. I’ve also been focusing a lot on the fact that my hard work has been paying off. My playing has progressed tremendously over the past few months, and even if I have a bad day, I can trust in the process and know that as long as I keep working, I will continue to get better.

What I’ve been doing isn’t exactly autosuggestion, but the concepts are very similar. In his book, Bolton talks about using positive mental imagery in conjunction with positively constructed phrases or mantras. These mantras are to be used everyday, starting at least a couple of months in advance of a performance, and are meant to reprogram your mind. He gives simple instructions to follow in order to receive the full benefits of the exercises: repeat the exercises every day, do each exercise at different times throughout the day, do not control your progress, and do not take the exercises overly seriously. That last instruction makes sense, because if you think about the exercises too much, and start to monitor your progress, then they may not work as well. The goal of autosuggestion is to change the unconscious mind, which takes time and cannot be measured.

Bolton shares three exercises with us. The first is a “preparatory routine” that can be done just before performing either of the two remaining exercises. It should take about 2-3 minutes, and is meant to prepare/open the mind to the suggestions given by the exercises. Bolton gives the following instructions for the preparatory routine:

To be done just before doing each exercise in a relaxed atmosphere – Lie down in bed,            or sit in a comfortable chair. Close your eyes, and take several slow, deep breaths, as              you relax as much as possible. As you calmly breathe in, and then out, repeat to                      yourself slowly and deliberately (either in your mind or out loud).

“I am very relaxed, and I am relaxing more and more with each breath I take. My                  mind is becoming more and more receptive to the thoughts that I will soon be                          putting into it. These thoughts will easily enter my unconscious mind, and will allow              me to reach my full potential.”

Repeat these sentences three times to yourself, slowly reading (or thinking) them.

Bolton reminds the reader that this “prelude” should only be done if one is able to relax and focus on nothing but the exercise. Do NOT do the prelude if you are driving or performing any other dangerous activity. He then introduces the exercises, with the first exercise consisting of a pre-worded phrase that is to be repeated, either out loud or mentally, for a certain amount of time, usually about 5 minutes. The person doesn’t have to imagine anything, but rather focus on the phrase and treat it as if he/she were meditating. Bolton reminds us that he designed this phrase for himself, and that the reader should make changes: insert the date of your performance, make it specific to your instrument, or to the performance situation, etc. Here is the phrase and the accompanying instructions:

“As soon as I walk out onto the stage to the give the recital on (date), I will feel happy,            relaxed, and delighted to get the chance to play for the people who are present. Once              I begin to play (or sing), I will feel even better, and my performance will go amazingly            well. The longer I play, the happier I feel, and my recital will be a fine success.”

Repeat this sentence to yourself, at varying speeds. Continue repeating it for about                five minutes. After this time, the exercise is finished; put it out of your mind until the              next time you do it.

Again Bolton states that the reader should change things and make it more personal, or at least make it so that it would sound like something that they would say. He does warn us against the use of “negative” words and phrases. Don’t use phrases such as: “I will not feel anxious,” “I will feel less tension,” “I will not think about missing notes,” etc. When using the autosuggestion phrases, don’t even think about using words that relate to anxiety, tension, or any other bad thing that could occur while performing. This will negate any positive effects from the autosuggestion phrases, and it basically won’t work.

The second exercise is similar to things that I have done before and utilizes positive imagery to overcome anxiety. In the past, I would imagine myself playing my recital, or audition, and during these “fantasies,” I would feel no anxiety. I would picture myself playing through every piece, and everything would go better than planned. Bolton’s exercise is a little bit different, but it utilizes the same basic concept:

Here, you will imagine feeling relaxed, happy, and delighted as you walk out onto the             stage, and play your recital. Do this:

Imagine that you are just about to walk out onto the stage to give your recital.           Imagine that you snap your fingers once. In your vision, as soon as you snap             your fingers, you feel relaxed, happy, and most pleasantly excited. You step                 out onto the stage, and with each step, you feel a surge of relaxed confidence,             and joy. When you play the first notes, you smile slightly, for you are so truly             happy to be able to play for those who have come to hear you. Now, for about             five minutes, as you let this scene continue, and even repeat itself in your                     mind, bathe in these positive emotions.

This exercise also includes something that Bolton calls a “trigger.” In Bolton’s example, he uses a finger snap, but it can be anything. It should not be something that a person does regularly, but a small action that is unique to the situation. This way, when the action is performed, it will hopefully trigger relaxed, happy, and excited feelings.

For what it’s worth, I like the idea behind the exercises presented in Bolton’s book. His wording is a little odd, but that can be changed, and he specifically recommends that the reader personalize each exercise. I just really didn’t like Bolton’s writing style, or some of his content choices throughout the entire book. It wasn’t professional, and I don’t think that I would recommend this book to a student. However, he did present some nice ideas that I will certainly employ, and I am also thankful that Bolton introduced me to the work of Emile Coué. I will definitely be doing more research on Coué, and I know that other books on my reading list will discuss the use of autosuggestion, so I’m looking forward to reading about this topic from different perspectives. I will leave you with a Coué quote that I really liked and describes my situation, and I’m sure others as well, very accurately:

“Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better.”

 

“Performance Anxiety Cure” by Larry Underhill

Today, I would like to discuss the following book written by Larry Underhill: Performance Anxiety Cure: How to Overcome Performance Anxiety and Stage Fright in All Aspects of Life Forever. This book is available through Amazon for $2.99 and is actually free to read if you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber. The “book” is 26 pages in length and very easy to read through in one sitting. I have yet to find much information on Larry Underhill, so his credentials and expertise on the subject matter are a little suspect at the moment. If anyone knows anything about the author, please let me know. He does have another book about anxiety and panic attacks, but I haven’t read it yet. This other book is also available through Amazon. I guess this means that anyone can write a book and have it published/sold through Amazon? Anyway…

First off, the title is just a little presumptuous. I mean, it would be great if it were true, but I think the book would probably cost a little bit more if the ideas inside actually worked. Also, this topic is so personal for each individual that it’s very hard to believe that one text or collection of ideas can cure anyone, which is why I’m attempting to read as much material as possible…good and bad.

The book is divided into seven chapters, and the first gives the reader a brief overview of the cause and effects of performance anxiety/stage fright. In this first chapter, Underhill writes that “performance anxiety is the fear of speaking or doing a task before a group of people.” He then proceeds to discuss the two types or categories of performance anxiety, cognitive and somatic. Cognitive deals with our mental response to anxiety, while somatic is the physical. Side effects of cognitive anxiety are a lack of condfidence and an inability to concentrate. Somatic anxiety can manifest in a multitude of ways, but the most common effects are shortness of breath, muscle tension, shaking, dry mouth, sweating, and frequent trips to the bathroom. I don’t think I have ever felt cognitive anxiety without also having to deal with the somatic side effects.

Underhill then discusses the “fight or flight” response and writes about how our body is naturally wired to defend against our anxious feelings. Our anxiety leads the body to believe that we are in physical danger, hence all of those wonderful somatic side effects discussed above. The choice is to either use that extra energy and adrenaline in a positive way, or give in and admit defeat, which will ultimately lead to a bad performance.

There are quite a few errors in this book, but there is one section in this first chapter that just doesn’t make any sense when taken word for word. I do think that I understand what Underhill meant when he wrote this section, but it is very misleading. The portion in question is the part that discusses the four ways in which performance anxiety manifests: Anticipation, Avoidance, Experiencing of panic and anxiety, and Appraisal. Anticipation and Appraisal are easy. We think about negative things happening so much that the nightmare becomes reality. We also care a little too much about what other people think, which can sabotage a performance. Avoidance…sure, I’m afraid to play in front of a large group of people, so I’m going to avoid that. The third is rather redundant, because we’re going to experience the physical side effects in all of these scenarios. Underhill really needed a good editor for this portion of the book.

Moving forward, the next chapter presents basic concepts for dealing with anxiety in any type of situation. The first is to be prepared, which in our case, means to practice. If you’re going to perform a recital, then start practicing for it well in advance. Starting a month or two out from your performance date, or earlier, set aside an hour or so a day to play straight through your music. Give yourself time in between pieces to simulate walking on and off the stage, and also take an intermission during practice if you’ll do the same in the actual performance. This strategy served me well during my DMA, and I always felt very confident about the music when I stepped on stage. It just makes sense and gives you one less thing to stress over.

“Do not take a lot of caffeine or sugar on the day of the performance.” I would go so far as to recommend that you don’t drink anything but water for a few days leading up to the performance. This allows your body to be fully hydrated, and it will hopefully keep you from succumbing to dry mouth. Sugar is in pretty much everything that we consume, so it’s difficult to stay away from it; however, do try to be aware of what you are putting into your body. Healthy decisions will make for a healthier performance. Underhill also mentions that drinking milk will help calm the nerves…I’ve heard of eating bananas, but never milk.

When you start to feel nervous, maybe try focusing a little bit more on your breathing. Our breath gets shallow when we are nervous, and it is proven that taking deeper, slower breaths will help release tension and calm the nerves. Also, taking deeper breaths will help you play that long phrase.

Lastly, Underhill recommends that you not focus too much on negative aspects. This means don’t constantly think about notes that you’re going to miss, or how this person isn’t going to talk to you anymore if you don’t play well. It’s all a mind game. Instead of focusing on the negative, try to picture yourself playing flawlessly. Don’t worry about other people, go out there and have fun and enjoy the music.

In the last few chapters, Underhill tries to discuss more specific techniques to use in different types of anxious situations: Presenting, Public Speaking, Athletic Performance, Music Performance, and Acting. I’ll just focus on the music part, but I’ve basically covered most of the helpful techniques that he talks about in this section. Something that hasn’t been mentioned yet is that you should always practice how you are going to perform. If you’re going to stand during the performance, then practice standing, and vice versa with sitting. Also, make sure that you either choose comfortable shoes for your performance, or if not, at least practice while wearing the uncomfortable ones. Make sure you choose a comfortable chair if you’re going to sit. Keep the clothes comfortable as well.

The rest mainly reiterates the point that you should try to be as positive as possible. You will never completely get rid of that anxious feeling, but the difference between a good and a bad performance is taking that anxiousness and channeling it into something positive. Jump and down, laugh, get excited about your performance. Don’t think, “Man, I hope this doesn’t suck,” but say to yourself, “I’m excited and I’m going to enjoy myself no matter what happens.” I think it’s good to be a little selfish sometimes, especially when we perform, because we, the performers, have put forth a lot of time and effort, and it is only natural that we should enjoy the fruits of our labor.

Final Verdict: If you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, then go ahead and read the book, because it’s free. If not, don’t waste your $3. I feel like I just did a better job of explaining his ideas…albeit, I must give Underhill some credit. He puts forth a lot of good ideas, but I just feel like the writing and execution is sub-par.