How positive affirmations have changed the way I play the piano

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I am always keen to speak with excellent sight music players about how they go about sight reading, how their sight reading ability has been cultivated, and how they teach sight reading to others. Some general observations have arisen from these surveys, which I would like to share here.

First, I came to the conclusion that sight reading (At first glance), is a cognitive process markedly different from playing music that has been practiced. Second, some people seem to have a propensity for sight reading, while others do not. Third, there is probably a critical period for the development of sight reading skills. Fourth, within individual inclinations, sight reading ability is improved with daily practice. Finally, believing in your sight reading ability seems to affect your sight reading ability.

My curiosities about sight reading come from a lifelong struggle to become a better sight reader. Over the years, I have had a number of experiences that have shaped my ability to sight read. The first significant experience came when I studied at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels in Belgium. Part of the program was a class called Prima Vista; sight reading. At this weekly meeting, I sat next to a kind teacher who asked me to sight read, sight transpose, and read transcribed clefs (bass, tenor, G and alto clefs) on sight. . He has mentioned several times that his American students still struggle with prima vista. He encouraged me to relax more and try less.

A second experience came from personal experience with a certain uncontrolled psychedelic mushroom. Under a small dose of Amanita Muscaria mushroom, I was able to sight read a piano transcription by Wagner Prelude and Liebestod. I clearly remember the experience and this was corroborated by my guide in this experience, who was also a professional pianist. I don’t quite understand why or how this experiment went, and I don’t know if it is reproducible. It has been documented that an increased concentration and concentration occurs with the use of this fungus, which contains a chemical called muscimol. I do not suggest or use this method, as the risks of ingesting naturally occurring psychedelics are too high for the information that could arise from their use. I have found that meditation can provide the same information without the risks of ingesting chemicals. However, there are many researchers who are studying the use of psychedelics and this may become an area of ​​research in someone’s college lab.

The third relevant experience for understanding sight reading is that of interviewing excellent sight readers. They all described that the first step in becoming a better sight reader is to believe in your sight reading skills. The lesson repeated has been to convince yourself that you are an excellent sight reader. It is this third experience of believing in his abilities that I have spent the last few years exploring with myself and my students.

Historical context

Within the school of cognitive psychology, attention is paid to inner discourse; the inner dialogue that takes place throughout our day. Cognitive psychologists describe the usual patterns of inner monologue that frame the way we think, interpret, react and act in the world. Our inner speech is a kind of cognitive filter through which we experience the world. Cognition researchers have found that the self-speech of most people, and especially those with neurotics, is extremely negative. For example, many of us experience an extremely critical internal dialogue that focuses on the flaws, imperfections, and shortcomings of our body, appearance, and ability. Cognitive psychotherapists challenge these thought patterns, called cognitive distortions, and use affirmations to reprogram or create healthier, positive thinking habits. The idea is that the underlying thoughts influence the way we interpret the world. When our interpretation changes to a less negative (negation) or more positive (affirmation) belief, our reaction will change accordingly.

Although cognitive psychology draws heavily on Stoic Greco-Roman philosophy, similar teachings are found in Eastern traditions, especially Buddhism. In the Eightfold Path we find teachings of right or helpful speech as well as right thinking. It is a kind of ethical practice that helps us live in a way that brings contentment and ultimately enlightenment; the extinction of desire. In Hindu and Taoist traditions we find wisdom. A common expression in these traditions is found in the quote,

“Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character.

In the tradition of cognitive psychology, Rational Emotional Behavior Therapy (REBT) offers a similar education called the ABC model. In this model, A is the trigger event, B is the belief and C is the consequence of a given belief. The idea is that if we challenge and transform a distorted belief into a more specific or positive belief, we will change our experience of the world and the way we react to it. The message is: change your thoughts to change your reality. As William James illustrated in his 1890 text on Principles of Psychology, patterns of thought shape our experience of the world.

Positive affirmations are a common practice in cognitive, humanist, Buddhist, and positive psychology traditions. The effort is to counter and change the usual negative self-talk into positive or more useful self-talk.

The method

I began to use a morning meditation in which I repeated the statement, “I sight read with ease, precision and control.” I repeated this affirmation for ten minutes each morning, before my daily practice. I then spent an hour each day sight reading easy music from piano books for beginners. During my daily sight reading hour, I pause intermittently to meditate on the affirmation. With the students, I ask them to repeat the affirmation twenty times each morning. This comes from the instructions on the statements given by Emile Coué in his classic text, Self-control through conscious autosuggestion.

In addition to autosuggestion, I have also experimented with the use of hypnosis to help students improve their sight reading skills. This is a subject that will be described in more detail in a future essay. In short, the use of the “magnetic water” technique has been very useful with the young students. This is a technique described by Anton Mesmer in the 18th century. I simply suggested to a student that a glass of water had been “magnetized”, sometimes holding magnets on the glass of water for a few moments, then telling them that the water would have a calming effect that would increase their capacity. to concentrate and concentrate when reading sight. The technique has shown remarkable short-term effects on the student’s ability to focus and concentrate on the task at hand. As described by Coué, all hypnotism is autosuggestion, and this change in ability is attributed to a change in belief in one’s abilities at the task. The effect is a phenomenon of belief; a placebo. The idea here is identical to the use of assertions; changing the way we think and what we believe can change our behavior.


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