Lessons in Learning: Playing Without Judgment

by Abby @ Quaver on October 11, 2012

in Around the Web,Music Matters

Welcome back Quaver guest blogger Jeannine Everett – violinist, chamber musician, and all around student of music!

Jeannine previously shared her stories on sight-reading and resistance, and brings another doozy of a lesson from her own musical journey today!

Take it away Jeannine:


In Spite of It All – Playing without Judgment

The fate of Sunday evening often hinges on the outcome of my son’s basketball game. If it’s been a good game, the last night of the weekend is safe. It not, we’re in for hours of disgruntled teenager. An unhappy teen is a like a tree falling in the forest–it requires an audience, even if he “doesn’t want to talk about it.”

A good game is defined not by whether my son’s team has won or lost, but by whether his level of play met his expectations.

I know his status the minute he walks through the door. If he’s trailing a storm cloud behind him, it won’t take long before he tells me that he stinks, and that he’s never playing again. Okay, that isn’t exactly the term he uses, but let’s roll with it.

I certainly understand. I spent most of my teenage years thinking “I stink.” I’ll admit that I probably didn’t use those words either. Rude as it may be, the excluded pejorative is an apt description of the vacuum of self-doubt that can pull one down.

I used to panic before every concert and competition.

My mother, tired of the drama, suggested that it might be time to quit. I was appalled. What was she thinking? All I could say was, “But Mom, I LOVE this!”

I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t get a handle on it until a couple of years ago.

Until then, I treated performing like a roller coaster ride. I’d close my eyes and breathe deeply until it was over. I managed the stress, but couldn’t remember anything afterwards. No magic. An instructor finally talked some sense into me. She said that she enjoyed hearing me play, but watching me play was another matter.

“Let it go,” she said. “If not, what are you doing this for? Has anyone ever asked you for their money back?”

So when my son heads out for the game, I tell him to have fun. He scoffs. “What if I stink?” he says. I tell him, “You don’t have fun because you don’t stink. You have fun in spite of the fact that sometimes you do.” And no one cares. Least of all me.

So I tell him to go and find something to love. 

The thump of the ball against the floor, and the chirp of squeaking tennis shoes. The smile of his best friend after he makes a basket, and the sharp satisfying sting of the high-five they share afterwards. The weightless feeling when he leaps for a rebound, and the faces of his teammates as they line up for a free throw. And I tell him that if he hits that three, remember that too, and soak it in, because these moments are rarer than you think. And he ignores me.

For me, that thing is playing music.

Life Stinks, says the bumper sticker. Yes, sometimes it does. But in spite of it all, it rocks.

How do you get your students to play without self-judgment?
Is this a skill you’ve mastered?

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