Mindfulness is an invaluable tool for teaching students how to concentrate on-stage, improve awareness in the practice room, play pain-free, and move on from disappointing auditions or performance experiences, writes Dr. Travis Baird
Over the last 10 years, mindfulness has become one of the most popular techniques for improving concentration, moment-to-moment awareness, self-control, acceptance, and compassion. Although mindfulness is an ancient practice, recent research reinforces the hundreds of years of anecdotal evidence suggesting that a simple mindfulness practice can offer life-changing benefits.
Add any of the following mindfulness techniques into your daily teaching life and you’ll notice an increase in your capacity for calm, focused, fully-engaged teaching. Share these techniques with your students and they’ll notice the difference in their practice rooms, on-stage, and behind the audition curtain.
1. Take one mindful breath
Inhale slowly through the nose. Exhale slowly through the nose.
Simple, right? As you breathe, notice your body rising and falling with each inhale and exhale.
By bringing your attention to your breath, you return your attention to the present moment. Try beginning each lesson by guiding your students through one mindful breath.
2. Create time for silent reflection
After a student performs a movement of a sonata or concerto for you in a lesson, it’s tempting to jump in immediately and start teaching.
When we rush in this way, our students miss out on a crucial opportunity to observe how the performance went.
Notice what happens if you take 30 seconds for silent reflection before giving feedback. Invite your student to join you, taking time to consider what they observed during the performance. By creating this type of space, you and your students will remember more from each lesson and enjoy a calmer approach to long-term musical development.
3. Practice mindful listening
In mindfulness meditation, we observe when the mind has wandered away and gently guide it back to the object of focus. Often, we choose to focus on the breath.
In our practice rooms, many of us spend a large portion of each session daydreaming or thinking about an upcoming performance. Next time you practice, try intentionally observing each time your mind wanders away from the task at hand and gently guide it back to the music.
Share this practice technique with your students and they will quickly discover how much more efficiently they can practice. Their week-to-week improvement will skyrocket and you will enjoy having more focused, less distracted students.
4. Practice mindful movement
When our students are more aware of how they move their bodies, they’re better able to make subtle-but-crucial technique adjustments, correct postural issues, and prevent injury.
However, developing body awareness can be tricky, especially for kids who are still growing.
Try taking a break in the middle of a lesson and invite your student to move through a single simple movement. For example, ask a young violinist to draw the bow up and down on an open string for several minutes. During that time, invite her to maintain focus on the movements of her right arm. Ask her to notice when her mind wanders away and gently guide her attention back to her bow arm.
It seems simple, but even the smallest breakthrough in body awareness can unlock new levels of technical prowess.
5. Re-focus during stressful moments
As music teachers, we are all familiar with the kind of stress that builds up during a long day of teaching. With numerous students to keep track of, lessons to prepare for, and endless administrative tasks, even the smallest push-back from a student can send us over the edge. As these stressful moments pile up, it can feel difficult to move on and re-focus your attention.
Next time a stressful moment arrives, take it as an opportunity to pause for 1-3 mindful breaths. Rather than reacting to the stimulus that the stress, we can respond mindfully, with compassionate awareness.
6. Keep it simple
Over the years, I’ve learned that I tend to over-complicate things when teaching. By simplifying my teaching and focusing on only the most necessary and important points, my students have demonstrated improved understanding and long-term improvement.
When teaching mindfulness, the same concept applies. When your attention wanders, simply bring it back to the present moment. To do that, you might notice your breath, or the sound of the music you’re creating, or how you feel. No matter what, the practice is simple: return to the present.
Dr. Travis Baird is a mindfulness teacher and performance coach for musicians, helping educators and performers prioritize their goals, manage performance anxiety, and teach with joy. He is the founder of Dynamic Music Teacher, offering courses and workshops on performance preparation, productivity, and musician wellness.