Chapter 6, Mental Characteristics…

Mental Characteristics of Peak Performers… When I first read this title I immediately thought about a tough, hard bodied cirque du solie performer. Tough on the stage and in the gym. Obviously, this is not what we are talking about in this book and this blog, but the work ethic is the same. So what was the first topic in this chapter? Mental Toughness…

Mental Toughness…something that I am constantly working on. I have a tendency to either deflect negativity or absorb it. Lately, I have been getting better on taking a step back, observing the criticism,and then seeing how I should take it. This change in me is from my recent finding of trust in myself…I work extremely hard, and its okay that I am not perfect. I have to have the courage to trust my instrument and the courage to accept it. Again, this boils back to self-confidence and taking responsibility for my actions, and being positive.

Positive. This seems to be the vain of my existence at the moment. I must be positive or else this semester will eat me alive! I am already feeling like a panicked psycho. Today I said the most bizarre sentence and the people I was talking to looked up at me in amazement. They couldn’t even comprehend what I was saying, let alone I couldn’t comprehend what I was even thinking! In the book she talks about Permanence, Pervasiveness and Personalization. Pervasiveness is what I need to work on more, I am trying to learn how to compartmentalize my issues. Ah! What a great thought that was!!! Compartmentalize. That’s what I need to start with, in regards to my performance anxiety, etc.I am a self-focus individual and I need to be a sound-focus individual.



Chapter 5, Cognitive Strategies

Cognitive strategies… oh how this is so familiar to me and how far I have to achieve even one strategy. ..Anyways, in this chapter the author begins with the Role of the body and mind ( in musical performance). There are so many roles that the mind plays with the body, obviously they are part of one machine!

PST, Psychological Skills Training is a systematic and consistent practice of mental skill training. The three phases are educational, acquisition, and practice and these phases are exactly what musicians do. We learn a piece of music, then we “perfect” it, and then hopefully perform it! Funny thought i had was, since we as musicians practices this PST everyday, then why aren’t we pros at it?!!? Why do i still stumble in performance and find that i have so much more to learn?! However I believe that I don’t follow all of the rules…what I mean by this, is that in the three phases there are individual categories…and I have a hard time with some of them. The categories: energy management, imagery, goal setting, self-talk and mental plans. If I was to be graded on all of these categories I would give myself a D+. That’s pretty pathetic.

Why is that? Why would I give myself a D+? Well, I have no idea what my goals are, except my short term goals, like getting through the day/week. I still have no idea where I want to go to grad school…all I know is I want to be successful and further my education. Also, I am not sure if I am talented enough to pursue a career in music…should I just go back to psychology? Do music therapy? I know I wouldn’t be happy if I did only that…

This brings me to what I would give myself an F- in, SELF TALK. I’m awful about that…having two very critical parents, and even worse relatives, I have had nothing but negative criticism my entire life. When I was younger and being in that environment was normal, it didn’t effect me like it does now…or maybe I didn’t notice how it effected me. It is so true that what you say/think is what you are/will be. Naturally I do not think it is positive to be on the other side of the spectrum as well, being over confident….

Another strategy for helping with the learning process of performance is observational learning…Its been a few years since I read about observational learning and I’m glad to be refreshed on it, because this is crucial to how I learn. Alison uses this technique with me and it really helps my fix a problem. For example with French ( I hate French) and when I repeat after her and watch her lips round, etc. then I get it. But if I am just reading the IPA or listening to someone on youtube, I do not get the same results. Being in the same room with another person and mimicking their behaviour is what I need. I am a “should-sound” learner and a sympathetic person…

Another important part of this chapter is THOUGHT STOPPING. This is after the paragraphs about SELF TALK. Thought Stopping is the process of stopping negative thoughts…something I am working on DAILY. Also, I now have positive people in my life who help me. When I say something negative in front of my friends, they stop me and correct it. I know it will take years, and I might never fully master stopping negative thoughts, but it is something that I know is vital to at least get a “hand” on for performance purposes.


So I am having some anxiety at the moment writing this blog…due to having to leave for florida last thursday, because of unexpected death in the family, I am frantically trying to catch up! The book required for this reading is currently checked out by someone else, and there is a line of about 4 or 5 other students needing it, and by the time I would get it we will be in class. So I am going to write about anxiety and performance as I see it, and as it effects me. 


Twisting stomach, and fluttering heart, accompanied by sweaty palms and twitching eyes…this is what happens in the green room before a performance. The interesting thing about anxiety is how the mental fear, what ever it may be, will effect you physically to the point of making or breaking you. Some of us center our anxiety into certain body areas, as of now I am not exactly sure where I put mine. I have been told multiple things by people who have seen me perform once or twenty times. Today in pedagogy we had to present on a technical issue that singers have and a physical. My physical was hand gestures, and that is something that I believe I am steps closer in conquering. At least that is what my teacher says, and what I see on video recordings. Anyways back to my presentation. In the presentation I had to demonstrate how to relieve anxiety in one’s hands during a performance. I showed a “aural” approach but honestly it was more “kinesthetic”, and I focused on tension in each finger and its relation to the pitch being sung at that moment, and making that physical+aural connection to try and reduce anxious energy in ones hands….An issue I found though in writing out the handouts for the class, was the issue that we don’t want our hands to be limp and “dead” looking…we want a “natural” look. So back to the subject of performance+anxiety, isn’t that “natural”? I just realized that I am on the same topic, pretty much the same, as I was last week. But it is something that I really want to focus on. Why is it that I now have tension in my body half of my body and am starting to develop jaw tension? (new finding from yesterdays voice midterm) And now Prof Acord is not saying anything about the “claw” that use to develop when I sing…it is almost as if that tension/anxiety that I use to place in my hands have now been “relocated” to another part of my body, and depending on the day, it seems to change location!


Now I am going to have a digression from my ramblings about my anxiety as a singer and briefly talk about what I know to be the origins of anxiety. Early man was driven by anxiety to accomplish tasks and survive. When the hunters and herders would be relocating locations the ones who weren’t over whelmed by their move and the physical/psychological strain, survived. While those who let the anxiety “over take” them, most likely did not get proper sleep, and then probably got sick, etc and died. Now contrasting to the cave men who died from anxiety, you had those who didn’t have anxiety to get anything accomplished, like build a defense wall, and they probably were eaten by bears. In the modern world the term “anxiety” has evolved and changed into a negative, instead of being driven by positive underlying desires (survival). Today we don’t have to worry about bears eating us, or finding new hunting forests…so this emotion that our amygdala and hippocampus has created, is out of whack.

Another thing that is interesting about evolution, is that the vocal folds ( now I am only talking about singers) where not created to be used for phonation! As humans we have two sets of vocal folds, the false and the vocalis. This phenomenon of talking/singing is something that the body was not engineered to do, and I feel like it is still a new phenomenon for our brains. What do I mean by this? Well, we are effected by vibrations and the vibrations from vocalizing effect our brain which stimulates the chemical areas of our brains…So could it be that with the evolution of talking the amygdala for example is secreting more chemicals then it did before? Wow, I am going on a crazy tangent! Going to stop now! Sometimes I can be on first base and end up in right field. 

So, again about anxiety being natural. Its natural to be nervous and to have fear. That is part of the human experience. As performers it is our MISSION to control our anxiety and let it MOTIVATE us to have a BETTER PERFORMANCE. I need to take the anxiety I feel about performing Albert Herring in March, and use that ENERGY to do better NOW. 

Alexander Technique Thoughts

Last year I was introduced to the Alexander Technique by my voice teacher, and I thought that it was a silly idea. How is it that focusing on things like tension in my arm could help my vocal production? Yet with every lesson she would prove my doubts wrong by having me do things like, sit on a bouncing ball and imagine my hips sinking into it as I inhaled. This idea of displacing my mind to focus on other areas of my body, seemed to make the task at hand ( singing a five note scale above the staff for example) go by quickly and sometimes painlessly. So this Alexander Technique started to remind me of yoga for Fitness…

I found it strange that these teachers register their tax status, differently than medical professionals. This is because I would assume that a certified Alexander Technique teacher would have to have classes in human anatomy and disease, let alone psychology and physiology, and would be certified at a medical “level”. Maybe one day this level of education will be recognized as not a pseudoscience, but as an alternative therapy method for individuals suffering from some type of anxiety.

The senses…these powerful little “tools” that we use in everyday life is beyond comprehension sometimes. In the article about kinesthetic, I found that adding “sense” to the list not only genius but it was common sense. Would it be better to call this sixth “sense”, AWARENESS, instead of sense? I only ask this because the word “sense” can be over used in this topic.

As a vocalist I use the sixth sense, (I’m going to call it awareness in this blog) Awareness on a daily basis. I cannot touch my vocal cords or look at them. There is no way to smell them, and there really is no way to “hear” them. Yes, if I have air flowing through my trachea, than my cords phonate. Other than engaging them, I cannot access them, so that is where being a singer is especially tricky. This is why I believe the Alexander Technique works so well for singers. Even though the Thyroid cartilage moves slightly vertical when we change pitch, the whole “idea” behind singing is orchestrated by the brain, so any negative thought or distraction can be significant.

There are so many topics that I want to talk about but I’m going to hone in on one, the idea of relaxation. What is relaxation? To me that is the idea of complete ease, and not having any control of my body and letting it sink into my warm, comfortable bed. So how can I be relaxed and yet engaged? A pianist cannot play the piano and have to tension in his fingers. If they were not engaged to be activated they would be limp and would be my mind’s idea of “relaxed”. When you tell a singer to “relax”, they cannot let their abdominal cavity go soft and their breath to get lazy, there has to be constant muscle engagement and energy exchange. So is the idea of “relaxation” really the idea that we must have an open portal of energy that goes from our brain to our toes?  What I am getting at, is that I believe that the idea behind the Alexander Technique works because it focuses on the body as a whole, instead of looking at each part as its own ‘part’, we have to recognize that if we focus our attention to one location of our body, then the energy that we are sending goes directly to that place instead of being distributed organically throughout our bodies?