What We Can Learn From The Beginner's Attitude

I recently pulled out some old repertoire and read through it for fun. Specifically, the Mercadante Concerto in e minor. The third movement is especially difficult, and as I approached the moment where the intense triple-tonguing begins, my thoughts were:

"I wonder if I can do it..."

To my amazement, I made it through with success! Of course, I went back to re-create the same outcome a second time, but noticed an immediate shift in my mindset: 

"I probably won't be able to do that again..."

Sure enough, I couldn't repeat the passage at the same level I had achieved the first time.

Experience and Pressure

This was not the first time I've had this experience, be it with the first read-through of a new piece, or re-visiting an old one, and it proves the power of our own thoughts.

What is the difference? Trial number one is free of pressure. I am genuinely curious about what will happen, watching myself through the passage. Immediately following this trial, pressure increases. Experience tells me that the passage is difficult, and I'm running through the list of things I need to do to make sure it happens - I'm overthinking. Curiosity is still present, but self-doubt has crept in, telling me that I was just lucky the first time. 

This article explains the similar phenomenon of beginners' luck, and the way an expert feels an increase in pressure, unlike the beginner, who is open to the possibilities of a new experience.

in the practice room

Adopting a beginners' attitude in the practice room is the key to ensuring we improve daily, remaining teachable in any situation. If we begin each day with a similar routine of tone exercises and scales, seeking to learn something new about ourselves each time, we can always grow. If we get bored or as though we've completed or exhausted an exercise, we close ourselves off from new possibilities. There is always room for more!

The attitude of a beginner isn't just for the process of experimentation while practicing, it is coupled with a mindset that should be carried into our approach to performance. Whenever my thoughts involve self-doubt, the result is less than desirable. When pressure is replaced with curiosity and joy, however, I remain free, and what seemed difficult becomes easy.

Notice your thoughts as you approach a difficult moment. Try actively choosing words that are affirming and free of judgement, and practice incorporating this mindset just as you'd practice the notes. The beginner's attitude is all about exploring and reveling in what is possible, approaching the process with joy and self-compassion.