Unique Musical "Chairs"

Musicians are interested in developing expertise in performance psychology

Posted Apr 16, 2015

Professional musicians, despite their extensive musical training, receive very little training on the mental skills needed to perform optimally. It’s as though there are only two options: you’ve either got all the technical knowledge you need and are thus ready to perform or you’re an abject failure and shouldn’t be in the business. You shouldn’t need to know how to handle performance tension. You shouldn’t need to develop skills in re-focusing under performance conditions.

This either-or perspective applies to many performers. It’s not unique to musicians. But I want to tell you specifically about some musicians I know—and invite your thoughts and suggestions about some new paths they’re contemplating.

Because I’ve been teaching, writing about, and working with performing artists (musicians in particular) over the past year I've been contacted by a number of professional musicians who are making the connection between their performing and knowing about the psychology of performance. They’d like to expand their professional “vocabulary” to involve, professionally, the mental aspects of performance. This informal “group” is international in scope.

They include an American voice professor pursuing formal coaching certification, a European Masters of Science student and cellist, a British classical guitarist completing a PhD in performance skills, an American freelance cellist with Masters degrees both in performance and in Sport and Performance Psychology, a Canadian-based Masters student of performance theory who is studying models of shared leadership in chamber music groups, and a professional orchestral musician obtaining training in psychology and counselling, in order to coach performing artists on mental preparation and performance skills.

What kind of further training do these accomplished musicians envision? How might they—and others like them—enact their knowledge of performance more completely? They are considering three inter-related but not identical tracks or goals:

becoming academicians, for example, in a music department at a university, conducting  research and teaching about performance psychology;
becoming licensed mental health practitioners, able to work from a clinical as well as performance perspective with musicians/music students;
becoming performance psychology “coaches” who specialize in assisting musicians regarding wellness in addition to the mental skills involved in performance.

What is unusual about these three areas? There seems to be very little in the way of direct training to get from A (professional musician) to B (one or more of the above). Although there’s a whole field of music therapy, with courses, degrees, and job prospects, it’s different when you need to chart your own territory. The challenge comes in attempting to decide things such as:

What courses do I need to take in order to qualify for X?
Does this program really provide these skills?
Will this book be useful or redundant?
How can I incorporate (and be recognized for) the competence I already have while receiving this additional training?
How do I translate these concepts into “language” I already know and experience I already have?

My goal in writing this blog is (at least) two-fold. One is to share some intriguing questions being considered by this cluster of people regarding their own professional development. It may spark your thoughts on your own career, professional development, and how to meld various interests and types of knowledge.

The other is a direct appeal: Do you have suggestions about what kind of additional training would be needed for these three tracks/goals? Do you know of programs (whether university or free standing) that might support further training in any of these areas? Our hope is to obtain as much information as possible, as broadly and inclusively as possible.
If you have some thoughts or suggestions (or want to share this blog with others who might have information to add), please respond to me via my website, www.theperformingedge.com. We will be collating the information and then, ultimately, making it available on the web.