Peaceful Practice:

How to Soothe Frustration and Anxiety during Practice

As a parent or teacher, have you ever witnessed a time when your student was experiencing high levels of frustration and anxiety, either during a lesson or practice session? I’ve noticed that several of my students from time to time will suddenly become super frustrated or anxious because they’re not grasping a concept or mastering a skill as quickly as they would like. Not understanding how to play something, getting confused when reading notes on the staff, or not being able to master a skill or technique, (more deeply, just feeling like a failure) can make students feel very frustrated and anxious. A lot of students have the desire to play a song perfectly every time, even if it is a brand new song they are learning, and they become frustrated when they are not able to immediately get it right. Have you ever faced this issue with your kids or students–the lesson or practice session is going along smoothly, and everyone is happy, until suddenly they just can’t get it, and they become overwhelmed, discouraged, and frustrated? This happens to me from time to time as a teacher, especially since I teach such a wide variety of students, including very young students, teenagers, and students with varying exceptionalities, such as ASD. All students learn at a different pace, and process information in such different ways. So how do we deal with frustrated students, and more importantly, how do we PREVENT frustration and anxiety from happening during a lesson or independent practice, and get to a point of peaceful practice?

Try out these 3 ways to prevent frustration and anxiety:

  1. Regular Routine: Have the same routine every lesson. This helps students anticipate what’s going to happen each lesson, which eliminates some of that anxiety, and let’s them know what they can expect from the lesson, and what is expected from them. This also helps students become aware of how much time they are going to dedicate to each portion of the lesson, for example: technique, method books, games, and theory exercises.
  2. Brief Breaks: Allow your child, or student to take short breaks from time to time, before they become to frustrated. When you see that frustration level start to rise, suggest taking a short break (you only need about 30-60 seconds). This helps the student slow down, take a breath, set their mind on something else, then refocus and restart. When they come back from the break, they are no longer feeling flooded and overwhelmed, and can now concentrate on the task that seemed too daunting before. It’s so simple, yet so effective!
  3. Alternate Activities: Another option instead of taking a break, is to switch up the activity when your child or student starts to demonstrate anxiety and frustration. Sometimes we get so focused on wanting to complete the task we started, that we forget that it’s okay to come back to it later, or even finish it the following week. Once a student becomes too frustrated, he won’t be able to focus enough on completing that task any way, so it helps to just stop, and turn in another direction. Although most students like to have that predictability in lessons, there might be times when it really is best to just take a break from trying to master that song, and play a game instead. You can always come back to the original activity later in the lesson or practice session.

Try out these strategies with your kids, and see how it helps maintain a peaceful and positive lesson and practice! For students who tend to get frustrated more easily, I like to use a visual aid, and post it where students can see it during their lesson, or while they are practicing on their own. This helps kids learn to identify and regulate when they are getting frustrated, and helps them know what they can do to calm their anxiety.

What students can do when they become frustrated in practice or a lesson.

They can pick and choose from one of these suggestions, or they can do more than one. The options are:

  1. Take 3 deep breaths
  2. Count to 10
  3. Slow it down, and try again (for example, pause, take a breath, then play the section again but slower).
  4. Take a 30-60 second break
  5. Say “I CAN do it!”

Always have students start back at their task on a positive note by saying, “I can do it”. Slowing down is KEY because often times students want to rush through a song or warm-up or scale, and they get frustrated when they are not able to play it correctly. By slowing it down, they are able to think and process as they are practicing.

Lastly, remind your child or student that mistakes are OKAY, especially when they are learning a new piece, or practicing on their own. Everyone makes mistakes at first, and that’s why we practice, and that’s why they have a teacher to guide them.

I hope this information helps with your kids and students! For more tips and information, follow Mindful Music Center on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and visit our website!

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