Mental and emotional health and well-being is something I’m pretty passionate about.
At the beginning of every lesson I always ask my students how their day was and what’s been happening lately. This isn’t just to be polite: I genuinely want to know what emotional state they’re in before I start teaching. If they’re happy and energetic I can challenge them a little harder and nudge them out of their comfort zone. If they’ve had a rough day I know to keep things fun and low-pressure so they can just breathe and enjoy themselves for that half hour.
Occasionally I’ve had a student put on a brave face and I’ve accidentally pushed too hard and exacerbated their troubles, sometimes leading to tears.
I gotta tell you, that sucks for everyone involved! Music practice is so intimately linked to our emotional centres and leaves us very vulnerable to criticism or perceptions of failure. The last thing I ever want to do is make my students feel “useless” or “incapable.” It’s very important to me to teach to the person in front of me that day, wherever they’re at within themselves. Sometimes that means just pulling back and consolidating stuff they already know well, to remind them of how capable they are even when they’re feeling like crap.
So in this trying time, while we’re in covid lockdown with no immediate end in sight, please look after yourself. Keep expectations real and accept that you may not be able to do anything but coast for a while. It’s totally OK to just sit back and focus on the things you know you already do well, and if you’re having a day where the only thing you manage to achieve is to get out of your pj’s, or intentionally add some fruit to your lunch, or send that email that’s been hanging over your head for a few days, please take a moment to celebrate those little wins!
We are all in this storm together and it isn’t always obvious whether the person in front of us is riding it out in a houseboat or a dinghy (or maybe even clinging to driftwood, feeling like they could drown at any moment…). A little compassion goes a long way – for yourself as well as for others.