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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Music


The Mental Game Of Music

The Art Of Calm, Focused Performance

Bill Cole, MS, MA

Has anyone talked to you about the mental game of music? That's what this article will do. I have a background as a musician, from elementary school through high school, and after I graduated, I had a stint as a professional musician. I played trombone, and was fortunate to grow up in the Williamsville Central School District (New York State), where we were able to win numerous concert band competitions around the US, eventually achieving a number three US national ranking. After high school I had the great fortune to play a concert with the Grammy-award winning composer and musical artist Chuck Mangione, who is known for his hit pop pieces, "Hill Where the Lord Hides", "Chase The Clouds Away", "Feels So Good", and his popular albums Land of Make Believe, and Chase The Clouds Away. Mangione's composition "Chase the Clouds Away" was used as the theme song at the 1976 Summer Olympics, held in Montreal. Quebec. Clearly, Chuck Mangione is one of the peak performers in the mental game of music. Learn more about Chuck at and

So music has always been near and dear to my heart, and it has taught me many life lessons, and many performance lessons that I teach to this day as a mental game coach.

Here are two fast tips that can help improve your mental game of music.

Visualize Success: Many musicians regularly imagine what might happen in a performance if they freeze up, become too nervous, forget what to do, get tight and generally fall apart in front of an audience. Those are scary scenarios. And actually, when you think like this, you are in effect giving yourself PTSD in advance. PTSD is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Not to minimize PTSD, but when we humans imagine disaster scenes, and how we could fail, we are really creating fear memories inside of us. But just as these visualizations can go in a bad direction—a negative one— they can be reversed, and they can go in a positive direction. The trick is to be aware of what you allow in your mind, and not to allow anything damaging to your confidence. It's helpful to focus on your past performance successes to create present excellence. Experienced performers have a "success bank account" filled with their inspiring, memorable performances and zone moments. They re-imagine these energizing images when they need a boost of confidence before a performance, or in-between pieces inside the actual performance.

As you visualize a previous successful performance, notice a few key things. How did you feel in your muscles? I bet they felt relaxed, yet energized. What emotions were you experiencing? You were probably positive and happy. Was your mind clear and focused? That's the opposite of a choking experience, where the mind is full of worries, self-instruction and self-incrimination over mistakes. Were you enjoying the experience?

How was the audience reacting? How were any fellow musicians reacting if you were playing in a group? Did you seem to have plenty of time to execute? And I bet your senses were alert, but not hyper-vigilant. This is the zone, in action. Review other past performances you had like this and you'll see the common thread of mental excellence running through them all. This is the mental game of music at its best.

Breathing Is Your Best Friend: I often tell a story about two young kids who go to the band director's office in elementary school. They ask if he can teach them how to play the trumpet. He says yes, and to sit down while he goes to get the instruments. When the director comes back, one boy asks him, "I won't have to learn any of that breathing stuff, will I?" This story highlights what many performers need to know. Breath control is everything when it comes to performing. This is regardless of whether you play a wind instrument or not. Your breath is the window to your sense of calm, your energy and your focus. Your breath is always in the present time zone, and of course we perform in the present. Our regrets and anger over mistakes live in the past. Our worries and what-ifs live in the future. Only the present holds the key to giving a great performance. An easy way to access the present is to be breath-focused. Check in on your breath from time to time. Listen to it and feel it as you take inhalations and exhalations. When you breath deeply the day of an audition or performance, you allow your lungs to expand, blood to flow, and muscles to relax. Deep breathing disrupts scared, high, shallow breathing, which is part and parcel of the stress response of stage fright. As you become more in tune with your breath, you will make contact with the now. Do this often enough, and at a quality level, and you may even summon the zone.

Now you have some new mental insights into the mental game of music. And now you know more about how to handle your mind, and how to manage your stress and energy and focus. I know you'll take these out to your next performance and put them to good use. Good luck!

Copyright © Bill Cole, MS., MA. 2014 All rights reserved.

This article covers only one small part of the mental game. A complete mental training program includes motivation and goal-setting, pre-event mental preparation, post-event review and analysis, mental strengthening, self-regulation training, breath control training, motor skill training, mental rehearsal, concentration training, pressure-proofing, communication training, confidence-building, breaking through mental barriers, slump prevention, mental toughness training, flow training, relaxation training, momentum training, psych-out proofing and media training.

Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and President of the International Mental Game Coaching Association, Bill is also founder and CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps organizations and professionals achieve more success in business, life and sports. He is a multiple Hall of Fame honoree, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published book author and articles author, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league pro sports, big-time college athletics and corporate America. For a free, extensive article archive, or for questions and comments visit him at

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