Mindful Music Lessons


With a focus on mindfulness these days, we're now incorporating mindfulness concepts into our music lesson program. We are finding that it's helping students and their parents get the most out of their lessons and practice sessions. Making students aware of mindfulness is a great way to help them focus, study and learn. Incorporating the concepts and principles into both the lesson and practice sessions has also helped with retention. You can teach your students and parents to be mindful, and it will help your lesson program, too.

What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is defined as “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.” When it comes to studying an instrument, nothing is quite as useful as mindfulness. In order to take a lesson, then practice and absorb the material, students must be fully invested and focused on what they are studying. They have to silence other thoughts and be present for that moment, whether it be 10 minutes of practice, a 45-minute class in school or a one-hour music lesson.

It seems that everyone is practicing mindfulness these days. Even local public schools are offering yoga and breathing as a part of their daily activities. And we believe that mindfulness can play a huge role in the success of a studying musician.

This summer, we had an opportunity to introduce tai chi to two groups of students. The first opportunity presented itself during rehearsals for our summer musical, Mulan. In the production, there's a short scene in which some of the cast members complete a tai chi routine. Since this needed to be choreographed, we called on local tai chi instructor, Dr. Robert Chuckrow, to come work with the students.

It was a hot summer day, and even though it was almost time to go home, the students remained calm, quiet and focused throughout the entire activity. When the workshop was over, not only did they have their scene mastered but they were also present and continued to work on another song from the show. This is when we had an idea ... let’s do tai chi before all the shows to center and focus the kids!

This was so successful that we brought tai chi into our Rock Band Camps. For each week of our camps, we offered a workshop that teaches the kids about tai chi and how they could use it to become better musicians. We run the workshop after lunch, outdoors, and have found that every time we complete the exercise, the kids are extremely focused. We also talk about using the skills they learned during tai chi in other areas of their lives.

So how do we use the principles of mindfulness to create more successful music students? In addition to offering programs like tai chi, we do the following:

• We encourage students to be present. If your mind is wandering when you're practicing or performing, it is sure to affect your playing. Being aware that you must keep your mind on your music helps to keep students on track.

• We teach students and parents to keep the peace and to try not to get frustrated. Sometimes it's hard to play a piece of music. It's easy to get frustrated and give up. Stay the course and know that getting frustrated holds you back from moving forward. Teaching parents and kids to keep a peaceful mind when they are working on music helps to remind them that learning music takes time.

• Always have a beginner’s mind. Even if you are not a beginner, every time you start a new concept or piece of music, you are beginning again. While some people may find that frustrating, beginning represents a fresh start and a chance to do something well. Starting a new song or book can be a chance to teach a student to do something well.

• Tell all the students “be yourself.” The great thing about music is it's as unique as the person playing it. Tell students to let a little, or a lot, of themselves shine through when they are playing and allow a piece of music to tell part of their story.

• Self-talk. Tell the students to commend themselves on progress, even if it is just a tiny bit. This encouragement will help to push them forward.

• Make sure students and parents are playing music for fun. Music brings everyone joy. Make sure your students are studying hard but also making music. And ensure they are making music with others to bring them the connection that only music can.

Creating mindful music lessons in your lesson program will not only help your students but also help retain students, as they will stay more focused, progress faster and have fun.

Mike and Miriam Risko are the owners of Mike Risko Music, a music lessons and retail operation in Ossining, New York.