There are endless videos about what to do physically on any given instrument to get better. Those are great, but the biggest problem every single musician faces is largely in the mind and not the body.
So here are 10 affirmations, things that if you just say them to yourself on a regular basis, like every time you pick up your instrument, will gradually transform the way you make music. This affirmation technique is scientifically proven to work, and it’s just common sense. Problem is, most musicians are repeating negative affirmations to themselves and that ends up becoming our musical identity.
Have you ever said to yourself, I hate how I sound, I suck, I learn slowly, I can’t do that, this is too hard for me? Every time you say or think one of those negative things, you identify with that statement. You literally make it become reality.
The beautiful thing is that this works in both directions, so if you say, I love how I sound, I’m great, I learn things quickly, I can do that, then you identify with those statements, and make them become reality. These 10 affirmations are for saxophone players, but you can apply them to any instrument and even other disciplines just by changing a few words.
After you hear the list, let me know in the comments which affirmations you might add in case I missed any.
1. I always play with my best sound and in tune.
When we focus on our sound and intonation, they are always better. If we are distracted by nerves, or trying to execute technical things, our sound and intonation can often suffer from neglect. It’s one of the first things that goes out the window if we aren’t careful. I find it helpful to identify myself as someone who always plays with their best sound and in tune. Mind you, I may not be successful 100% of the time, but having that at the top of my mind really helps.
2. I always play with solid rhythm.
This one is as important as the first. We cannot tolerate playing with poor rhythm at any level. It can’t be something you will fix later. Repeat this affirmation to yourself every time you play and it will become part of your musical identity. Playing with solid rhythm and a beautiful sound is enough to make anyone a pleasure to listen to.
3. I always take a full breath and fill the saxophone up with air.
Repeating this to yourself will help you make it a habit. Not taking full breaths results in a weak sound, poor rhythm and sloppy technique. Using your air properly does wonders for all aspects of your saxophone playing. This applies to both loud and soft dynamics.
4. I always stay physically relaxed when I play and keep my fingertips on the key pearls as much as possible.
Physical tension is one of the biggest problems holding musicians back on all instruments. It will take constant monitoring and reminding to break out of the habit of playing with tension. Practice in front of a mirror, and check yourself all the time. Once you identify as a musician that plays with relaxed, shoulders, neck, wrists and fingers, your sound, technique, rhythm and comfort will improve steadily.
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5. I always play with clean technique.
A person who always plays with clean technique is one that practices slowly enough to hear all the tiny imperfections and be able to correct them. Practice slow, take the time to fix finger glitches by isolating and smoothing those transitions. Make that a habit, and eventually you will be that kind of sax player.
6. I Practice daily because I enjoy the process and it makes me feel good.
Why do you practice? I know my own motivation for practicing has often been, because I have to learn this or that, because I feel I’m not good enough, because I want to impress others. Sound familiar? If we flip the script, and our motivation for practicing becomes enjoyment and feeling good, the way we practice changes for the better as well. Try it.
7. I always listen to the other musicians I am playing with.
This applies at every level, whether you are playing in the school band or a rock band, or even just playing along with backing tracks. We can easily end up spending most of our time practicing solo, so it’s very important to not forget to listen to the other musicians when we are in a group. A performance by musicians who are listening intently to one another sounds entirely different to one where the musicians are only listening to themselves.
8. I always learn the melodies to songs I play by listening to recordings.
If you need to read the notes of a melody in order to play it, that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that. But these days there’s no excuse to learn any kind of music from sheet music alone. This goes for classical, jazz, and pop music. Listen to great performances of songs, to learn how to phrase, stylistic nuances, and what it sounds like when it’s done right.
9. I always play the changes and outline the harmony. I know all the chords to any tune I improvise over.
This one applies to improvising musicians. Make it an unbreakable rule that you know the chords before you play over changes. Don’t wing it, don’t fake it. Learn the chords and make it clear to anyone listening that you know them. If you identify yourself in this way, that’s the type of player you’ll become.
I saved the most important one for last.
10. I never compare myself to others, nor do I judge myself based on how I play music.
There will always be musicians that play better than us no matter how good we get. This is a good thing and we need to treat it as a positive rather than be intimidated. Without those further along on the journey, how would we know which direction to go in?
I’ll admit that this is also the hardest one for me to put in practice on a daily basis, but if you can stop judging and comparing yourself against other musicians, you can actually free yourself to make much better music.
If you come out of traditional music education, which most people do in one way or another, it is especially difficult. That system is built on judgement and comparison. Start unlearning that part of the music education system now. It may take a while, but it’s so worth it.
Check out this video next for more motivation and helpful tips.