The ‘Little Voice’ Phenomenon

I had a wonderful lesson with one of my students yesterday.  I left feeling like we had really connected and that we had spent his half hour in a positive discussion.

Let me put you in the picture a little.  John (not his real name) has been struggling with his saxophone since we filled in his entry form for an exam in November.  He was playing perfectly well before that, but the thought of doing an exam has filled him with such fear that he completely tenses up and can’t get a note out.  For those of you who have no experience with the saxophone, in order to reach the low notes, your bottom lip needs to be quite loose against the reed to allow the maximum amount of vibration.  Normally the problem is trying to get the lip to be tight enough to play the high notes, but John has done things the other way round.

A couple of thoughts occurred to me at this point.  The first was that this amount of tension is extremely unhealthy in anyone, let alone a 10-year old child.  And the second was that I understand what he’s talking about.  He has a bad case of what Blair Singer calls the “Little Voice’, the one inside your head forecasting doom and gloom with no prompting from reality whatsoever.

As soon as we filled in his entry, John’s head was filled with thoughts about failure, about squeaking, about playing the wrong thing, about losing his music, and any other situation that might possibly go wrong and affect his result.  I should point out at this point that music comes naturally to him and in general he finds it a breeze to play something new.  He has never lost his music or turned up to a lesson unprepared.  This is not a child with a valid reason to fear doing the exam at all.

So because he couldn’t get a note out, we spent his half hour talking about strategies for relaxation.  We talked about deep breathing, about some yoga exercises to loosen the muscles, and about visualizing places and activities that he finds relaxing.  But then he mentioned that he has this “Little Voice” in all situations, not just with his saxophone.  My strategy?  To do the thing I love best.  I gave him an affirmation to write out and put above his bed so that he would see it often and repeat it to himself.

We wrote down, ‘I am so happy and grateful now that I have passed my Grade 2 Saxophone exam with distinction’, and we dated it November 2011.  I will keep you posted on the results!


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