Performing — whether on a music stage or an athletic arena — requires more than just talent; it requires mental strength as well.
“The earlier a student can learn to control his or her thoughts and emotions, the greater the life benefit,” said Dr. Steve Curtis, a neuroscientist and clinical psychologist who specializes in sports and performance psychology. “Growing this mental strength will help not only in music but also in all other performance venues: sports, academics, social interactions and professional settings.”
Curtis will share his expertise on getting the mind in shape at the Naperville Area Illinois State Music Teachers Association meeting Oct. 10. Program chairperson Christine Paryl said it’s a topic that is beneficial to educators and musicians alike.
“Most musicians and many of our students express anxiety in performing for an audience or being evaluated for assessments,” said Paryl, a piano teacher and saxophonist for the Naperville Municipal Band. “We are hoping Dr. Curtis will give us advice on how to deal with our own anxiety and also how to help our students have successful performances.”
For more than two decades, Curtis has worked with thousands of athletes, musicians, students and business people, helping them as a “mental strength-trainer.” In addition to teaching at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, he has used the same approach to help athletes win high school, college and pro championships.
“We all ‘perform’ every day in our lives, and the same rules and challenges apply to every performance,” Curtis said. “My approach is in helping performers grow the mental strength required to create optimal thoughts and emotions for optimal, even ‘in the zone’ performances.”
Curtis said it’s an important topic for music educators for several reasons.
“Musical talent and skill can be stymied by the inability to control performance anxiety,” he said. “This can create real frustration for music educators and players. The study of performance psychology and an ongoing mental strength-training program can be minimal time expenditures that results in great benefits.”
To combat performance anxiety, Curtis teaches students about both the negative physical and mental consequences of anxiety and fear, as well as their “natural, brain-based resistance to change.”
“No one gets better without new behaviors to support the growth of improved skills, and most performers don’t have the mental strength to create and sustain those new skill-building behaviors,” he said. “Consequently they get stuck and don’t realize their potential. “