What mental picture do you have in your mind when you are practicing? Are you picturing your favorite drummer? If you have an important concert coming up do you picture what might go wrong? Do you imagine that others may be critical of you? If so, you are very normal. These typical mental pictures can be helpful—or extremely harmful.

Role Models

When we are young we usually have a hero or favorite drummer. In order to improve, we tend to copy our heroes. We listen to their records, go to their concerts and read all we can about them. This is all positive but only up to a point. Sooner or later we have to break away and develop our own style of playing.

However, the mind can be a repetitive mechanism. Years after we have stopped copying and have begun to create our own style, those old “pictures” may still be there—obsolete pictures that no longer help us. In fact, they often hold us back and inhibit our development as musicians.

Negative Pictures

A negative picture is one in which we imagine in our mind’s eye that others will criticize us. Although we may understand that we can’t please everyone, the fear is still there. Some people use this negative picture to “psyche” themselves up. “I’ll show them” is a common way to do this.

We may find ourselves getting angry as we think about the imagined criticism and even draw strength from that anger. For some people, this negative psyche job will work. However, it has negative side effects.

People in this state of mind may indeed play well, but they are not much fun to be around. They are often grouchy and sullen. They may seem to be self-centered or egotistical because it takes a lot of energy to function negatively. People like this tend to be impatient and critical of those they work with. They are hard on themselves and on others.

Positive Pictures

A positive picture occurs when we visualize that we are going to do well. We mentally see ourselves as well prepared for a good performance. We realize that we can’t please everyone. However, if we can please ourselves and the people we work with, we know we have a good chance of pleasing the audience as well.

We have all had experiences where things just seemed to click. If we think back carefully, we see that it was often because we anticipated having a good time. No negative pictures came into play because there was no fear.

New situations create tension and anxiety because of fear of the unknown. When we are with people we know, it is easier to picture a successful performance.

Getting Rid of Negative Pictures

The old approach was based upon breaking bad habits. This usually tends to reinforce what we are trying to change because we keep thinking and picturing in a negative way.

However, there is a much easier way. Don’t worry about the old mental pictures. Just create new, more positive ones. For example, if you are practicing and you catch yourself picturing your favorite drummer—stop! Relax for a moment and then try to picture yourself. Picture yourself in your own mind playing really well.

Try to remember what you might have looked like on one of those nights when things seemed to click. Mentally tie this positive picture to the emotion of playing well. This will give the new picture strength. In time, the old picture will fade away due to lack of attention.

If you feel fear before a performance just accept it as normal stage fright. It usually disappears once you are into the first tune anyway. A little anxiety is not all bad. It keeps you on your toes.

Visualizing Techniques

The mental pictures we have are usually arrived at by accident. Some are good and some are not so good. However, if we can find some good ones just by accident, we should be able to do really well on purpose. Before practicing, performing, or before going to sleep at night do the following:

Sit or lie down in a relaxed comfortable position. A nice easy chair is good during the day. Lie on your back with your arms at your sides if you are getting ready for sleep.

Mentally picture each part of your body and silently say, “Relax.” First the head, neck, arms, torso, legs, spine and so on. Go through each part, even your fingers and toes. Really relax.

Once you feel relaxed, imagine that you are looking at a movie screen in your mind. You are the projectionist, both literally and figuratively.

See yourself playing well. You are confident and relaxed. People are observing you doing well. Picture yourself as having lots of energy. Complete this positive performance in your mind. Visualize others coming up to you and saying something like, “That was hot. You are really playing better and better all the time.” Picture yourself saying “Thank you” in a friendly, relaxed way.

One Last Thought

In order for visualizing to be of maximum benefit, you must also prepare for a successful performance. You must practice and do your homework. Learn the music and be ready. In this way you will be prepared musically and mentally.

Remember, they are your pictures in your mind. You always have the choice to picture success. It’s all up to you.