Music Teacher's Helper Blog

I carried on for a while not fully realizing how much I didn’t enjoy my music anymore.

Music was the money-maker that put me on planes to sing, record, and perform in Hawaii, New York, and almost every state in between. I had an enviable life in the eyes of many.  

(If you missed the first part of Stacey’s story, click here for part 1)

Opportunities seemed to fall in my lap — and they would occasionally reignite the flame of my music:

  • Recording for two projects on EMI records
  • Getting to work with Celine Dion
  • Getting to fly to the town where the President (at that time) lived as we performed a concert there with other amazing artists

Those were the firework times of excitement — but mostly, I was restless with discontent and all the technicolor living I had been doing seemed to fade to grey tones when I looked at my life.

I was this woman who, as a little girl spent all her extra time on the piano; and now I was resentful of sitting down at it. All those days and nights as a kid in New Jersey with my big, puffy headphones on listening to my 8-track, and then in Connecticut as a teen with cassettes, and eventually California as a young adult with CDs full of my favorite artists — all of those were traded for talk radio or silence as I drove the 405 freeway up to Los Angeles for another gig.

I guess when you’re looking for a change, sometimes life brings you an unexpected one.

At the age of 27, I ended up pretty ill. The doctors couldn’t figure out why, but after a scrillion tests and a year and half later, they told me to get my affairs in order (because they thought I was dying), and that if I did live that I’d never have children.

I stopped everything and examined my life.

The nitty, gritty.

The “what was driving me?” kind of questions.

Not questions about music, but about me. What was going on, on the inside of me?

The answers came back in my introspection. How I was driven by Fear, by performing for others in relationships as “the good girl”, “the hard-working, responsible girl”… as a way to be worthy of their love.

I realized that I was working so much because I didn’t want to stop and rest. Because when I did stop… when I did rest, the noise in my head was non-stop criticism of me. The voice that lived in my head wasn’t a kind one that told me how proud it was of me. Nope. It was negative, judgmental, always looking for my faults instead of my goodness. When I kept moving, working, and the music turned on then, I couldn’t hear my inner static and angst.

Slowing down, being sick while aiming to be healthy meant evaluating my life those next couple of years. In that reflective time, I was able to see that I had lost my love, not only for my music, but for me.

I also realized that my love for music needed a certain environment to be in: It needed to have a certain trust and hope that life was good and everything was going to be okay.

I didn’t feel that way and so, I used music — not as an expression of my joy anymore — but to provide safety for my life that I didn’t feel in other places.

I know it’s really heavy and deep but there’s something that I’ve learned:

That it’s hard to feel joy when you don’t feel safe.

My lack of joy in my music was to me, a signpost that I didn’t feel safe.

It was partly because of how I was raised in my crazy home and some of those after-effects and realities were catching up to me in my 20’s. It was partly some crappy spirituality that sent fear-based messages that made me live like I was being chased by a bear, only it was called “God.” It was partly because of my marriage that was not a balanced partnership and I was more committed to people thinking we were okay than I was to letting myself be known in my pain.

Different things contributed to it but it was basically me not able to find my joy again.

Music is an expression of the heart. We can’t live the passion of the music without the connection back to the heart of who we are.

In all my fear and messy stuff in my head and life, I had lost touch with heart of the music because the heart of the music doesn’t just live in the song, it lives in me.

That was my journey… to get back to the heart of me.

There’s so much more to the story… about the healing my mind and heart experienced. The healing my spirituality experienced. The healing my body experienced. The healing my marriage experienced. All of those were the long and winding road stories that I write about in my books. I knew that as I was healing — that something was shifting.

After having two boys (that the doctor’s said I’d never have) we moved to upstate New York for a two-year stint, working at a church.

It was another rainy day, something we had often like my New Jersey childhood but unlike my Southern California experience. At the same time, it was a different day for me. It was a marker moment when I could see that my life had healed to a different place of safety and reconnection to my heart.

I was ready. I could tell.

I asked my husband if I could have my iPod back. He had been borrowing it since I had zero interest in anything other than the music I had to do for my work for a few years. On this particularly different day, I gave him a piece of paper with one song on it.  He smiled and disappeared into the room for about 5 minutes and came back and handed my iPod to me.

I looked at him with gratitude, put my earbuds in, stepped out the front door into the drizzle that was falling and looked up. I didn’t care about the conditions, I was on a mission…

I walked up and down the street, on the crooked sidewalks, with the skies opening up as Natasha Bedingfield was in my head singing, “Unwritten”:


“I break tradition,
Sometimes my tries
Are outside the lines
We’ve been conditioned to not make mistakes,
But I can’t live that way, no…

Feel the rain on your skin.
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in.
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips.
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still Unwritten.”

 

What a powerful moment.

Because it wasn’t just a moment when I was reconnecting to the music that I was starting to love again, it was reconnecting to my life — my soul… my heart… where the music lived in me.




Feeling Burnout? I totally get it! Here are some valuable questions and tips to get you back:

Valuable Questions:

  • Why am I a music teacher? What inspired me?
  • What other things in life inspire me?
  • Do I feel like I’m making enough money to feel safe or do I feel like I’m just squeaking by and every month is a stress?
  • Do I feel safe and happy in the other parts of my life that matter? My health, my spirituality and my key relationships?
  • Do I feel like I’m being honored in my work? (Remembering that honor comes first from us toward us and then, is reflected in our work relationships. People don’t honor you in their attitude, dollars, or time if you don’t honor yourself in those areas.)
  • Does my life have a good balance of the ratio between work and play?
  • Is there something I’m afraid to tackle in my business that is taking all the fun out it?
  • Is there a part of my business that I dread that I can either be equipped and trained in or that I can outsource? (That’s part of why Music Teacher’s Helper exists — to take the burdensome parts out of our hands so that we can focus our energy on teaching.)

 

Valuable Tips:

  • Taking the advice of the Shaman’s to make sure that each day is filled with singing, dancing, playing an instrument… for the sake of joy. This is separate from your work.
  • Read Julia Cameron’s classic: “The Artist’s Way” — In The Artist’s Way, she talks about taking an Artist’s Date each week. Something where you get to enjoy an antique shop, a comedy club, a poet’s reading, a jazz concert, a painting class — something where you’re feeding YOUR soul with what inspires you.
  • Take a day off. Non-stop work can create burnout.
  • Fill in these blanks: “If this ________________ were out of my life/different in my life, THEN, I would be happier.”  And, “If this __________________ were in my life, THEN, I would be happier.”

 

Remember: if there’s something that can make a difference in your experience of life, the most important thing to remember is that you’re in charge of making it.

I’m excited for you to return to the joy that inspired you into this beautiful art form called “Music!”

Keep on as you remember that your joy and your life makes such a difference in the joy and lives of others!

Stacey Robbins

(Here’s the photo of Stacey, her husband, and their boys)

 

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

Photo by Kat Smith from Pexels

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

 

Read More

How much of your teaching depends on a student’s self-discipline? Is self-discipline natural to them, enforced by parents, or taught? What even is self-discipline?

Lots of studies have shown that self-control leads to success in learning, and in life itself — and yet, a new book reviewing psychological studies on this subject suggests that many of us may have an outdated understanding of self-discipline.

New Year’s resolutions are infamous for uncovering how hard it is to follow up on our annual bold promises to knuckle down and get everything right in the new year.

We try to deny it, but we know it’s true — forcing yourself to be disciplined often means fighting with yourself. The toll it takes is not only emotional, but physical. One study showed that it causes premature aging of immune cells.

Forced willpower is stressful — it increases the heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety levels.

David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, just published a book in January called Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.

He has found that compassion, gratitude and genuine pride (as opposed to hubris or arrogance) actually act to lower the heart rate, blood pressure, and to decrease anxiety and depression, while increasing people’s motivation to take on and persevere in difficult tasks.

Why? Because these emotions involve relationships with people. People go out of their way to help others, to do for others, to fulfill promises. Studies have actually measured that people who feel these emotions are willing to persevere 30% longer at tasks than people who make themselves do the work out of self-control.

Relationships are rewarding; self-control is in itself lonely and can actually be harmful over the long term. There seems to be an epidemic of loneliness these days, and its health effects are becoming better known.

How does this tie into teaching music? It makes us think about our priorities.

Here are a few ideas:

Generosity — consider giving students some materials free or at cost. Giving a few extra minutes at a lesson or outside of lessons if students have questions. Help them look at a new instrument even though you may not be paid for that time. Give an annual certificate or gift! Lending a hand in these ways will make many students grateful to you for your help. All teachers have run into students who may take advantage of their time, but you can draw lines, and to really motivate your students, it may be best to err on the side of generosity.

Friendly relationships with students are huge motivators for students, and we have choices all the time on how to build these relationships. Music Teachers Helper is a great aid by providing transparency for billing and payments, reminders of upcoming lessons, and emailed lesson notes, for example. When simply teaching a skill, it’s worth being aware of your language and whether you are building a relationship or forcing compliance.

This is not about treating students with kid gloves but about genuine connections. It is important for students to feel challenged and to see that they can rise to those challenges, but how the challenges are delivered can make or break your relationships. There are teachers who feel the need to use threats, demands, and even practicing contracts, but these types of interactions are likely to increase stress and reduce long-term success. The same can be said about the focus of some music teachers on teaching a fear of mistakes rather than a desire to play musically.

Social elements in learning — creating a community feeling can have a huge impact on student loyalty, sense of compassion and gratitude. Including group classes, recitals or playalongs, hosting a music party, and having one student help another can all help build relationships that motivate learning far better than enforcing old-style concepts of self-discipline.

I like to think that there are two kinds of discipline — external and internal. The external kind is the kind you often see exercised by school administrators, through rules and punishments, in the hopes of building good habits through tough love, and yes, fear. The internal kind you see instilled by good teachers who model enjoyment and quality, and develop curiosity, desire, and yes, fulfilling relationships with the teacher and other students.

As a music teacher, you certainly have thoughts on this far-reaching subject!

I hope you will share your comments.

 

Photo by Angello Lopez on Unsplash

Read More

How has your New Year been now that we’ve wrapped up January 2018? Are your New Year’s resolutions still going strong?

  • Have you changed your eating?
  • Are you getting more exercise in?
  • Are you practicing your instrument more?

Or are you thinking, “Oh wait… I did have resolutions.  What are those again?”

So far, for me, one of the most helpful habits I’ve done is to do what’s called a 100 Day Gong. If you’re like me, you’re imagining someone banging a gong like crazy for 100 days.  Um, no…

Gong is a Chinese Taoist tradition — it’s a set amount of days one devotes to a particular task.  It is a promise to one’s self to stay focused and on path towards a designated goal. Here’s a good article on it.

So, for example, you could choose something simple like — practicing an instrument 20 minutes a day, taking a 30 minute walk, doing 20 minutes of writing for a book you’ve always wanted to write — and you do what you choose for those 100 days without fail.

Why 100 days?

Well, because science shows us that it takes about 90 days for any habit to get wired in your brain. You can read a great article on How Long Does it Actually Take to Form a New Habit? (Backed by Science)

You can start anytime, there’s no magic in starting on January 1st in the New Year. (Whew!)  But, the trick is, that if you miss even one day, you must start over from day one. So, if you get to day 92, and miss… start over. You’ll find out real quick how committed you are to taking some area of your life to the next level.

If you’re just starting, choose something relatively easy. Maybe 1 or 2 tasks that you can do without fail in about 20-30 minutes. I tried putting on 8 or so of the top things I had wanted to try.  Bad idea — I didn’t make it far.  Life happens, and you get busy, or sick sometimes.  It’s ok if it’s an easier list. Don’t worry, you can add one from the list to the next gong after you get through this one.

Oh, and the payoff is… you get results.

When I did this for exercise, I found myself in the best shape I’ve ever been in. Plus there’s a psychological boost of being committed to the process. Imagine what you’d like to finally make headway in, and go for it.

Good luck. I hope that helps.

Let me know if you’re going to try something for 100 days — reply in the comments below.

Take care,

Rock

Read More