What My Inner Voice Has To Say


I recently began reading The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green at the recommendation of The Neophyte Cellist. In it he talks about the “inner voice” that we all have, the one that tells us all the reasons we are not good enough and gets in the way of our performance as musicians. He even put it into a nifty little equation:

P = pi
where P is your performance, p is your potential, and i is your inner voice.

We all understand this from experience: we convince ourselves we’re going to mess up at our recital, are shaking before we’ve even pulled the cello out of the case, and sound awful because we’re shaking so bad from being afraid that we’ll sound bad. Self fulfilling prophecy fulfilled! Then, in order to sound better next time, we work extra hard. We think that by being more prepared and having learned more we will not only increase our potential, but will decrease the voice in our head because we will have gotten better so our friend i will have less to talk to us about. Right? Nope. Generally that leads to more neuroses and worse overall performance.

Barry Green has the idea that in order to increase P we need to work on reducing i. Not as a substitute for practice and learning, but as another means to better the results of our playing.

That’s about as far as I’ve gotten in the book, and I like it. That inner voice is rather problematic and I’d really love to learn to work with it. So, I had this idea to write down what my inner voice tells me, so that I can really work with it. Usually I avoid this voice because it terrifies me. There have been several times it has nearly convinced me to stop playing cello. So, here it is for all to see, what my inner voice has to say to me:

You are a terrible cellist.
Your vibrato is awful.
You really need to quit playing cello because you’ll never be any good.
You’re an idiot to think that you can ever achieve any amount of competency at playing this instrument.
You would have had to start playing as a child to be any good. Why bother?
You started playing 20 years after you should have.
You need to make up for starting so late.
Your sense of rhythm is abysmal.
You’ll never accomplish as much as you could have if you’d started younger.
Seriously, stop playing cello.
Why haven’t you listened to me yet? Are you that much of an idiot?
Even if you achieve some minimal level of competency who would want to play with you?
You deserve for that jerk who works at the music store to chide you every time you come in.
You seriously decided to work part time at the library so you can study this instrument and take music theory classes? What an idiot!
Can’t you see how slow you learn now compared to how fast you learned as a kid? Your brain just can’t do this.

I’m sure i has come up with a whole lot more in the past but I’ve had a habit of trying not to pay attention.


10 responses »

  1. See now, I’m impressed that you took a part time job to get your cello money.

    We all seem to go through this, which makes me think that our cultural attitudes towards music is the problem – namely that it’s only worthwhile if it has virtuosity.

    I’m really enjoying your blog and looking forward to your posts, but now – On to practicing!

    • They way I see myself is that I don’t have a *real* job, let alone a career. I certainly need money for the cello lessons, but after I started playing my grandfather very generously offered to pay for my rental. My husband is still working on building his acupuncture practice, so our income is quite low. A large part of me feels ridiculous that I’m centering my life around learning this instrument instead of around self-sufficiency. Still impressed?

      • yes, i am still impressed. doing what you’re “supposed” to do isn’t always what you’re supposed to do. and who says that learning the cello won’t help your self-sufficiency long term?

        • I’m confused — this seems like something from Michael, since he wrote the original comment, but I also know a Warren who I’ve been told follows my blog. So, are you Warren or Michael?

          Also, I do hope to teach eventually, so yes, it may lead to some semblance of self-sufficiency eventually.

          • that was me (warren). learning to play congas as an adult improved my self esteem, my confidence in social situations, my public speaking ability, and my hand-eye coordination. all these things improved because i regularly practice my instruments and because i regularly perform music in front of others.

            i have also made several life long friends and enjoyed traveling all over the western states because i started playing congas around the age of twenty. i wasn’t expecting any of this. i just wanted to learn something new. so, you never know….

            • Warren, your story gives me hope! When you say “you never know” it’s filled with so much possibility. When I say “you never know” I’m thinking there’s no guarantee that after a lifetime of work I will ever be any good. You’re way is a lot more fun! Thanks for sharing your story!

              • there is no guarantee. you’re right. well maybe the one guarantee… and that’s if you didn’t give this a serious try you would probably be filled with regret. and who cares if you’re any good?! the quality of one’s life improves because you try… not because you are automatically guaranteed of becoming a master at everything you do. where’s the intrigue in that? enjoy the ride!!! (p.s. if you are as dedicated as you seem to be you are definitely going to be “any good”)

  2. Hmm… these nested comments are getting a bit ridiculous. I think if I tried one more time every word would be hyphenated and






    Anyhow, I agree with *most* of what you’re saying — except I really do believe it matters if I’m any good or not. If I’m practicing several hours a day, that means I have to listen to myself several hours a day! Every couple weeks something comes out surprisingly beautiful, but most of the time all I hear is what’s obviously wrong. I’d at least like to get to a point where my playing is acceptable.

    Perhaps this is why I always have a hard time with new songs. Learning new fingering/bowing is always miserable for me, maybe because I can’t stand the sound of it. The more I delve into a piece the more I love playing it.

    I’m not generally a process-oriented person unless I have figured out a process which will guarantee a specific goal. This is, I think, the most difficult aspect of learning music for me — excepting the two recitals I’ve had, the entire experience has been about the process, not a result.

  3. Pingback: Goals « The Adult Beginner

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