How to protect the confidence and creativity of your students

Many musicians struggle with low self-esteem and anxiety on a daily basis. Whether performing to teachers, peers, judges or knowledgeable audience members, musicians are frequently required to open their most vulnerable selves to the judgment of others. 

In 2017, Help Musicians UK published the results of the world's largest known study into music and mental health. The results, although somewhat expected, were worrying.

❌ 71% of participants believed they had experienced anxiety and panic attacks.

❌ 67% of participants reported suffering from depression.

❌ Musicians may be up to three times more likely to suffer from depression compared to the general public. 

As music teachers, we have to recognize the effect we can have on a person's mental well being. Many children approach music lessons with enthusiasm, creativity, and excitement, lacking the pressures and doubts we feel as adults. 

It isn’t uncommon for a highly critical or strict teacher to squash the confidence and creative freedom of a student - leading to performers with low self-esteem and anxiety. 

So how can we, as music teachers, protect the confidence and creativity of our students: 

✔ Encourage performance

It’s never too early to perform. Encouraging and congratulating performance is a great way to build confidence and can teach students how to deal with mistakes in a healthy way.

✔ Let them laugh

Allowing students to have fun is crucial. Laughing around others requires a huge amount of confidence and reacting negatively to laughter may lead to students who are more reserved and self-conscious.

✔ Encourage chamber music

Introduce chamber music as early as possible to normalize the act of playing around others. Often students become nervous or self-conscious when they are required to play with/ in front of their peers. Music is an extremely social activity so it is important for musicians to feel self-assured and at ease around other performers.

✔ Let them feel accomplished 

Feeling accomplished is one of the most important experiences for a young musician. Downplaying an achievement or setting goals which are out of reach will make a student feel inadequate. Encouraging ambition is important - but remember to include plenty of short term goals.  

✔ Encourage contribution

It is important for a student to feel valued and encouraging contribution allows a student to develop confidence in sharing their opinion with others. Always keep ideas open to discussion and take the time to thoroughly consider an opinion or suggestion. 

There are many aspects of the music industry that we are able to influence and control. Producing musicians who are confident, happy and self-assured is the first step in creating a healthier industry in which we can all thrive.