Reading is often thought of as a calming and relaxing activity. Something you might do before going to sleep at night, or on vacation while sitting poolside with an ice cold strawberry lemonade.
But for many young children, reading can actually be quite stressful and cause a lot of anxiety.
Because It’s one thing if we are naturally curious about reading and take to it pretty easily, but a very different story if we struggle, feel judged by teachers, or get teased by classmates. Our confidence can quickly spiral downhill and lead to a destructive cycle, where we avoid reading, fail to improve, get more anxious, make more mistakes, lose even more confidence, and so on.
A range of programs exist to help young readers gain confidence and reading skills, one of which, believe it or not, involves reading to dogs.
Some studies have found that dogs can have a calming effect that reduces some indicators of stress. And given that they are (at least as far as we can tell) a non-judgmental audience, the idea is that perhaps reading to a dog could be a way to encourage more reading practice, and help to build skills and confidence in struggling readers.
When I first read about this, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the idea. But then I remembered my daughter’s first studio recital, where one of the other students flat-out refused to get on stage, crying and grabbing hold of his mom when it was his turn to play. Which made me wonder if this idea might really be a thing, and if it could be applied in music as well.
Looking back at all my years of school, from Pre-K through the end of grad school, I think the single most stressful period of my life was senior year of high school. Between AP classes and SAT’s, lessons, performances, competitions, and the whole college application and audition process, it felt pretty overwhelming at times.
Mostly, because for the first time ever, I felt a real need to play flawlessly. Playing perfectly was always the goal of course, but now there were some real stakes involved. In previous years, if I bombed a performance or totally choked in a competition, of course it would be embarrassing – but life would go on as normal. But I knew that I was only going to get one chance at college and conservatory auditions, and I worried that if the level of my playing fell short in those auditions, I wouldn’t get to go to the school my friends were at. And that my life would be ruined and derailed before it even really got started.
Which sounds overly dramatic now, I know, but this was high school after all. I blame the hormones.
Given all of this, perhaps it’s not so surprising that the only time in my life when I had any issues with tendonitis or such injuries was…senior year of high school.
What’s the connection?
Well, there are many reasons why we might get injured, but the research is beginning to suggest that personality factors also play a role in whether we are likely to get injured or not. And no, I don’t mean this in the sense that being an arrogant, condescending jerk is bad karma and makes you more likely to be injured.
Specifically, it’s perfectionism that appears to predict injury. And a very particular kind of perfectionism at that.
You’ve undoubtedly heard musicians, athletes, teachers, coaches, and psychologists alike, extol the virtues of mental imagery. How it can not only enhance your learning, but improve performance, help build self-confidence, regulate your emotional state, and more.
But you’ve probably also heard that for imagery to be effective, you must be able to generate vivid, clear images (or sounds or kinesthetic sensations).
So…what are we to do if we can’t create a clear image, sound, or physical movement? What if the only thing we can conjure up is a fuzzy, vague, fleeting image? What if all we can see and hear are missed shifts and cracked notes?
Should we scrap the idea of imagery altogether? Or just keep at it in the hopes that one day something will finally click?
“Daaaadddy!! Where’s my wallet???”
“I don’t know…where did you put it?” I replied unhelpfully, as I watched my son wander around the apartment muttering “wallet…wallet…wallet” under his breath.
Have you ever found yourself repeating out loud the name of the thing you’re looking for as you search for it?
Some would suggest that it’s simply a way to make sure we don’t forget what it is that we’re looking for as we engage in our search. But others have wondered if verbalizing thoughts – or in this case an object – could actually affect how our brain perceives and processes details of the world around us.
In other words, is there something about saying the word “wallet” out loud that enhances our ability to scan our surroundings and find the wallet quicker?
It does sounds a little farfetched. And you may also be wondering what this could possibly have to do with music. But don’t worry – we’ll get to both in a moment!