The Power of Negative Thinking

Yes, that’s right, weird title eh?

In less than an hour, my youngest son graduates 8th grade. The speeches will be filled with hope and visions of successful futures. It truly is a special moment in a person’s life. Hard work, perseverance and attitude all pay off in this one wonderful day of celebration.

Yet during our daily lives, a lot of negativity (thoughts, words, or just “energy”) can cloud our daily lives. Some obvious, some not so much.

When I’m with my students, I’m careful about pushing them too hard, or admonishing them too harshly for not practicing. This is optional, it’s supposed to be fun and rewarding, not a time to be dreaded.

Yet I remember a time when I was only about 19 and trying to be a music major at a local junior college. Notice I said “trying” – I didn’t know if I could cut it. I was fine with theory, ear training, history, and all that, but, like most guitarists, my sight reading wasn’t all that good. I worked on it of course, but here I am sitting next to some kid with a sax who’s been sight reading n his instrument since the 3rd grade. It was intimidating, to say the least.

But the hardest thing of all was our instructor for the jazz combo class. His name was Glen Richardson – a hotshot sax player who was in a very active band called Solar Plexus. They gigged all over and were on TV. This was 1978 and jazz was changing at that time. They had zero stage presence – they preferred the “purist” attitude – the music was more important than showmanship.

I bring him up because he was extremely demanding of the class. Luckily he didn’t pick on the rhythm section too often (that’s drums, bass, keyboard, and guitar) but he was murderous on the brass section. He’d get mad at them, then all of us had a target on us.

I remember distinctly him blurting out one day : “If you tried to enter Julliard they’d laugh!! They’d say come back in 5 years!!”

Other remarks were more subtle but just as cutting. When a player had trouble with a particular passage, Richardson had him do the part a few times until he got it right. At that point he said “That’s it, good” followed by muttering “…it only took you 3 times…”.

I may not have been the direct target of his scathing remarks but I sure felt them anyway. I lost confidence in myself and my abilities. Finally, that school year was over and a few months way from mean ol’ Mr. Richardson was what I needed, plus I started gigging on my own. Confidence back and restored.

Richardson was an obvious example, but people can be very subtle with it.

As we work on honing our craft, whatever that may be, we need to be honest in our assessment of our abilities, and decide what is the next step we need to tackle to improve, but keep the negativity away as much as possible. It does no good other than to perhaps thicken your skin, but personally, I can do without that 🙂

Happy graduation day to all those grads out there!

Spencer