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Benefits of Schema Coaching: My Personal Journey

As a teacher and performance coach, I believe it's best to present ideas and approaches I've found most useful for myself.

In terms of a framework for helping others, it has to be Schema Coaching - because it's also part and parcel of my time at the piano, whether I'm learning, practicing, performing or teaching music.

Yes! I'm obsessed! But it's brought me so much. And I love to pass on what works to other musicians, for them to test out for themselves.

I first came across the Schema model in 2020. I was receiving short-term Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for anxiety through the NHS. My therapist also happened to have some training in Schema Therapy. She explained the model to me and we started using aspects of it in our work. Reading about the model, I was not only taken by how it resonated with me. As a teacher, I also felt that musicians generally might benefit from conceptualising the experience of practice and performing in similar terms. It was lockdown, and I was able to spend a lot of time diving into the literature and reflecting on how Schema Therapy principles and approaches might translate to teaching scenarios.

I have been developing Schema Coaching at the Piano since that time, working in consultation with psychologists and therapists, and undertaking my own Schema Therapy training through Schema Therapy Associates. I now also receive regular supervision from an Advanced Schema Therapy Trainer and Supervisor.

Overcoming Anxiety

Through working with the Schema approach on my own playing, there really has been a very significant reduction of my own performance anxiety.

Nerves and anxiety are something that plagued me throughout my musical education and early professional life - even as a teacher. I often used to dread it or find the experience really difficult. Just trying to manage my nerves was a huge task in itself and really got in the way of my playing and enjoyment.

Today I feel so much more secure when I play. Calmer. Levelheaded. At ease.

My baseline confidence has improved no end: a really stable foundation from which to express myself in the way I want to. I feel a lot more connected to my audience. It feels safe - and fulfilling - to play in front of people now.

Flourishing Creativity

That secure foundation means there's much more room for playfulness and spontaneity each time I sit and play. That's a big one for me. I feel I can really let go and respond to what's happening in the here and now - and really play with it. It's like I've finally learnt how to give myself permission to be creative with the notes on the page, and come up with music that can excite me every time - even if I've played the pieces many, many times over.

Managing the Challenges

Another big one is the way I approach the inevitable slips, mistakes, not-quite-theres, and even failures. I've learnt to banish my inner critic and debilitating self-doubt, and replace them with an inner mentor: a more gentle voice that still faces into the messy corners, and works to resolve them, but comes from a position of more self-understanding and compassion.

I've learnt to confront my issues, but not be hard on myself, so I'm much more motivated and enthusiastic about practicing, overcoming obstacles and finding solutions to my musical problems. I actually want to practice whereas I often used to find it stressful and avoided it.

Although I had that pattern of avoidance, I've always been an ambitious in my goals. Actually, that was part of the problem: I was too ambitious, and expected too much in a short amount of time, or even instantly. Now I have a more realistic approach. It's not about watering down ambitions or giving up on being a brilliant player. In fact, with a more pragmatic, focused and step-by-step path, I've seen how I've only gotten better at the piano. Sticking with real goals and basing my playing from what I value as a player has helped so much.

Improved Technical Ability

One key aspect about working with Schema approaches is that I've learnt to tune-in to my mind and body in the moment, and work out what is practical in terms of what and how I practice and perform to others. Responding to the here and now means that I can find ways to play at my best in different situations, and be understanding of the context. I'm more able to listen to my body in every bar, and work with it. And as a result, I'm better at managing the technical challenges in different pieces. My piano technique has vastly improved through working on my mindset - and my bodyset - in these kinds of ways.

Too Good to Be True?

I'm trying not to be too evangelical here, but that's proving rather tricky. I'll stop for now, but just to say: I really have seen the benefits of Schema Coaching on myself: a genuine flourishing of enjoyment and creativity, an ability to manage the challenges of learning and playing the piano, and a real improvement in my technical ability.

It's not a one-time fix. Instead, it's an approach - a framework - that has steadily, gradually improved my playing no end. It's a way in to learning that I would say has served me very well. Which is why I love talking about it with people.


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