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I am a 16 year old sophmore and I play alto saxophone at a state level and also qualified my freshman year, and I intend on majoring in saxophone performance at Northwestern, eventually to audition for a military band.
I have always been told that I have insane amounts of ambition and drive, been called a perfectionist, and also been told to "be realistic about my goals" (whatever THAT means...) However, I believe that my drive and high expectations for myself are a major part of the depression I suffer from. No matter how much I try to tell myself that I'm only a high school student, my ears trick me into believing that I need to sound like a professional NOW or I'm not trying hard enough. I psych myself out over the smallest problems in my tone and break down in self hatred occasionally when I'm having a bad reed day. In fact, it's gotten so bad that I've considered picking up a different instrument or changing my intended career path entirely because of the "side effects" I face. It's getting hard to even pick up the horn to practice for more than 20 minutes, let alone the hour or more a day like I used to.
I asked my director once about this problem about a year ago, and he told me that many successful artists and musicians also suffer from similar problems, and it can be interpreted as "drive" and "ambition." While it does give people like me a figurative "edge" in regards to competition and quality of sound, it can also blind us to what playing an instrument is really about: enjoyment. I thought about that for a while (in fact I still think about it) and it is true in my case. I have not enjoyed playing my instrument in so long that I forgot that's what it's all about in the first place. I know I sound cheesy, but it's completely true! I have been so focused on being the best I can be as early as possible to prove to both myself and others that I am good that playing the saxophone has become the largest and longest lasting detriment to my mental health.
Anyways, enough about that. Do any of you friendly folks on this forum suffer from similar problems or have had experiences with it? I would like to be able to retain my drive while also being able to see that I am not going to be perfect all the time and enjoying my instrument for the first time in a long time. I believe that solving this will be more beneficial to my goals than any amount of practice, and your responses are invaluable :)
 

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Welcome to SOTW, young player.
First of all I'd like to point out that this is the internet, so take everything with a pinch of salt.
In particular, medical advice from the internet is totally unreliable.

On the other hand sharing people's experience can help to understand ourselves.
I have not enjoyed playing my instrument in so long that I forgot that's what it's all about in the first place. I know I sound cheesy, but it's completely true! I have been so focused on being the best I can be as early as possible to prove to both myself and others that I am good that playing the saxophone has become the largest and longest lasting detriment to my mental health.
You are nailing the point.
I have been disgusted several times by own playing/practicing. Only recently I started to accept myself, mostly thanks to the fact that I am doing more and more good music, rather that "physical training" or anti-musical gigs.

There are two main questions emerging from what you are describing:
- Do you like music?
- Are you following the most efficient path to make music that you like?

Practice is not about developing monster lip muscles or superfast tendons. There is an element of discipline that we cannot do without, but that is the mean, not the goal.
If you put the horn aside for one week (you must stick to the decision) you might start listening to music in a different way and get new energy for the saxophone, or any instrument/career you prefer.
Enjoy your path, just remember that

Medical advice from the internet is totally unreliable.
 

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I agree with Aldevis that medical advice from the internet is totally unreliable, and I have no words of wisdom of my own on this topic. The great jazz pianist Kenny Werner wrote a book called "Effortless Mastery" that I believe speaks the issues you're facing really, really well. I, and several other players I know, found that book to be quite insightful. I think he wrote it because he once felt as you do now, and he knew that many other players do as well. At the very least, it helps you realize that you're not alone. Good luck! I'll be rooting for you.
 

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Being single minded, focussed, driven, exigent and a perfectionist are not necessarily character traits which are a part of a clinical condition but might come along with a certain vision of the thing that one does as a form of “ duty” rather than o form of fun.

For many artists ( but not only artists!) , art is an urge, a need and it is not a choice but rather more a form of compulsion. I would encourage you to see someone who specializes is counseling artists and who could teach you to trade off some of this feeling of compulsion allowing yourself to actually embrace the joy of doing what you do rather more than fulfilling the duty that you feel you need to fulfill.

Exchanging ideas with likeminded people might be helping you somewhat but I truly believe that professional help will be of a better use to you.

In my experience as a photography teacher I have come across several people with this kind of “ drive”. That was, most of the time, also the sign of true genius and more often than not brought them to achieve if not all, at least parts of their goals.

But this might create frustrations too.

Unfortunately, even though you might be the best in the world at doing what you do, finding recognition is another thing altogether.

Best learn not to measure your success with the money that you have of the applause that you get. That takes some learning too ( even at my age I am not so sure that I have always that in perspective!)

It is something that one gets told very often but life is not a race to an end. The famous expression “ the road is the goal” used by many in many different forms wants us to enjoy the process of going and not the goal where you are heading.

It is difficult to do any of this, especially at the young age of 16.

This perspective, normally, comes later on in life, unfortunately it comes when you realize that you have gone half or 2/3 of the way already.

Be well, and enjoy the road, past present and future.
 

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You are not alone. This is a difficult challenge for many of us.

This book came very highly recommended by several very accomplished and talented people, whom I respect. There is a lot of wisdom in these pages. It does not offer a quick fix but rather a new way of thinking and seeing the world and your place within it. Good luck.

http://www.amazon.com/New-Earth-Awakening-Purpose-Selection/dp/0452289963
 

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You might try fitting in yoga or some similar meditative / exercise practices into your day in order to gain the balance and serenity that you are lacking.
 

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Listen to John Coltrane at age 20:
...
Now listen to him at age 26:
...
It wasn't until he was 30 that Coltrane started to sound like Coltrane:
...
Feel better now? ;)
Thanks for that....I sure feel better already since I'm still under 30. :bluewink2:
 

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At 16, depression is very common. Your are going through extreme hormonal changes at this point in your life.
Acknowledge that it will soon pass, but in the mean time don't beat yourself up!
Try to pick up the saxophone for personal pleasure and an escape from negativity.
You don't have to sound professional to have an enjoyable noodle to your favorite tunes. Being really technical is wonderful but you still must have some fun.
Just relax, mess around on it. Make up a tune and be natural with your horn.
I have suffered from mood and hormonal issues ever since I had children and I use my horn as a kind of meditation where I drop my thinking brain for a bit, and relax into my feeling brain.
Playing the saxophone really is my therapy.
I started playing just a few years ago. I'm 37 and I don't care if I don't ever sound as good as a professional. I enjoy playing and I know that every time I play I'm improving which is very satisfying.
That goes for you too. Each time you think you aren't playing well you are still building your embouchure and building your personal tone.
Just stick with it and you'll see.
 

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You might try fitting in yoga or some similar meditative / exercise practices into your day in order to gain the balance and serenity that you are lacking.
I think there is a lot to be said for mindfulness meditation, particularly in a group setting. Remember that life is a marathon, not a sprint, and that there are usually second chances, but no prizes for burning out or breaking down. Try not to get too caught up in the hyper-competitiveness of youth.

Given what you have written I think perhaps you need to have a good think about whether you want music to be your sole profession or whether there should be a backup profession in your plans just in case making music the profession removes the joy from it. 16 is a good age to be hedging your bets, and a risky age to be putting all of your eggs in one basket.

Best of luck.
 

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Feel better now? ;)[/QUOTE]

Yes -) I've seen so many young kids who improvise like no tomorrow so it's easy for one to start thinking it a god given gift, clearly its not. (If this is real. Which I'm assuming it is since you post such detailed info about the gig.) Btw when did Coltrane start to play? At 20? he he, lol.

Seriously thanks for posting.
 

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Thanks for that....I sure feel better already since I'm still under 30. :bluewink2:
Hehe. Trane definitely wasn't a child prodigy.

Feel better now? ;)
Yes -) I've seen so many young kids who improvise like no tomorrow so it's easy for one to start thinking it a god given gift, clearly its not. (If this is real. Which I'm assuming it is since you post such detailed info about the gig.) Btw when did Coltrane start to play? At 20? he he, lol.

Seriously thanks for posting.
No problem. This YouTube series is all about giving perspective to JC's work. And yes, it IS real. IMO, what makes Trane's work even more impressive is his dedication and hard work. He clearly also had something to say, which transpires in his playing, but he had to work very hard to obtain the tools to do so. He started playing clarinet and alto at age 13.

These videos demonstrate how long it took him to develop an identity, but even more amazing is that all of his best work was created within a span of 10 years.
 

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Having too much of your self-esteem tied up in music/saxophone can really mess with you. The advantage you have is your age! You are aware and working on this WAY before most. The goal, I think, is to be happy with or without a saxophone and to not care if you sound good or bad. I agree 100% with the above about meditation, taking a break, and reading "Effortless Mastery". Also, cardio such as biking, running, or swimming frequently can be huge. One other absolutely excellent book: "The Gifts of Imperfection" by Brene Brown.
 

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This post really speaks to me. When I was in high school (5 years ago) I had the very similar problems. I would be so depressed about how I sounded I knew I needed to practice but the sound of me practicing disappointed me so much I wouldn't pick up the horn! It was a vicious cycle!! There were a few years where I barely ever played. My thoughts almost ruined music for me. I'd say start with playing things you know you sound good at, for fun. It's not practicing per se, but it's getting you to PLAY, and any time the horn is in your mouth, youre getting better! During my hiatus I just focused on other things to help my depression: therapy, mindfulness (being in the moment all the time), and just doing things that make me happy. You gotta find the stuff that makes you happy. Maybe transcribe a favorite song (doesn't have to be a solo or anything, it can be just a fun song that's on the radio!) just anything that gets you feeling good about music. After not playing, it was hard to get back into because after 2 years, my sound wasn't what it used to be, but i enjoyed playing so much I stuck with it. Now I'm in college studying sax performance and I feel so good about playing and practicing. I actually use it now to cope with my depression!
please don't be so hard on yourself. It's good to be critical of course, but there's a quote I love that totally pertains to your situation:

“Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.”

^^ remember that!!
 

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Accept that there is no "BEST" saxophone player and it will NEVER be perfect. Practice and enjoy the time you have to practice - soon enough life will consume most of your day:)
 

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My advice; forget about the saxophone for a little while or just do 30 minutes a day. Instead, work hard on music theory and ear training. Take some vocal lessons and aerobic dance.
 

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I empathize with your situation. When I was in college I majored in aviation and was earning my private licence. My instructor noticed that I was being too hard on my self during flight lessons. With the smallest error I would get angry with myself and get to the point I couldn't enjoy the flight. He took me up to do some touch and goes before I was going on a long solo cross country flight (as required for the private licence) and he said go me. You have nothing to be afraid of, you get mad at your self for the slightest error that anyone else would have no issue with. Just fly and have fun that's why you started doing this. So I went and had a ball.
My point is don't ruin the music for your self just have fun with it. Use those small mistakes to learn from and move on. My humble opinion.
 

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Many players seem to suffer from feeling that they are not good enough or they may feel that they are a lot better than they actually are. The truth is usually somewhere in between. The most important thing is to be kind to yourself and enjoy playing, it's an art not a competition. You are putting to much pressure on yourself. It's just music and since there will probably be little monetary reward in it for most people you better enjoy the ride and the other benefits it has to offer you cannot get anywhere else. Otherwise do something else you enjoy and will be fairly compensated for.
 

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I am a 16 year old sophmore and I play alto saxophone at a state level and also qualified my freshman year, and I intend on majoring in saxophone performance at Northwestern, eventually to audition for a military band.
I have always been told that I have insane amounts of ambition and drive, been called a perfectionist, and also been told to "be realistic about my goals" (whatever THAT means...) However, I believe that my drive and high expectations for myself are a major part of the depression I suffer from. No matter how much I try to tell myself that I'm only a high school student, my ears trick me into believing that I need to sound like a professional NOW or I'm not trying hard enough. I psych myself out over the smallest problems in my tone and break down in self hatred occasionally when I'm having a bad reed day. In fact, it's gotten so bad that I've considered picking up a different instrument or changing my intended career path entirely because of the "side effects" I face. It's getting hard to even pick up the horn to practice for more than 20 minutes, let alone the hour or more a day like I used to.
I asked my director once about this problem about a year ago, and he told me that many successful artists and musicians also suffer from similar problems, and it can be interpreted as "drive" and "ambition." While it does give people like me a figurative "edge" in regards to competition and quality of sound, it can also blind us to what playing an instrument is really about: enjoyment. I thought about that for a while (in fact I still think about it) and it is true in my case. I have not enjoyed playing my instrument in so long that I forgot that's what it's all about in the first place. I know I sound cheesy, but it's completely true! I have been so focused on being the best I can be as early as possible to prove to both myself and others that I am good that playing the saxophone has become the largest and longest lasting detriment to my mental health.
Anyways, enough about that. Do any of you friendly folks on this forum suffer from similar problems or have had experiences with it? I would like to be able to retain my drive while also being able to see that I am not going to be perfect all the time and enjoying my instrument for the first time in a long time. I believe that solving this will be more beneficial to my goals than any amount of practice, and your responses are invaluable :)
You're a mirror image of myself. :)

Anyhow, I'm NOT a psychiatrist/analyst, but there is nothing wrong with your expectations that a bit of patience won't cure, imo .

Relax your intensity and you'll be alright.
 
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