One of the most challenging parts of becoming a classical musician is the difficulty in practicing, preparing for, and taking auditions. CMPI Fellows are fortunate to have the help of one of the nation’s preeminent classical music coaches, Renée-Paule Gauthier, whose practice Mind Over Finger, “helps musicians refine and elevate everything about their music-making experience, how they practice, how they prepare for performance, how they show up as artists, how they feel, and how they can have a holistic approach to music making. This helps musicians grow, perform at their best, enjoy playing music, and create the fulfilling careers that they want.”
Dr. Gauthier is an established violinist herself, playing in the Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra, as well as in numerous other Chicago-area ensembles, including as a substitute for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She holds degrees from the University of Montreal, Eastman, and Northwestern University, where her doctoral dissertation focused on mindful practice techniques for violinists.
Perhaps best known for her Mind Over Finger Podcast, Dr. Gauthier interviews classical music superstars and pedagogues each week about the techniques that have helped them find enjoyment and success in their music careers. She also works one-on-one coaching musicians in all aspects of practicing, preparation, and performance, using techniques borrowed from various experts in mindfulness, sports psychology, and, of course, music pedagogy. She leads online courses, including the downloadable Practice for Peak Performance and a group coaching program called the Music Mastery Experience.
This past fall, CMPI fellows participated in a workshop with Dr. Gauthier intended to help them improve their practicing. Techniques discussed included everything from practice planning, priming your mind/body and space for practice, learning to prioritize in practicing, recording yourself, practicing performing, and mental preparation. She focused particularly on the Deep Practice Model, “a way to approach practicing that allows us to understand what we’re trying to achieve and gives us a process to practice it effectively.” Students came away with a full toolkit of new ideas on practicing.
Dr. Gauthier’s approach balances two completely divergent elements: practical practice planning and techniques that improve mental health and mindset. “I feel like they are the wings of a bird. The bird needs both. We need to know how to practice. We need to actually do it. But with the mindset techniques, we can enhance all of that work. If we have a lot of negative self-talk, it negatively affects how we practice. So when we can marry the proper practice techniques, techniques that fit us, awareness in all of the other mindsets, we get practicing that is highly effective and music making and much more enjoyable.”
These techniques are particularly applicable to CMPI Fellows as teenagers with minds and bodies that are still maturing. “The life coaching tools are ideal for young adults who are trying to figure out ways to understand better how they feel, why they do what they do, and the kind of results that they get. All of this stems from the thoughts that they keep thinking over and over. When I can open a window for them and allow them to see everything that’s happening, it is extremely helpful in avoiding so much chaos and so much unnecessary pain.” She also makes sure to discuss practice schedules, warmups, and complementary practices to keep young bodies healthy and avoid injury.
Oboe fellow Zachary Allen worked with Dr. Gauthier on finding his way back to enjoying music-making. As he states, “I had developed a pretty unhealthy mindset in regard to practicing and my perception of my skill set. I found myself being extremely hyper-critical of myself to the point where I was becoming paralyzed and unable to make progress or practice effectively.” He valued most the work they did together using Brooke Castillo’s self-coaching model. “This model completely changed the way I view and choose to deal with my thoughts and feelings, and also helped me to identify the cause of certain actions that I engage in like procrastination and perfectionism.”
Violin fellow Sameer Agrawal also worked with Dr. Gauthier to prepare for his first major international competition. Not only was this type of competition a new experience for him, but he had only two months to master nearly two hours’ worth of repertoire. He benefited most from Dr. Gauthier’s practical tips for macro and micro planning to balance his practice schedule. In addition, he felt, “She helped me develop techniques regarding breathing and focusing, and I employed them in my practice and before performing,” refining his ability to quickly focus and get into the right mindset for each piece.
Zachary highly recommends coaching with Dr. Gauthier. “I truly believe that if anyone in CMPI has the opportunity to work with Dr. Gauthier, they should definitely take advantage of it. She has a unique way of putting things into perspective that you may have otherwise never considered.” Individual coaching is available for CMPI seniors preparing for college auditions and younger fellows on a case-by-case basis.
Dr. Gauthier’s goal for students in CMPI is that, “We should all aim in the artistic community to be kind colleagues, to be colleagues who elevate each other, who support each other and who promote a life in the arts that is centered around community, building around equality, mental health, and elevating the human soul.”
Photos of Renée-Paule Gauthier
Image Credit: Monica Ninker Photography