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Hypnosis, and in particular self-hypnosis, can be used in a variety of ways by musicians. Typically it can help in the following.

  1. Improving performance
  2. Motivation
  3. Lapses in concentration
  4. Nervousness
  5. Self-doubt and lack of confidence
  6. Fear of failure
  7. Handling distractions
  8. Correcting repetitive mistakes
  9. Feeling the music
  10. Preparing for examinations

and much more.

Sergei Rachmaninoff and hypnosis

Sergei Rachmaninoff had studied with Tchaikovsky, and at the age of twenty-four had received some success as a young composer. His first symphony had its premiership in St Petersburg but was a major flop. The conductor disliked the piece and under-rehearsed it. Rachmaninoff’s wife later suggested that the conductor might have been drunk. Sergei himself rushed form the orchestra hall even before the concert was finished. As might be expected, the critics were vicious. Thereafter, Rachmaninoff struggled to compose but without any success, and he went into a period of deep depression, which lasted about three years. As he says himself, “All my self-confidence broke down… A paralyzing apathy possessed me. I did nothing at all and found no pleasure in anything.”

During this period of depression Rachmaninoff was staying with some of his cousins. Worried about his health, they suggested he see Dr. Nicolai Dahl, who lived close by. It was probably the cousin’s friend, Dr. Grauermann, who suggested Dahl, since they were friends at Moscow University, where Dahl had studied internal medicine. It was only after leaving university that Dahl became interested in the therapeutic benefits of hypnosis, which at the time were being made popular in Paris. Around January 1900, it appears Rachmaninoff agreed without much persuasion to visit Dr. Dahl – desperate as he was to overcome his melancholia.

Rachmaninoff visited Dr Dahl daily for about three months, during which time he was given suggestions about relaxation and self-confidence. There were suggestions to help him sleep and suggestions to brighten his daily moods. In addition, there were suggestions to rekindle his enthusiasm to compose. Rachmaninoff had informed Dahl that he needed to compose a concerto for the pianoforte, which he had promised the people of London. Rachmaninoff in his Recollections recounts that he was given daily suggestions that he would start to compose a concerto and that this would be done with great ease and that the composition would be of excellent quality. The result was Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor Opus18, which was first performed in Moscow on October 27, 1901, and is probably his best. This piece was dedicated to Dr. Dahl.

You do not always need hypnosis to improve your music performance. Here are a few exercises to overcome the problem of trying too hard and playing music in different ways. Also of help are affirmations, which need to be short and meaningful.

The above short story about Sergei Rachmaninoff is a true story. But films provide other useful stories relevant for musicians. Mr Holland's Opus is typical.