Saturday, December 3, 2011

Performing at Your Best

I'm constantly searching for good advice on performing well and consistently (what musician isn't?).  I'm subscribed to The Bulletproof Musician, and I got the latest update in my inbox this morning.  I've read a lot of the articles talking about practice methods and "deliberate practice," which I believe I posted another blog entry about.  The latest update, however, admitted that deliberate practice is not always optimal.  Deliberate practice, in a way, is a method of "keeping score" (as the article put it).  We remember mistakes and then we work on them.  In a performance, we can't keep score.  We have to keep going.  So we must practice for performances with a mentality that we are not "keeping score."  We're only concentrating on what we want to do and know we can do.

Have you ever had a performance where there was one minor mistake, and then thinking about that mistake caused you to make other mistakes?  I know that's happened to me for sure.  And usually, I'll listen back to the recording and realize that the mistake was not even that noticeable, and I wish I hadn't given it a second thought.  And have you ever gone to a professional's recital, and they missed a note or two, but then you found out that you had completely forgotten about the person's mistakes at the end of the recital (probably because the rest was spectacular)?  Some of the performances that have captivated me the most were ones that were not technically perfect.  Now of course, we'd love to not make any mistakes, but we have to practice before performances with intention of not dwelling on mistakes.  My goal, personally, is to be able to give performances that are both technically sound and artistically sincere.

The Bulletproof Musician article also linked me to a great video from TED.com (side note: I feel that if I watched at least one video a week from TED.com, I'd be a better/smarter person - it's great stuff).  Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi is a leading psychologist in positive thinking and fulfillment through what he calls the "flow" method. The video talks about the "flow" or "ecstasy" state of doing things occurring when one's challenges and skill set are very high.  It makes sense - often beginners can become bored or apathetic because they are not being challenged and their skill set is low.  Or anxiety can happen, where one's challenges are high, but one's skills are not as high.  He talks about the conditions needed to create "flow" - and I think the one missing for me (as a soloist) is the feeling of being part of something bigger.  I have found myself in "flow" moments in band, orchestra, and quintet - I feel like I am part of something bigger (literally and figuratively) when I am in performances like that.  However, by myself, I have a hard time figuring out what that "bigger," outside thing is.  I'm glad this "talk" helped me confirm that, and now I must find a way to work through that or figure out how to change that mindset.  There are other conditions for flow that may be an issue for you - everyone is different.  I'm personally excited to really dig deeper on this issue.

Here's the video (I know it's a bit long, but totally worth it - watch it all the way through):




Also, here's a video example of a "fearless performance," haha! Maybe the method of imagining your audience in their underwear is outdated, and we should just pretend we are playing for cows.