It looks so easy when other people do it. It’s not complicated; you practice a piece until it’s ready. Then you play it.
We all know it isn’t really that simple. There are difficult passages and techniques to conquer. You have to earn to play it fast enough or slow enough or steady enough. You need to express the dynamics and the musical flow. And you have to deal with performance jitters, nervous fingers or sweaty palms.
Sure it’s hard. But you’re not afraid of the challenge. You’re a hard worker. You have a clear goal. You made a plan and followed it. So why didn’t it work this time, or maybe even the two or three times before this time?
Maybe you’ve had that happen to you. I’ve experienced it. And after the first epic failure, I’ve gone on to another failure and another. And come out successfully on the other side.
But my success wasn’t due just to sheer perseverance. As much as a story of determination, hard work and courage might be fun to tell, that isn’t my story. It wasn’t my hard work that turned the tide for me. It seemed that no matter what I tried and how much more effort I put in, I couldn’t perform my music the way I wanted.
I decided I needed a reboot; I needed to wipe the slate clean. I wasn’t going to indulge in self-recriminations; I was going to find a totally different path, one that would end in performances I could be proud of.
My first step was to consider what makes performing essentially different than just practicing? I started making a list. It turned out to be a very long list with of nearly 50 significant item, from my shaky fingers to having stage lights in my eyes.
I took a deep breath and surveyed my list. Nearly everything on the list could be put into one of two main categories - Musical or Environmental. (There was actually a third category - my own physical and mental state - but I decided that if I could be more certain of my ability to deal with the other two categories, the physical and mental stress wouldn’t be as impactful.)
Then I tried to identify one skill I needed to develop in each category, a skill that, if I was able to strengthen it, would eliminate the greatest number of issues in that category.
In the Musical category, I chose “Ignore Mistakes.” If I could ignore any mistakes I might make, this would allow me to sustain the musical flow, continue without stopping, allow me to stay in the moment and to concentrate on the next notes.
In the Environmental category, I chose “Resist Distraction.” I was fairly certain that if I could manage to maintain my focus in spite of whatever was happening around me, then I would be able to settle down and play the music as I had practiced it.
Once I knew what skills I wanted to strengthen, I created a plan to develop each skill in a way that was clear and measurable. I outlined steps to take and ways to test my progress. I set a timeline and benchmarks.
What I discovered was that when the next performance came around, I felt prepared and confident in a different way. And the performance, while still not ideal, was indeed one that I felt good about.
Plus, I had a system, a repeatable system, that I could use to prepare for the next performance. I could review my lists, remove any items that were no longer issues and add any new ones that appeared. Then I identified my two new key skills, set my plan and got to work with confidence in a successful outcome.
Listed below are the steps I followed for my reboot. Your categories and lists will likely be different from mine. Your own learning style and performing experiences will present a set of issues and challenges unique to you. The system, however, will show you exactly what you need to work on and, I hope, give you the inspiration to keep on playing.