|Weekly Reflections on Life and Music|
I realized as I was summing up things last week that performance anxiety is enhanced, if not caused, by distraction or lack of focus. When I am “working on" “dealing with” my anxiety I am NOT focused on the music. Distraction causes me to lose my ability to stay on task- even a task that is simple and deeply ingrained. I found that happen several times last week when I was practicing scales sitting on the balcony. It has been my favorite place to practice this winter- the Gulf of Mexico, the birds, the wonder of the sky and beach all add a sense of peace.
- Have fun practicing!
I do this because I enjoy it. I need to enjoy the music I make in practice as well. That is where self one learns to trust self two. Maybe I need to stop the tweaking of my plan to get over performance anxiety- and just learn to do it. No, not learn to do it- just do it. And that takes the ability to focus.
But only if I don’t focus on them.
So I was running through one of the basic, level one scales, you know, Bb and Eb concert. Most of us can probably do them in our sleep. But not as well if you get sidetracked by something around you-
Hey, look at that pelican..Or, well you get the picture. As soon as even the simplest thought entered consciousness, I would miss notes or my fingers would get flubbed up or I would forget where I was in the scale.
What a beautiful sky it is today..
That is a major problem of mine. I have never been diagnosed as ADD, but I sure can be easily…
I have improved in my performance distractibility. For one I have a pair of reading glasses that focus best at about the distance of the music stand. I can’t see the movements in the audience as easily. (Chalk up one good thing for age!) I have also learned how to stay more focused on the director from peripheral vision alignment. That way I can stay focused on the music in front of me and not get lost when moving from looking at the music, then to the director and back again.
The next step in this process is to deal with focus in practice. That brings me back to
- goal setting,
- being intentional in my schedule,
- keeping a journal,
- recording myself, and
- using a metronome.
I can do it- any of us can. The best example of that may be that as Mr. Baca and others at the Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop have said:
If you have six-weeks to learn something- it will take you six months. If you have six days, you will be ready in six-days.In the end that may be the best description of focus. Which is why goals, with timelines, are good ideas. They are self-imposed deadlines, yet not so demanding that you resent yourself for imposing them. All in all it is the working on those inner voices that can get us stuck- or soaring to new levels of ability. Focus is being able to sort out the helpful from the unhelpful, the reality from the fear, and learning how to be more in the present. John Raymond, trumpeter and Shell Lake Trumpet Workshop instructor wrote on this in a recent Facebook post.
About 15 years ago I came to New York for the first time. My dad managed to hook up a lesson with the great Vincent Penzarella and, while I didn't remember this until my dad reminded me a couple weeks ago, he dropped some HEAVY wisdom on me back then. It went something like this:Well, it is never too late to internalize it. That’s what these posts and the whole Tuning Slide blog is about. It is moving forward, taking risks, pushing the envelope. It is finding new ways to be a better musician, a better person, and going to new places in our own experience.
VP: "John, why are you here?"
JR: "I came out to NYC to check out some music schools and I thought this would be a great opportunity to learn from the best."
VP: "Great! Well, who's been your best teacher?"
JR: (most likely some immature response, although my first response was much better than I would've given myself credit for back then).
VP: "The best teacher you'll ever have is your own brain. You know when you are playing and are really in the zone, and then you miss a note. Your brain says "I messed up, oh no." The critical side of your brain can talk very loudly. But you can't be creative when your brain is critical."
"Your brain allows you to be critical or to be creative, but you can't do both at the same time. The critical side of your brain, especially for a perfectionist in music, can speak very loudly John. You need to learn how to manage that critical side. You are going to have to learn how to talk yourself out of that and let the creative side surface."
"Your number 2 best teacher is the music. Listen to the music, learn the music, respect the music, love the music, just as it is. It has been around for a lot of years for a reason."
I only wish I had the maturity back then to internalize all this. Nevertheless, 15 years later and I can confidently say that these words are 100% ON POINT.
- John Raymond