“Practice makes perfect!”
“Perfect practice makes perfect!”
“Don’t mess up.”
“I missed that note.”
“I could play this yesterday, I promise!”
“I worked so hard — why’d I miss that?!”
“Practice perfection” doesn’t often bring us our version of perfect.
Feel the hackles rising? It’s okay; I do, too. All those, including the first two, have been repeated since time immemorial, ad nausaeum (sometimes literally). We’re all taught to be self-abusers, to distrust our ability to learn, and to pressure ourselves into perfect performance. Wouldn’t we like to hear that there’s a better way?
This might take some time, or it might happen instantly.
I want to encourage you to change your model of success from a judgment-based system to trust. What do you see in the faces of your favorite performers? Is it tension? Is it concern?
They truly belong here — it’s printed on their faces.
What ease could you feel by learning to trust that you know what you’re doing? How many times have you played those notes? (Answer: anywhere from a hundred to many tens of thousands.)
We repeat in performance what we practice. If our focus when we’re playing alone is on paying attention to every single detail and monitoring, thinking, planning, being on our mental peak, and remaining in “total control”, why can’t we recall all that “work” during a performance? Because your body and mind don’t work that way.
Under higher stress, the mind can’t focus with the same ease as when under lower stress, and our thinking suffers. However, our instincts are magnified. By avoiding practice by instinctive trust, we’re ignoring those motions that the body wants to take. Practicing by ‘thinking’, therefore, is sweeping ‘mistakes’ under the rug, and they show up right when you don’t want them to.
Wouldn’t it be nice, though, to look like those amazing performers that release themselves more than tense up? You can bet they practice the same way.
First of all, a few qualifiers. “Practicing” is different than “playing” which is different than “making a sound on your instrument”. “Playing” should be the same feeling as a child on the playground – boundless, unending creativity, continuous motion, looking at the situation upside-down, doing something first and then figuring out what it means, holding pieces from the jumble and allowing your systems to assemble them for you. “Practicing” is the process by which you allow these processes to work. Practicing should not be easy for others to listen to. It should be free, allowing time that is full of trial, exploration, experimentation, freedom, and devoid of any judgment whatsoever. Right and Wrong place pressure on you to either perform it again that exact same way (often not knowing what did caused the success) or to not do that again (often not knowing what did caused the failure). Let’s avoid that whole hateful cycle.
A child learns thusly:
When eating from a spoon for the first time, this child focuses very hard, but it’s often no good. The hand jerks the spoon in all directions, flinging its contents. However, shortly the brain gains control over this limb, and eventually it’s automatic. Try this yourself: make the spoon-to-mouth motion. It’s easy, right? Of course. However, now you’ve been told that you are NOT TO MISS YOUR MOUTH, yelled at, scorned, and threatened with a ruler if you should spill one drop. Do the motion again — I’ll wait.
Do you feel your forearm tightening? I did, too, when I tried. Just by imagining.
Now imagine as if you know everything about this piece of music in front of you. Play it as if you have all the pieces, they just aren’t assembled yet. Focus on the long, sweeping motions the piece asks rather than on each tiny black speck — step back from the piece, so to speak. Play fast enough that you can’t think! Try it — actually go too fast.
As you play, focus on the relaxation, focus on your trust, focus on your knowledge, and let the music play itself. When you stop fighting the mistakes, you find music behind the notes on the page.
When you purposefully play and enjoy this free flow of thought, before you know it you’ve played for 15 minutes without a single controlling thought. Now go play that piece for someone — it’s instantly excellent and easy.
Try this with a video game, with reading (you can speedread much better than you expect), with any activity that you want to master.
Let go, try, trust, trust, trust, allow, allow, allow.
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(image by Blechhhy (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)