The mind during performance
I have been thinking about this subject sporadically for a few months now. I’m better off than when I started, but still not where I would like to be so I’d like to know what’s your own take on the subject:
-What state of mind leads to the best performances?
I’ve asked many people, read many articles and interviews, most seem to agree on a certain number of things:
-You shouldn’t think about your movements while performing, but about the music,
-You shouldn’t be judging your play, just going along with it,
-You should be involved in shaping the music, but not overthinking.
This is a good start, but still leaves a lot of question unanswered for me. You might ask why I care so much about this, and that’s because I’ve noticed in my own experience that the right state of mind can make the difference between a performance where I not only play everything perfectly from a technical standpoint, but where I also go and make absolutely beautiful music, and one that’s just meh. And I would like to learn how to consistently play the first way.
I’ve been doing some recordings of my playing today where the only thing I would tweak was my mindset and my area of focus. Some variables I’ve played with, and the results:
-Mainly thinking about sound/phrasing/imagination: focusing on what I hear in my head and letting the hands follow along produced pretty good results, but I find I don’t actually get to listen to my own playing, and this results in quite a sloppy performance.
-Not thinking about anything, just listening to the sound, and flowing along with it: this is a better option, because it is more effortless mentally than the first one, and I actually get to listen to my own sound and tweak it ‘live’ if needed. The downside is that you need to have a very clear idea of how you want the music to sound before playing. And even then, there’s always the risk of getting distracted/caught up in technique, and this technique gets mixed results, so it’s unreliable.
I then had the following idea: when we sing, we are shaping the music, but without thinking about it, instinctually. We are listening to ourselves and hearing everything, but effortlessly and without trying to control. So why not take the same state of mind as when singing, but instead of singing, playing on the violin?
I’m still experimenting with the last one, but so far it seems to be the best option.
So what does you focus your mind on while performing?
After seeing the sheet music my teacher receives with all the scribbles on it before her performances (in an orchestra), I'm not so sure how much "feeling" will be possible by concert date. A concert date which is too close for all the pieces they give her. But, she has been playing for a very long time, she is good so... I'll have to ask her at my next lesson.
Perhaps the Buddhist concept of: "Being in the moment" might be the most beneficial. No judgment, not what passed or what is to come, just what is, right now letting the universe speak through you. Of course, that would require total enlightenment and that isn't easy to achieve but something to strive for.
This is really interesting, as I have been thinking about the same things as well! I find that certain days the performance is much better when everything is happening naturally and I am not really thinking about what I am playing, and also I am not "trying" to evoke a certain type of feel, rather I just let it happen.
The best book I know of that addresses state of mind during performance is "The Inner Game of Music."
I don't know about the others, but I can only think, focus, on one thing at a time, maybe it's because I'm a male of the species. If I think about the left hand, the bow slows down. Ideally, we should think about how we want it to sound, and let the mechanical habits that we have trained take over the details. Among singers there is the proverb- (in a performance)- don't think about the mechanics of singing- just sing.
In the moment with a bit of a plan is about the best I can add. This works for me in performance, practice, and sight reading. You perform what you practice. Magic seldom happens.
+1 to Mary Ellen's recommendation for "The Inner Game of Music", though I actually got more out of "The Inner Game of Tennis" - which is the original exposition of "the inner game" and I found the thinking much more clearly set out there, even though it's not got anything to do with music.
Bulletproof Musician has a great article on this topic:
Thanks for the link Lydia, I’ve already read that article.
I just reread the article, and the concept of listening more attentively does seem very interesting, and is something I will definitely experiment with as I see how it could help.
I would say that you should pay close attention to what you're actually producing, both in practice and in performance. It's too easy to get caught up in what you have in your head.
The latter is very good advice indeed. I think too often we have some kind of unattainable ideal in our heads and then when the notes don't sound as good, we get flustered. It's not productive. You can't play better than you can play, but if you focus on what you are doing, you can play as well.
Think a little bit ahead while singing in my head, listening to the sound I am making,the piano and watch my fingers or bow depending on what's most needed in each moment. If I think in words during a solo performance, I'm usually get into trouble.
Most of the above is what I would like to think about. Unfortunately I'm overcome with thoughts of just getting it over with
Sonia, your first link proved to be liquid gold!
This online course from a psychologist at Julliard might be interesting: https://www.edx.org/course/perform-best-foundations-performance-juilliardx-jx004x
That's Noa Kageyama (the aforementioned Bulletproof Musician blogger) again. :-)