March 2011

My teacher, my enemy - and how to smoke the peace pipe....

March 22, 2011 02:41

There was a recent topic on V.com on how we feel we play well in the home studio and then badly in front of the teacher.  Self-delusion was raised as a factor but this cannot explain all of it.  Some was attributed to performance anxiety - and this surely mixed in, but I think there is yet more.

It dawned on me in my last lesson that there are are four rather distinct playing modes: playing to yourself, playing with others, playing to an audience (in particular solo) and, finally to theteacher.  Each with its own set of stresses that impact effectiveness.

It seems stress is lowest when I play for myself.  I can get into the music and really enjoy my violin.  Its somewhat higher playing with others but it ameliorated by the knowledge that they have their own parts to deal with.  It is considerably more playing to an audience but even there I know the listeners do at least want me to succeed (though there are situations of course where performance stress can become almost unbearable). 

For me at least, stress is highest and most reliable playing to a teacher.  I didn't think this would be the case since you work closely and collaboratively with them and know them well and you may enjoy a laugh togeter.  However, its still the worst because you know they are acitvely seeking faults - this is definitely the least generous set of ears!  For me that means every note is suffers caution and introspection before I can let it out.  I just have to give this nervous state a name - teacher-anxiety (TA).

TA is for me (and apparently many others) so strong and I once commented to my teacher that I feel she has never actually heard me play at my best.  However, I made (for me) a major discovery last lesson, which is the reason for this topic.  I am working on Melodie by Gluck but each go through was suffering the usual TA.  One of her observations was that I was not precisely on time, to which I countered that usually you have a piano to play with.  Usually the metronome gets turned on but for a more performance-like experience she had the great idea of picking up her violin and playing harmonizing eighth-notes while I tried again. 

The effect was magical.  Suddenly I felt released from TA and settled into really playing.  Having her playing totally relieved the TA.  In retrospect I think it was particularly important that she was standing next to me looking at the music not adding the notes from in front in her usual listening place.  Thus, it really felt as if we were making music together - transforming the teaching studio into, yes, the home practice room. 

I really hope playing togehter becomes a regular part of lessons - I think it will have umpteen benefits.  By building a new dynamic - that of making music together - maybe it will defuse the whole TA phenomenon and permit me to eventually play to her as I do by myself.

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