Mindset regarding performances

January 4, 2019, 3:09 PM · I am curious as to whether you other violinists ever feel proud of how you have performed/played a piece, even if it wasn't perfectly performed/played? Or do you remain ever self-critical, always discussing with yourself how it could have been better?

Where is the balance between these two things?

Thankful for your thoughts!

Replies (12)

January 4, 2019, 4:23 PM · I think it is possible to be proud and self critical at the same time. It helps to be realistic about our expectations of ourselves. Most of us don't have the luxury of practicing several hours a day to prepare for a performance, so it's important to not compare ourselves with the greats. Rather compare ourselves to what we did and are capable of. If you look at performances as learning opportunities and not the end goal, you will have much more joy performing and the critiques you come up with will be positive and build you up. I think of performances as small tests to find how my solutions for things and ideas pan out and find new areas and/or new ways to approach music from this information. So looking at performances as just a part of the lifelong process of learning and refining. This also helps with performance anxiety. Regarding the balance of these two, I think it's a more complex issue with additional facets all being weighed together. Nonetheless, happy playing!
January 4, 2019, 4:31 PM · I think by the time you reach the advanced standard concert-hall repertoire, you also reach the point where there's a high likelihood that you do not have perfect consistency in performance. What "consistency" means to you will also change, and similarly, what a "good performance" will change. For instance, elements like a feeling of synchrony with musical partners, the energy and mood of the performance, the reaction of the audience, etc. will all start to become part of what you feel a good performance to be.

For me, a good performance is one in which I felt calm and in control, energized, didn't make errors that were glaringly obvious to the audience, and where the audience seemed appreciative. I know that I don't put in enough time in the practice-room to ensure consistency, making any concentration lapse much more dangerous. Plus, my body's reaction to performance stress can be especially awful and is entirely unpredictable -- will my hands shake today from the adrenaline, for instance? I also congratulate myself for overcoming various mishaps in the environment (of which I can certainly tell many tales).

However, I can both be reasonably pleased with how a performance went and have a laundry-list of things that I wished had gone better. Where possible, I want to take that mental list of issues and turn them into "next time I will work on overcoming this thing". I do video my performances and I watch them with a critical eye, as does my teacher -- a really important step towards future improvement.

Indeed, one of my personal violinistic journeys at the moment is the road to becoming a better performer. By conceptualizing this as a process of improvement, it's easier to regard each performance as a step towards getting better.

My teacher is a believer in doing repeated performances of a piece in order to secure it, and I'm finding that the experience of doing so is really good for me. And I'm focusing on performing music that doesn't stretch my technical abilities (generally on local chamber-music series, in recitals that feature pros or serious amateurs) -- i.e. I begin with the high certainty that from a pure violin-playing standpoint, there's nothing that will really go wrong other than maybe a bobble from a concentration lapse. And bit by bit I am getting better at coping with the physical issues -- stopping a nervous tremor that affects my vibrato, quieting the bow-shakes, etc. Practice makes for familiarity which makes for a controlled and calm reaction to performance mishaps.

January 4, 2019, 5:49 PM · I am much more inclined to beat myself up over not preparing well enough than a momentary mistake. There also tends to be a clear correlation between solid preparation & a performance going well.

Then, if anything does go wrong, I know those are the parts that need to be extra solid for the next performance.

Edited: January 5, 2019, 11:51 AM · Hi Anita,

You can only put those two things, pride and self-criticism, on the same scale if your critique is tied to emotions, which it need not be. To separate them takes practice, which you can do at every moment of your waking life. All it takes is for you to notice and observe. Simple observation will allow you to separate yourself from automatic emotional reactions (you are not your emotions and thoughts.)

It's good to feel proud of all the effort you've put into your work, and appreciate your audiences' response, but not so productive to feel bad about the results.

The way to stay positive is to become process oriented rather than results oriented, and learn how to be critical without negativity, to have unconditional positive regard (a notion rooted in Carl Rogers' client-centered approach.)

I will post more on your other thread when I have more time, but in the meantime, check out Jackie Reardon's free mini-course.

Don't be fooled by how simple her approach appears. It's hard work! Her method is in part based on Vipassana meditation, which is all about learning how to interrupt your automatic reactions. The theory is that you can train yourself to notice emotional responses before they spiral and cascade into further emotions, and even prevent neurohormonal responses which affect your whole body.

Michelle Charfen (19:20m):

Edit: if you want a glimpse into full on Vipassana from the perspective of an insomniac and arachnophobe, here's an article: https://www.legalnomads.com/vipassana-meditation/

January 5, 2019, 5:00 PM · Good discussion by all. If I may add one more element, even though it may seem a bit vague. I believe that each composer has a musical "voice," the emotional line of the music as if it is singing or speaking. In fact, we often can recognize the composer of pieces we may not know by hearing that composer's "voice."

I also think that at one's best, the violinist feels and projects his or her own sense of the composer's "voice" at the moment of the performance. The result, I believe, is the performer's musical, emotional connection with the composer as "spoken" through uniqueness of one's particular technique and musical education and training.

If any of this is true, then one element in performance ought to be that effort to "capture" the composer's voice through one's own, much like an actor projecting his or her experience of what the writer intended.

I think that we often talk about this element as "playing with feeling." I believe that whatever level of technique and musicianship one is at, if one can project one's genuine "voice" and try to capture that of the composer's voice, that will project to an audience, no matter what the level of technique or number of "mistakes."

To me, there is nothing more difficult in this world than to play the violin. But don't let the understandable concern with the endless technical challenges crowd out the sense of voice. Music is an "in the moment" art. Make every moment speak.

January 5, 2019, 6:43 PM · A musician's mind has to make a complete separation between "performing" - an emotion creating, all encompassing process, and "critique" - an analytical break details into pieces and goals process. The two cannot be done - effectively - at the same time. Even if you critique later, you will come to different conclusions 3 days, 3 months, 1 year later because your maturity as a musician changes.

"Perfectly performed" is a myth and a trap. That idea leads musicians to ineffective, and sometimes corrosive actions. The only thing that counts is whether the audience wants to hear your next piece and your next performance. Will they show up, ideally with friends, next time? This audience reaction comes from their emotional response, and not from any nit picking about tempo, an odd note, dynamics, etc.

A better approach is to combine the setting of goals in each practice session for technique development and the rehearsing of emotional performances in practice sessions. Then just perform as best you can for an audience.

You might find Kenny Werner's book "Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Musician Within ..." to be a helpful guide. Kenny is a jazz pianist, so his examples will differ from your music, but his concepts are applicable to anyone who wants to inspire their performances. He very clearly states that if he was granted one wish, it would be for better technique, but not for its own sake. Rather because technique contains the building blocks of creating more inspiring, emotion generating music.

January 9, 2019, 5:13 PM · Performance is something that needs lots of practice too. I put (most of) my performances up on my youtube for the express reason of encouraging me to be okay with the results and to put my focus more on the process than on the finish. Every video of every one of my performances has stuff that I'm not happy with, but I try not to bog down my memory of a good performance with the reality of the video - There is a spirit or atmosphere in a live performance that a video will never capture, but the video never lies about where I need to put my focus in my practice, and it can help me with things to think about for my next performance.

Love yourself where you are and keep working at what you want to sound like.

January 21, 2019, 2:53 PM · I thank everyone for your well-thought-out responses! There’s a gold mine of thoughts here.

I feel like I’m embarking on a new journey, trying to approach music making in a new way. I don’t have any organized thoughts yet, but wanted to mention that I started reading “Mindset” by Carol Dweck - about fixed vs. growth mindsets, and it is resonating quite a lot with me. I have had a very fixed mindset, and I’m hoping to cultivate a growth mindset throughout the next year. Here’s to changing neural pathways!

January 21, 2019, 3:20 PM · I've been proud of performances that weren't perfect. It helps if they're about at the level that I think I'm capable of doing, and if I don't make any really embarrassing gaffes.
January 21, 2019, 3:26 PM · During the performance I am wholly self critical. After, I am very proud that I did it.
January 21, 2019, 8:09 PM · My position on this:

Gratified -- sometimes.
Satisfied -- never.

One of my teachers said: "Never be satisfied. Always be very critical of yourself."

My audiation skill is strong, and I was able to get good intonation and tone production in my first year as a kid -- my first teacher confirmed this; but I STILL catch things on playback, and in live playing, that leave me dissatisfied and revisiting to achieve something still better.

As a kid, I also learned early to deal with nerves, so that the extra adrenaline rush was a stimulant rather than a hindrance. Looking back, I now feel that I did some of my best performing during auditions. Still, I'm always reaching for something, drawing nearer to the goal with hard work and consistent discipline -- but never quite reaching it. There will always be something to improve on.

Although this last point is really something for another discussion, it does have some bearing on how I critique my own playing. During any practicing or playing session, I wear foam earplugs, L/R, dB factor of -33. Now that I've started experimenting with digital audio recordings on my phone, I find that the playback doesn't sound strange to me at all, because what I hear during live playing, thanks to the plugs, sounds more removed from me -- like I'm playing it back to myself from about 10 feet away.

January 22, 2019, 5:06 AM · Here's how I think:
I feel proud when I get the idea across. I seldom obsess with minute details of a performance. There's always something extraordinary that happens. Sometimes wonderful, sometimes atrocious...

I usually obsess with stuff during practice, but I let that go during performance. From my point of view it's like this:

I play music, because I love it, it's entertaining and encompassing intellectually and emotionally. Audience comes to hear me play for the exact same reasons. So they WANT me to get my idea across to them. The audience does not want to nitpick my faults, they want performance, entertainment, emotion, beauty. If I can get that across to the audience, I have done my job.

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