As a musician you have spent, and may continue to spend, a great deal of time improving your technique and preparing to perform. There are countless nuances in your technique that you count on to reliably work well for you when you perform. We might (actually Timothy Gallwey of The Inner Game of Music fame might) call this your outer game. This outer game is what we primarily focus on so much of time to carry us successfully through each performance, competition, or audition.
But what about your inner game? Your inner game may, at first, seem much more subtle, but it is this inner game—your mindset—that is often the deciding factor in your performing success. We were actually born with an incredible inner game. As children we were keenly aware of everything around us so we were really engaged and fascinated with our world. In this world, learning was easy and inevitable. What happened?
Well, I’ll tell you. In high school, I remember loving to bowl. I would go bowling and hit strike after strike. It was so fun, I couldn’t wait to get to the lanes. Then, I joined a league with some women I worked with. SCREEEEEeeech! (Did you hear those skid marks? That was my fun slamming on the brakes!) Something had changed. All of a sudden, I was expected to hit those strikes. I started wanting—actually needing—to impress these other women with my bowling and prove to them that I had it. It got so bad that I started forgetting which foot I would usually start with. My inner game shifted and began crushing my outer game.
You may have experienced something similar in your playing or singing. As soon as you begin to expect to always sound a certain way or think you must perform better than everyone else, or when you start trying to impress others, or think you should be able to perform perfectly, it all begins to unravel. You start judging yourself, criticizing and distrusting yourself, become afraid of failing, losing control and messing up. . . and you do.
Your inner game has everything to do with your performing. We have called this inner game many things, namely confidence, mental toughness, or mental strength. That child I described above didn’t think about being confident or know anything about being mentally tough or mentally strong. She just was. She was completely in the moment, doing her thing—merely playing.
In The Inner Game of Music, Gallwey quotes Gestalt psychologist, Fritz Perls’ famous saying:
“Trying fails, awareness cures.”
With this statement, Perls was teaching us that the harder we try, the more confused things can become. The awareness he is speaking of is the state of engaged, totally absorbed play. This state is where we are able to be completely aware of the current moment—involved, interested, curious, and joyful. Pure awareness is seeing reality for what it is, without judgment.
How do you DO this?
I think Perls is pointing us to playform. (I couldn’t resist a play on words here) He is helping us realize that trying is useless. When we really set out to do something, we don’t try, we DO it! It is time to experience real play in our performing again. The kind of joy we felt when we first began performing or the kind you felt when you used to just let go and let ANYthing happen.
Take courage: direct your will to overcome self-doubt and fear! Trust: let go of your desire to continue to consciously control correctness! Accept: see your performing for ‘what it is’ without judgment as to ‘good’ ‘bad’ ‘right’ or ‘wrong’! Again, COURAGE!
The following is a five-step exercise in getting the fun back. See how it works for you. Ignore the voice in your head that’s going to tell you that this sounds stupid! In your next practice session:
- Take out a piece of music you are getting ready to perform—preferably one that is memorized.
- Set it on the stand and play or sing through it in your mind. (close your eyes & really hear & see yourself in the performance you have dreamed of giving)
- When you have finished your mental performance, say aloud the three things you most LOVE about this piece (use the voice of a child, let yourself feel silly, let GO!)
- Next, play a recording of you or someone else performing the piece. While you listen to it, let yourself dance or move around the room (feel the mood and the emotion in the piece, think of why you love it, imagine how you used to do this as a child).
- Immediately, after you have finished Step 4, begin playing or singing. Perform the piece straight through, embodying the elements you love about it and the way it made you move.
This awareness exercise is designed to help you let go, play, and take a little different look at your performing without trying too hard, judging, or analyzing. I am really interested in hearing your experience with this. Comment below…
Want to learn more about how to develop your own unique pre-performance routine? Then, check out The Relaxed Musician Program: Mental Preparation for Confident Performances, A 14-Day Plan Download Day 1 workbook and audio to see how the program can work for you. With purchase, you will receive 2 great bonuses—Your Pre-Performance Checklist and the e-book, Letting Go of the Need to be Perfect!