Practice Everywhere to Perform Anywhere

“The key to good performance is excellent preparation.”

As another year’s Christmas recital looms ever nearer and the inevitable performance nerves start to set in, I start looking for more ways to reassure my students that they will certainly survive this harrowing experience to play another day. I stumbled across this interesting tidbit a few days ago and shared it with my students — now I share it with you!

An article I recently read on improving your brain’s performance cited a university’s study from the 1978, in which a group of students were told to study the same material in two different sessions. Half the students spent both sessions studying in the same room while the other half split their study time between two different rooms. When tested on the lesson material, the students who’d studied in multiple environments recalled 53% more material than the students who only studied in one place. (And that was just with TWO study sessions!)

Subsequent studies showed that varying other aspects of the study environment (the time of day, whether you’re sitting or standing, if you’re in a cluttered or tidy room, etc.) also increased memory recall.

The theory is that your brain links whatever it’s learning to the context around it. The more contexts you can link to what you’re learning, the more your brain will have to draw upon when it’s required to recall something.

THE TAKEAWAY: When you’re practicing a piece you intend to perform, I challenge you to vary your practice environment in as many ways possible.

You can try:
Sitting/standing/walking around while playing
Playing in a different room each session
Playing on your front porch (if the weather is semi-pleasant!)
Playing around family and friends
Playing during your lunch break at work, at a park, or during recess at school

Or get creative with stuff like:
Playing in a pitch-black room (betcha never done that before!)
Playing your song very, verrrry slowly. Try playing it very quickly — but remember to only go as fast as accuracy will still allow!
Playing while other music is playing in the background (it’s a brain-twister, for sure!)
Make a video of you playing your recital piece and post it to facebook/instagram/whatever social media site you frequent. (Send me a link if you do this! I wanna see!)

Practice everywhere so you can perform anywhere!
I look forward to hearing about how many creative ways you’ve practiced!

Are You Inspired?

I’m a huge fan of inspiration. There is nothing more exciting than going to a concert or a performance or even just going to a friend’s house to jam out and leaving all musically-charged and excited to play your own instrument, try out some new licks, or dabble in a new style. You can find inspiration in a single album or song that speaks to you, like a lightbulb that pops in your mind and says, “Man! I want to play like that!” I have a handful of musicians whose style, sound, and skills constantly intrigue me, and I’m always mentally picking apart their tunes to glean a new idea or two to try myself.

Here’s the catch: sometimes in the presence of something inspirational we’ll start to make negative comparisons. I had a tough time during my beginning years because I heard amazing fiddlers and knew I was nowhere near their skill, and I’d beat myself down for that. Competitions were unpleasant for me because I would be in an age category with teens who had been playing for eight to ten years while I had only been playing for two or three. The competition only cared that we were the same age, regardless of the age at which we’d started fiddling. It’s only logical that a person with ten years of experience will be better than a person with two years, but that didn’t make it hurt less when my name showed up at the bottom of the score list. It wasn’t that I wanted to be a top fiddler or that I cared about winning — I all ready knew I couldn’t play that well. It was because it solidified the thought in my mind that I was a terrible fiddler and I shouldn’t play in public. The only reason I kept on practicing and trying was because I truly loved Celtic music and kept the hope that if I stuck with it long enough it would eventually pay off. Years later, I think it did.

I remember seeing other teens at the competition – confident, relaxed, having fun – and I wished I could be like that. I was comparing myself to them and their experiences when really, I had no right to compare my limited fiddling time to their expansive fiddling experience. I didn’t listen to the product of their time and practice and think, “Wow, in a few years I could be like that!” I thought, “Holy cow. I can’t compete with that.” It would have been so much better if I could have just accepted that two years of playing is only going to sound like two years of playing and blocked out both the flat numbers that ranked me against far more skilled fiddlers than I and the idea that said I had to be as good as they just because we were in the same age division.

Sometimes it’s not easy to accept your musical abilities where they are. Let’s face it, no beginning fiddler sounds great at first! This is a stinkin’ difficult instrument to figure out and there will always be some technique you can improve, even ten or fifteen years from when you started. It can be especially difficult to accept where you are when you hear an excellent musician but I beg you, take that moment of, “Aw man, I’ll never be as good as them,” and turn it into: “I love that (style, sound, expression, whatever trait you admire in that musician)! I’m going to work towards that!” Turn that comparison into an inspiration. Inspiration motivates us to experiment, to play, to maybe connect a few dots that hadn’t connected before or gain a better knowledge of your instrument. Inspiration keeps us reaching for betterment.

So go on and get inspired! Really listen to what catches your attention in a song and try to reflect that in your own playing. But don’t forget that where you are right now is exactly where you need to be — it’s the perfect place to take that next step toward improvement!

Featured photo, titled “In the Hands of a Woman”, is by .sarahwynne. of Flickr. Check out her Flickr account here!
Flickr: .sarahwynne.