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The Peak-Performance Myth

Arthur Rubinstein rehearsing at the piano in 1962

Arthur Rubinstein, 1962

“When I play, I make love – it is the same thing.”
-Arthur Rubinstein, pianist (The Musician’s Way, p. 207)

If you’ve read much about performing, then you’ve probably run into the terms “peak performance,” “flow,” and “being in the zone.”

Those synonymous labels refer to a zone of optimal functioning, an ideal inner state in which a performer achieves maximum fluency with minimum effort.

When you’re having a peak experience with your music, your creativity seems boundless, and, technically speaking, you feel as though you can’t miss. Continue Reading

Assessing Your Performance Skills

Benny Goodman & Ella Fitzgerald

“People have often said to me, ‘You’re so relaxed when you play.’
Relaxed my elbow. It’s practice.”
–Benny Goodman, clarinetist (The Musician’s Way, p. 199)

It may seem that elite musicians like Benny Goodman excel on stage because of inborn traits.

But despite any genetic factors that might affect our musical potential, the mastery that experts display under pressure actually results from their having amassed specific performance skills. Continue Reading

Becoming a Confident Performer

“Your central tasks are finding inner peace and strength, on the one hand,
and being very well-prepared for your performances, on the other.”
Eric Maisel, author & psychologist (The Musician’s Way, p. 146)

In my previous post, “The 3 Roots of Performance Anxiety,” I classified the causes of stage nerves as personal, task-related, or situational.

Here, I point to ways in which we can address those causes and become joyful, artistic performers. Continue Reading

The 3 Roots of Performance Anxiety

Image of worried musician“No matter how much I rehearsed, I never felt ready for the stage. Instead, I felt like a deer stumbling into oncoming traffic on a dark road.”
–Shannon Sexton, singer & writer (The Musician’s Way, p. 140)

I expect that every performer knows what it’s like to feel nervous at a show or an audition.

Still, whether we deal with mild uneasiness or debilitating fear, by taking steps to understand the causes of stage fright and acquire countermeasures, all of us can become more capable performers. Continue Reading

The Meaning in Mistakes

“Errors are inevitable, but suffering as a result of them is optional.”
The Musician’s Way, p. 193

Of all the skills I teach to performers, one of the most challenging ones for them to master involves the handling of on-stage mistakes.

All too often, errors churn up persistent, toxic emotions. Continue Reading

The Zing of Adrenaline

“The key to harnessing on-stage energy is to use it for music-making purposes”
The Musician’s Way, p. 186

Let’s say that you’re walking on stage to begin a performance: Your heart’s beating somewhat fast and your hands feel cool; maybe your mouth turns dry.

Are you eager to launch into your program or worried that things could go awry? Continue Reading

Overcome Nerves with Mastery Goals

“Research has shown that people who adopt mastery goals
experience the lowest levels of performance anxiety.”
Music Educators Journal, Dec. 2010.*

When we step on stage, nothing affects our state of mind more than our goals.

Mastery goals inspire us to be artistic and fearless.

Avoidance and comparison goals, in contrast, sap our creativity and confidence. Continue Reading

The Preperformance Inventory

Stéphane Grappelli

Stéphane Grappelli

“Before you play, you must prepare your way.”
Stéphane Grappelli, violinist (The Musician’s Way, p. 157)

In my previous post, “The Preparation Timeline,” I contended that when we book a performance, audition, or recording session, a written timeline bolsters our creativity by helping us plan. That is, it frees us to focus on our art.

But even when in the weeks leading up to an event everything runs smoothly, on the day of a performance numerous logistical matters need coordinating. Continue Reading

Feeling Ahead

“The mind always has to anticipate the physical action that is to be taken and then to send the command for its execution.”
–Ivan Galamian, violin teacher (The Musician’s Way, p. 48)

Of all the skills required to perform music, one of the most vital ones is also the least apparent: the ability to sense musical gestures before executing them.

That is, to play or sing a phrase fluently, we have to ‘hear’ it in our minds and perceive the sensations of executing it. Then, if our conception is true, our sound will resonate with spirit and precision. Continue Reading

The Centered Performer

“When you project a centered presence from the stage,
your audience becomes attentive and relaxed.”
The Musician’s Way, p. 180

To make our best music, we performers need to be mentally, physically, and emotionally in sync. In a word: centered.

Then, assuming that we’ve learned our material deeply, we can trust in our preparation and connect with our audiences.

In fact, centered musicians often captivate their listeners from the moment they step on stage because their powerful demeanor generates an expectant energy. Continue Reading