Life is Like a Metronome

This blog entry was originally written on February 12, 2007 and posted to my myspace blog (everyone had one, right?). At that point in time I was preparing to leave friends, my beloved home of six years, and a church I absolutely loved to face a new and less than ideal situation in another state. I had no idea what the future held and felt as though I were staring into a cloud. A practice session yielded a lightbulb moment…

Tonight while I was practicing with a metronome I realized how living life is like practicing with or without a metronome.  If I work on learning a piece but I always practice it ‘a tempo’ then I’ll probably never get all of the notes down the way I should.  Sure, I can play it and it sounds ok….I’ll get the gist of the piece but that’s all.  If I practice at a slower tempo, especially one hand at a time, then I’m able to learn all of the notes well with the correct fingerings.  This eases my stress level while playing the piece because I’ve really taken the time to study and learn the piece.  Even better….if I practice with a metronome, one hand at a time with a slower tempo then I’ll learn to play all of my notes correctly in tempo.  I’ll eventually practice both hands at the same time and I’ll gradually crank up the tempo on the metronome but only when I’m ready. 

I’m very guilty of trying to breeze thru a piece without taking the time to study it and learn it correctly.  My sight reading skills are good but it’s not sight reading anymore once you’ve played it.  Several times at VT a very dear friend practicing next door would hear me playing way too fast and making way too many mistakes.  He’d knock on the door and say two words when I opened it, “Speed kills”.  I would get so aggravated because even though I wanted to practice my way, I knew he was right.

So what does this have to do with life? 

How many times do we try to do something our way and fail?  We speed through life, we practice “our way” and God (or karma or whatever you believe in) tells us to slow down.  He tells us “speed kills” and that we not only need to slow down to adequately learn, we need to use God’s metronome while we’re learning.  He won’t speed up the tempo until we’re ready to move on to the next lesson or step in life.

I had a wonderful dinner with a good friend tonight!  We had a great time and enjoyed some very deep God conversations.  It made me own up to the fact that lately I’ve been “practicing” in my own way and even when I slow down I’m still not using God’s “metronome”.  That is something I really need to work on. 

Though life as I knew it was being turned upside down, at the time I had no idea the end result would lead me in the direction of my dreams. Six months later I returned to school to complete the music education degree program I’d left seven years prior. Finding this old blog last night was perfect timing because I sorely needed a reminder of its message.

I’ll close with the remainder of my old blog entry:

I encourage each of you to slow down and search for the right tempo of your own life.  May you all find peace and wisdom from whatever you perceive the Higher Power to be.

How to Enjoy Performing

During my undergraduate music major convocations the master of ceremonies told performers “Enjoy” as they walked out onstage. I was completely taken off guard the first time I heard him say it. My reply was something along the lines of “I don’t think that’s possible.” As I walked onstage, all I could think was Enjoy? I didn’t know I was supposed to enjoy performing? How on earth does anyone enjoy it? 

From 4th grade piano recitals & accompanying choir concerts…
What are people thinking about me?

to college & adulthood…
They’re judging me, aren’t they? I know they’ve heard this piece performed better. Heck, they could probably play it better themselves!

…to the one thought that plagued me every time I performed…
As soon as I make a mistake, I’ve ruined the entire performance.

 …I became more and more nervous about performing.
With self-talk like that, there’s no way I could ever enjoy it. From that moment on I was determined to find a way to calm my nerves and see if enjoying performing was even possible. 
Over the next 3 ½ years I examined what I did, how I thought and how others around me handled the same pressure.

Here are some tips from a joyfully reformed performer:

 ·      Find your meaning in the music.
What does this piece mean to you? What mood, idea, spirit or emotion do you want to convey to the audience? Developing a connection to the music gives it meaning beyond notes on a page.

 ·      Be ok with making mistakes before the performance.
Expecting a flawless performance will set you up for failure. Period. This is why cultivating meaning in performance is so important. Focus on being true to the meaning and spirit of the piece rather than playing every single note correctly.

·      Practice positive self talk when you make mistakes during rehearsal.
Knowing how not to beat yourself up takes practice! Soothing yourself in performance seldom works if you’ve never tried it before. Focus on the positive, learn from mistakes and cut yourself some slack. 

·      Know how to keep going when you make mistakes and practice how to get out of them. 
You wouldn’t hike into the middle of nowhere without knowing how to find your way out, would you? Make your mistake escape plan as you learna piece so you know where to go during a performance situation.

·      Practice and perform often in different environments, on different pianos and for different groups of people.
Get out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to new to you pianos and situations. Learn how to adapt to multiple scenarios.

·      Exercise your demons before showtime.
Mentally review any mistakes that haunt you, learn from them and be kind to yourself. Imagine pulling those bad memories out of your brain and watch them float away, never to bother you again. Feel the weight lift from your body & spirit.

·      Create (or modify) your preshow routine
Establishing good habits before a performance can calm the mind and body. Sleep well the night before, eat well the day of, take time to warm up, listen to calm music and limit caffeine 3-4 hours before a performance. I made the mistake of drinking coffee and listening to The White Stripes before many performances. I was pumped up to run around the building but overly stimulated for performance nerves. 

·      Keep tabs on your self-talk before, during and after a performance
Be kind to yourself and focus on what’s true. Did you really mess up everything or did you just miss a fingering?

·      Attend performances by musicians who love performing
Not just famous musicians, I’m talking about anyone! Examine what makes their performance different from other musicians. I’ll bet they don’t sweat the small stuff. 

·      Remember why you wanted to play your instrument in the first place.
My biggest breakthrough in learning how to enjoy performing was from playing Godspell with high school musicians. These high school students spent most of their breaks playing riffs from their favorite songs and jamming with other musicians. Being around these students reminded me how much fun giging can (and should) be. I instantly felt connected to myself in high school when playing Freebird with a garage band brought me so much joy.

 ·      If all else fails, pretend you’re someone else.
This is one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received and it’s amazingly effective. Pick a performer who would knock the socks off that piece and play the way they would play in your situation. Sometimes taking yourself out of the equation allows skills you never knew you had to come to the surface.

After years of nausea, extreme nervousness, heart palpitations, lightheadedness and beta-blockers, I finally learned how to enjoy performing. Now I can’t help but share my freedom from fear and joy for sharing music with the world!

Have any other tips or tricks to add? Share them in the comments section!