Posted: Thu Apr 28, 2011 6:54 am Post subject: Tips/thoughts on how to (un?)focus
There's a performance issue that I've struggled with over the years. I mainly played guitar up until a few years ago and thought maybe it was a guitar issue. Now I play both guitar and keys in groups and I experience it the same on both instruments.
I've always been very comfortable supporting other people as a lead voice. Steve has referred to building it up and tearing it down as a group, and I'm very good at being a supporting pillar for someone else to build on. In that context, I can listen to the entire band as a whole without really focusing on or listening to what I'm playing in particular, and really play to the music.
When it comes time for me to be the lead voice and build things up, I completely lose that mindset. I get very self-conscious about what I'm playing and what I'm supposed to be doing for the music and the listener, so at that point I'm no longer able to listen to everything at once. I become overly conscious of myself and everything else is more in the background.
It's not always like that. Every now and then I get in the right frame of mind and I'm very happy with how I build it up. But the other times, when I can't get my focus off myself, I'm not happy with the results. My playing feels very disconnected from the other musicians and it feels forced to try to really build things up and have a strong group dynamic. Kinda like the difference between really popping onto a wave and riding it vs. paddling and kicking and splashing to try to catch on.
I'm sure some of the issue is just being very shy and self-conscious in general. It's much easier for me to unfocus when the spotlight isn't on me. But I've been playing out off and on for over ten years, and this has always been an issue for me. It's perhaps gotten somewhat better over the years, but it's really what I'd like to address from a performance point of view.
So ... has anyone else gone through something like this? Any thoughts, tips, exercises, etc. on things that might help? Get more exercise before shows? Meditation? Karoke? Weed? Intentional public humiliation? Therapy?
Getting out of my own way can be a big challenge. And your post looks like you're talking about the same thing.
One thing I think is important, is to focus on the real motivations you're experiencing. And keeping your efforts pointed towards the real goals you have set for yourself.
What I mean, is that there are many ways to get pulled off course by things that are not moving you in the direction you really want to go.
So, you gotta come to terms with the whys of what you're doing. And , of course, this is also a constantly moving target. Sometimes, you may want to focus on connecting with the audience, and sometimes more on being "in the moment" with the band and the music. Really moving more inward, and less outward, I guess.
Okay, I'm rambling now. But, I think this is where the rub lies. Within the juggling act of all the various factors. And those are fluid!
I've never read Effortless Mastery by Kenny Warner, but I think this is the type of thing he addresses in his book. Maybe I need to get it and read it?
Okay, I will have to think on this some more. Hopefully, I'll be able to add something concrete and useful to this discussion soon!
Well, one thing I've always done is to take note of others' opinions, but not to let them stop me from doing what I think is right, or what I want. (Assuming that what I want is something within the realm of choices, as opposed to actual right and wrong).
Like this situation, it's more what you want to achieve as opposed to whether you should or should not play what you want. i.e. No one is going to be harmed with whatever choices you make here.
And it can be hard to "Let your freak flag fly", afterall. But, it's imperative.
I guess I'm saying that all of your fears or insecurities here are yours, and not the audiences'.
You just gotta go out there, and swing it in their faces!
Don't let others have this type of power over you here. Because it's built on a fallacy. There is nothing people enjoy more than an honest Artist, leaving it all in the ring. (On the field? Onstage, I guess!)
As long as you're the creator of this Art, then you must be the one who takes charge of it and owns it.
Okay, I think I'm repeating myself too much here.
But, does this help at all? Or, does it seem like a bunch of platitudes? _________________ "Real Tomato Ketchup, Roy?"
Joined: 29 Jun 2004 Posts: 714 Location: Durham, NC
Posted: Tue Jun 21, 2011 9:51 am Post subject:
My 2 pennies on this. Don't want to oversimplify, but it's really all about preparation, and by that I mean practicing your ass off. In order to not be conscious of what is essentially a volitional activity like moving your hands around the neck in a non-suck way, you have to have "overlearned" all the moves. Brain has a wonderful capacity to take repetitive activities and patterns and store them. The more you repeat, the more hard-wired they become, and the less conscious effort it requires to perform the activity. as simple example is driving a car. When you first learn, you have to think about every move, and how to sequence them--hands on wheel, gas, brake, etc. After enough repetitions, you don't think at all about the actual moves. In fact, you can drive to a familiar place while your conscious mind is pretty much not paying any attention at all. For me, this is the only real way in to that state of losing yourself and letting go while playing. I believe I've heard Steve talk about this in terms of being so well prepared that you never second guess yourself. _________________ Mike Babyak
Joined: 14 Jan 2005 Posts: 44 Location: Rollinsville, Colorado
Posted: Mon Jun 27, 2011 11:55 pm Post subject:
I might approach this from a slightly different angle, while taking into consideration Mike's comment about being so prepared that much of what you do is automatic. I've found that I can't just decide that I'll get into the zone - in fact that mindset hinders me when I've tried it. Douglas Adams described the art of flying as "throwing yourself at the ground and forgetting to hit it." The magic happens by accident once you've laid the groundwork.
I think that as a soloist, your role is distinctly different than as an accompanist. Steve has written on several occasions about "The Big Dumb Idea." When you are soling, concentrate on building a structure or a shape (without too much pre-meditation on where you will end up, necessarily). You will still be listening to the other players, but you're in the driver's seat for this one. The other people you are playing with have the responsibility to respond to that and they should take care of much of the build-up, providing you with a springboard for your next idea. That next idea may or may not be a step up dynamically, depending on your inspiration in that moment and what they have given you to respond to or dance around.
If they aren't giving you much to work with, it's OK to ask for what you need, although it's hard to describe. This is not to suggest that it should be a tug-of-war, just communicate what you feel you would like the other players to give you if you can (which could vary from song to song). You SHOULD be able to focus on yourself. You will still be listening to and responding to the others, but it's your chance to build an idea and if you do that well, everyone else gets to come along for the ride and you will be giving them something to use while they build their thing. In other words the process of building it up and tearing it down as a group is still taking place, it's just that the soloist's role is a little bit different and by necessity more self-focused.
I don't think I've expressed this all that well, but....
In addition to the awesome advice given I would stress, "reps." Just keep doing it. Some of this sounds to me like its mostly just lack of comfort and just doing it over and over and over, fighting through the self-critic is the only way to get to the other side. The more aware of the battle and failing in it, is sometimes the hardest part.
Im was a horrifically shy player and choked over and over and over on stage until it almost made me quit but, if you just keep hitting that nail you will relax and be able to better be in the moment of the music instead of just being in your head.
The fact that you are aware of this issue is really good news because so many people just have no clue of what they need to work on.
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