We all have bad practice days, where our sound is off, or our fingers just won’t cooperate.
Which is plenty annoying, but have you ever had one of those days that goes beyond frustration? Where you get truly aggravated, and have that urge to throw your music against the wall and smash things, so end up quitting for the day?
Apparently, that phenomenon has a name. In the video-gaming world at least, this is called “rage-quitting.”
So why does this happen? And more importantly, what can we do to keep our head in the game when we’re having one of those days?
Legendary basketball coach John Wooden often urged his players to “be quick – but don’t hurry.”
Indeed, whether it’s a last-second three pointer, passing shot in tennis, or a tricky shift, there’s something about rushing that tends to mess with the execution of motor skills. We get tight, fluidity and ease go out the window, the timing and rhythm gets off, and we force things instead of letting them happen.
For me, the frantic-ness would begin as soon as I woke up on the morning of an audition. Instead of easing myself out of bed, I’d feel those tiny little butterflies starting to flutter in my stomach, and hop out with more urgency. I’d brush my teeth, shower, eat breakfast, and get changed all while moving a little faster than normal, feeling a bit on edge.
Olympic diving coach Jeff Huber once spoke of the tendency for some divers to rush through parts of their competition day routine in exactly that way. Hurrying from the hotel to the pool. Rushing through warmups, and doing everything a little faster, “with tense muscles, stiff movements, and taut facial expressions.” He cautioned that this rushed feeling can start bleeding into every aspect of the day – and most crucially, disrupt the dives themselves.
And he was totally right. I’d rush out on stage. Tune as fast as I could. And ultimately, start playing before I was really ready. Which would result in a sense of agitated breathlessness throughout, not to mention missed shifts and less than awesome intonation.
Of course, it’s hard to slow down and put our mind and body at ease, when we’re revved up like this.
So what does the research say? Is there something we can do to slow our engine down and avoid getting quite so worked up on the day of an audition?
Does It Feel like You’re Regressing in the Practice Room? Here’s Why It May Not Just Be Your Imagination.
My daughter was 5 when she started violin lessons. And it was pretty chill and super cute at first.
But then I started to get a little antsy.
I mean, we just wanted her to have the experience of learning an instrument, so it’s not like we were trying to groom her to be the next Heifetz. Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before I started worrying about all of the things she was doing that could become bad habits. Like her funky bow hold. The goofy way she was holding the instrument. Her super-wide power stance. Her claw of a left hand. In other words…everything.
So I tried giving her some tips. How to keep her right hand thumb bent, but also make sure her fingers on top of the bow weren’t all flat and stiff. The importance of keeping her bow straight. And so on.
My intention was to be helpful, but the more advice I gave her, the worse things seemed to get. And the more frustrated and confused she seemed to become.
At first, I thought the problem was that I wasn’t a good enough teacher. That I wasn’t giving her the right technical instructions, or couldn’t explain them clearly enough.
But it turns out that the problem was basically the opposite. I was actually being too helpful in my efforts to be a good teacher.
I had always been a pretty good student, so it was a real shock when during my first semester of college, I got a “C” for the first time ever. And on a final, no less (in Music History 101, for what it’s worth).
I still have vivid memories of studying for that test the night before. A little overwhelmed by how much information I needed to memorize for the test, but determinedly reading, re-reading, and highlighting the text and my notes into the wee hours of the morning.
By the time I was done, I felt like I had familiarized myself with the material well enough to at least make good guesses on what I knew would be a multiple-choice test. But as I sat down to take the test, and began reading the questions, I quickly realized that I was toast.
While the questions all seemed reasonable enough, and I could remember reading something about each one, I struggled to recall the exact information I needed to select the correct answer. It was like remembering that I put my passport somewhere safe so I wouldn’t lose it…but not being able to remember where that place was.
So what did I do wrong? And how does this relate to learning music?