Eliminate Tentative Playing (and Get Yourself a Date Too?)
By Noa Kageyama, Ph.D.
When was the last time you asked a complete stranger out on a date? Not just any stranger, but someone whom you thought was out of your league? What did it feel like to even consider the possibility of approaching this person and asking for their number?
If you’re like most, your heart would have been pumping like crazy, your blood pressure skyrocketing, sweat glands on overdrive, and your mind racing with fears of rejection or being embarrassed.
Did you go for it anyway? If you did, kudos to you, as it takes courage to put yourself out there like this.
Winning an audition, by being a compelling and inspiring performer requires that same courage. Performing music is a very personal act. When we walk out on stage, we are very much exposed. All eyes and ears are on us, we have only one chance to do what we’ve spent countless hours (days, weeks, months, even years!) preparing, and we lay out our artistic choices and emotions for everyone to see.
The most dynamic performers appear fearless. They put their heart and soul into their art and don’t hold back. Whether or not you agree with the choices they’ve made, their interpretive decisions are clear and unambiguous – they have taken a clear stand.
From a technical perspective, they don’t play “safe” or tentatively, and their focus is not on avoiding mistakes. Instead, they go for broke from the very first note. Dynamics, tempi, rhythm, pacing, lines are all clearly delineated and executed. As Yoda said in Star Wars, “Do or do not. There is no try.”
Ever heard the saying, if you’re going to go down, you might as well go down swinging? It means that you may not win the fight, but you’re not going to go down quietly.
If you’re going to swing, swing. If you’re not then don’t. But whatever you do, don’t swing tentatively, because that guarantees sub-par results. In the context of music, if you’re going to be wrong, be wrong at the top of your voice.
Easier said than done, of course. I wrote about building courage on-stage in a previous post. I’d like to take this a step further and challenge you to become more courageous off-stage, which will translate directly into your courage on-stage.
What could I possibly be talking about? Ahh…well, you didn’t know it then, but the opening paragraph was a hint of things to come.
Call to Action
For the next 2 days, commit to the following courage-building challenge (credit goes to the incomparable Tim Ferriss for this exercise).
Go somewhere where there are lots of people. A mall, for instance.
Your challenge is to get at least 2 phone numbers from people you find attractive. Rather than agonizing about this for an hour and getting up the nerve to approach one person, it’s better to approach a whole bunch of people in a short period of time. Just like pulling off a band-aid – it hurts far less if you do it quickly.
Aim for asking 5 people in 5 minutes. And obviously, make sure the other person is well out of range before moving on to someone else.
Need a script? Try something like the following:
“Excuse me, I know this might sound weird, but if I don’t ask you for your number I’m going to end up kicking myself for the rest of the day. I have to run and meet a friend now, but I promise I’m not an ax murderer or anything like that. You can even give me a fake number if you’re not interested.”
It doesn’t matter if you’re a guy or girl, in your teens or in your 60’s. If you’re in a relationship, just pretend you’re collecting numbers for a petition of some sort.
Feel like backing down from the challenge? That’s ok! It’s a very natural response. Just remember though, if fear can get the better of you in your day-to-day life, it’s going to be awfully difficult to prevent it from paralyzing you on-stage.
What’s the Worst That Could Happen?
Remember that the results are unimportant. Whether you get 2 numbers or 20 is irrelevant; that you acted despite your natural fear is the important factor.
For what it’s worth, I promise this will get easier the more you do it. Especially as your comfort zone expands and your courage grows stronger.
After all, what’s the worst thing that could happen? A perfect stranger whom you’re not likely to ever see again looks at you funny and walks the other way. Not fun of course, but it’s not like going skydiving, where the worst case scenario is permanent.
Take a moment and write down the worst case scenario that you are afraid of. Often, our fears feel smaller and sillier when we see them on paper.
Now, consider the best case scenario. Increased courage. More dynamic, confident, and provocative performances. Maybe even an exciting new relationship?
The One-Sentence Summary
“Music is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” ~Charlie Parker
Performance psychologist and Juilliard alumnus & faculty member Noa Kageyama teaches musicians how to beat performance anxiety and play their best under pressure through live classes, coachings, and an online home-study course. Based in NYC, he is married to a terrific pianist, has two hilarious kids, and is a wee bit obsessed with technology and all things Apple.
After Countless Hours of Practice, Why Are Performances Still so Hit or Miss?
It’s not a talent issue. And that rush of adrenaline and emotional roller coaster you experience before performances is totally normal too.
Performing at the upper ranges of your ability under pressure is a unique skill – one that requires specific mental skills and a few tweaks in your approach to practicing. Elite athletes have been learning these techniques for decades; if nerves and self-doubt have been recurring obstacles in your performances, I’d like to help you do the same.
Click below to discover the 7 skills that are characteristic of top performers. Learn how you can develop these into strengths of your own. And begin to see tangible improvements in your playing that transfer to the stage.