Music Can Be Easy

The performance is about to begin.

In a few minutes, I’ll step onto the stage with nothing between me and the audience. I’ll be put to the test.

All my hard work, all my practice is suddenly in the past now. I can’t go back and revisit any problem areas. There is only this present moment.

Somehow, though, things are different this time.

The journey that I’ve been through – the new perspective that I’ve discovered and accepted has changed me.

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Some things are almost the same

I’m still a little bit nervous. I can feel that my heart rate is up and my palms might be a bit sweaty.

Occasionally, I’ll feel butterflies in my stomach and my arms might even feel a bit shaky.

But these things don’t bother me now.

I accept them as normal, and even welcome them as helpful.

I know that the performances where things are most in danger of going badly (or at least being uninspired) are the ones where I feel no nerves whatsoever before the start.

There’s more.

In the hours before the start I feel excited about the chance to perform rather than anxious or apprehensive like I did in the past.

And I recognise that any slightly uncomfortable feelings are a sign of that excitement.

A sign that I care.

I’m not saying there was never excitement in the past 

But it’s different now. It’s not attached to anything.

In the past, there was the excitement that things might go well. But this never came on its own.

There was always its mirror image along for the ride, too – the fear that things might go badly.

Sometimes that fear was front and centre in my mind. Sometimes it lurked unacknowledged and unrecognised at the back.

It was always there, though.

Always ready to take centre stage if my emotions suddenly shifted.

But now it’s not about things going well or badly.

It’s pure excitement at the thought that I get to perform and share music with people.

The outcome is irrelevant.

I’m no longer playing “not to lose”

It got so tiring spending every second trying hard not to make a mistake.

It never completely stopped me making them anyway. And the focus on mistakes meant that anything that did slip through ruined my enjoyment of performance.

I was too busy trying to perform well to enjoy myself.

I was also limiting myself massively.

By trying to rein in from mistakes I was also shutting myself off from moments of inspiration. The opportunity to just go for it and maybe play something inspired.

All because I was concerned about what would happen if I went for something and didn’t get there.

I thought it was a fair price to pay at the time.

I’ve changed my mind completely now and I could never go back.

At last I feel like I’ve become a real performer.

And yet, the actual changes that have made the difference seem tiny.

They seem simple and insignificant.

Almost too simple to put into words.

It’s easy to forget what things looked like back when I stood the other side of the gap. Before I crossed the bridge to where I am now.

The heart of it all is that I’ve learned to play in and savour the MOMENT

No thinking about what’s just happened. No thinking about what’s going to happen.

Just the moment right now.

When I take each moment for what it is, I immediately experience a sense of calm.

I experience a sense of strength and energy. I feel more positive and in control. Things start to flow automatically. No tension, no anxiety, no fear.

Sometimes I slip out of the moment, though. I start thinking about how well I’m playing, about what I SHOULD have done or what MIGHT happen.

That’s when the negative emotions all come flooding back.

Invariably, the level of my performance drops too.

I spent years resisting this deep truth – now it’s finally clicked

I thought it was too simple. It couldn’t possibly be the answer.

Then I thought it was too easy.

I could surely do this any time if I wanted, so there was no need to practice it.

And yet, when I faced up to my experiences it became clear that I was consistently failing the few times that I remembered to attempt this supposedly easy task.

When I eventually applied myself and got it working, I was amazed at the result. Finally, I seemed to have found the way to where I wanted to be.

Then I made another mistake.

I thought that I’d “learnt it” now so I could move on to something else.

I didn’t want to accept that this requires ongoing attention.

When I reckoned I didn’t need to think about it any more I found I lost it again.

Maybe someday I’ll get to the point where it just happens automatically without me having to think about it. But, for now, I need to constantly remind myself to focus on staying in the moment.

It’s well worth the effort.

I don’t have to try to concentrate or try to perform well.

I just do.

I’m no longer fighting against myself. I now know what it means to flow with the current rather than against it.

It’s been a tough road to this point

I paid a high price to get here.

I went through years of struggle, frustration, self-doubt and pain before I accepted the need to spend time continually working on this stuff.

I often look back and wonder why that was necessary for me.

What made things so hard? I kept getting in my own way!

I tried harder when I should have stepped back and let myself try softer.

I thought that the way to move forward was through sheer brute force of practice.

I was forcing it.

There’s a difference between trying harder and giving 100%. I still give 100% but I do it gently – I don’t get in my own way so much anymore.

And I was scared to spend time on other things. Focusing on what was going on in my head when I could have been playing my instrument instead felt like a waste of time.

I’ve changed my measure of what matters

I used to worry about the audience and what they were thinking.

Now I just pay attention to what I can control.

That doesn’t even mean the exact notes that come out. There are all sorts of things which might interfere with that – how I’m feeling that day, what’s going on around me.

What I can control is that I’m focusing completely on the moment.

I play better as a result.

More than that, it makes it fun again. I feel good.

Don’t misunderstand – it doesn’t always feel like this

I still lose it occasionally.

But I’m winning the battle more frequently now.

And when things slip, it’s not the end. Usually, I manage to push through and turn it around.

I take the attitude that things are going well and that I’m enjoying it no matter what the voice in my head is telling me about how well I’m playing.

Often, that’s all it takes to push things back into a good place again.

I could have got here much more quickly and more easily

Sometimes I wonder how I’ve managed to keep playing music seriously. How I’ve continued to practice and develop so faithfully over the years

I could easily have given up at so many points.

I could have resolved just to accept that my current level was where I’d stop. Then watch that level drift slowly downwards once ongoing practice was no longer keeping things tuned up.

Ditch performing and just play for myself occasionally.

It was a tempting thought.

There were times when I wondered about giving up altogether. It took me a lot of effort to push through this.

It’s been worth it now I’m on my way to the other side, though (not finished – I’ll never be finished).

I’ve got a real sense of achievement as a result. And not just from the massively improved musical results. It’s also hugely satisfying to have overcome the obstacle.

I suppose the price was necessary for me.

I’d rather it wasn’t necessary for others, though.

If I can get them to understand. If I can share what I’ve learnt, then their journey could be that much quicker.

Will it all seem obvious, or like simple platitudes to them, though? Will they nod their heads in agreement but not take the action that will make a difference?

Maybe. But I hope not…

I’d love to hear how this compares to your experience. Does it sound achievable, or does it feel like a fantasy? Leave a comment below.

  • if most of the audience are not classical guitarists, any musical mistakes that you make will not be noticed Mark. And then sometimes the audience drifts away from the listening experience because they have other non musical concerns on their mind. I’m sure any musical mistakes you do make are for sure forgiven. Stage fright is something everyone can understand.

  • What you say is absolutely correct. My most memorable experience takes me back to being a high school senior. I’m in my 70s now but I’ll never forget it. I had played a Beethoven piano sonata in recital and had received a Superior rating when played at state music festival. All performers who had done well at state competition got to perform their piece at the school Thanksgiving day assembly…an opportunity to show off your stuff in front of all of your peers. I felt so confident that day, I felt like I could play the Beethoven in my sleep. Come performance day, in front of 500 friends and teachers, I walked out, sat down at the piano, played the first chord, and both my brain and my fingers suddenly forgot everything they ever knew. I have no idea what I played, in the moment, but I ended with a nice run down the keyboard, got up, took a quick bow and walked straight into the music room where I sat at the piano and played the whole piece….alone. After that, I always remembered it’s better to let the butterflies be with you than to be too cocky. I’m still an active and frequent performer, and still enjoy a good audience.

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