Part 3 – One Step Towards a New World
There are several key things that you need to be aware of if you want to play your best in performance. We’re going to concentrate on just one of the fundamental ones to start with (I'll get to the others in a bit):
You need to practice in conditions that are as close as possible to the conditions you’re going to perform in.
It seems obvious and it seems simple. It seems like a relatively small thing.
But it can have a huge impact and the vast majority of musicians don’t actually put it into practice.
They don’t realise that this isn’t actually the minor variation in practice approach that it seems at first glance. That the way most of us practice is totally at odds with this.
Think about it for a while.
Most of the advice out there on how to practice effectively for maximum progress tells you to practice in completely the OPPOSITE way. You’ll hear that you need to:
- Break things up into small chunks or focus on individual skills (rather than joining things together)
- If you make a mistake, go back and correct it (rather than carrying on)
- Play the same piece (or section) through multiple times back to back (rather than having one shot at it and that’s all you get)
Don’t get me wrong.
This is great advice when used in the right place. It’s vital for sorting out our ability to nail the little details.
But if this is the only way that you practice then you’ve got a big problem.
It ignores the big picture. And that’s shooting yourself in the foot when it comes to performance because performance is always about the big picture.
The audience may (probably will!) forget the details of what you did, but they won’t forget how you made them feel.
That comes from your ability to deliver the big picture.
Not to mention the fact that when you consistently practice in this way you reinforce your tendency to be in a ‘practice’ mindset whenever you play and weaken your ability to adopt a ‘performance’ mindset when you need it.
The solution is so simple
Incorporate ‘performance practice’ into your practice. Such an easy thing to do.
Be honest with yourself, though.
How much do you actually do this?
If your answer is “not a lot”, then consider how big the jump is between the way you practice and the way you perform.
Way too big.
There are all sorts of things which can go wrong and which live in that gap between the two different approaches.
You won’t uncover these issues with your current practice approach. They’ll only show up when you perform.
And, even if you do become aware of them when you perform, you’ll have no way of addressing them unless you change how you practice.
How do I do this?
Let’s think about what components you need to plan into how you do performance practice in order for it to be effective. You want to make sure you can:
- Play everything in context [i.e. that you can cope with both the physical strain of getting through everything all in one go, and the cognitive strain of switching/remembering sections etc]
- Play everything ‘cold’ [i.e. no more warm-up than you’d typically get in a performance]
- Get everything right on the first attempt
In order to achieve these things you’ll want to:
- Play through to the end, no matter what [also developing your ability to keep going if something goes wrong]
- Do this at the start of a practice session or as its own separate thing [rather than after working on other stuff which will have warmed you up]
If you look at any mechanical issues which tend to trip you up when you perform then you’ll probably notice that they relate to these things.
Setting up some of your practice in this way will help you bridge that gap between the unrealistic practice conditions and performance.
As you stick with it, you’ll see it leading to much better performances.
This is the gateway to mental training
You’ll notice that we haven’t trained any actual mental skills yet.
What you’re doing here is laying a foundation of your practice that’s hugely important in itself. It’s a great introduction to the sort of mindset you’re going to need to go further.
Simply by practising in this way you’ll find that you naturally have to grapple with the mental demands of performance in an unstructured way. This is going to lead to improvement.
It also acts as a platform that you can build on. As you learn specific exercises to develop and sharpen your mental skills this sort of practice is the format you’re usually going to plug them into.
And, as we’ve already seen, this approach helps to counter some of the purely mechanical issues that crop up from only practicing by breaking things down into small chunks.
Even if you never add specific training in mental skills on top of this, it will still massively improve your performance ability.
One word of warning
If you’re working on improvisation, do not make the mistake of confusing performance practice like this with just sticking a backing track on and playing over it aimlessly.
You want the same conditions as in performance, remember. A beginning, middle, and end.
A clear idea of what you’re looking to do with the improvisation. And the ability to transition from whatever you’d be doing before and after.
If you don’t have all that, then you’re just messing around.
So now you’re all set, right?
We’ve gone through ONE of the mindsets you need to take your playing to the next level.
There are several more.
And simply knowing about those mindsets doesn't do you any good.
As Derek Sivers says:
“If more information were the answer, we’d all be billionaires with six-pack abs.”
You need to install those mindsets over time, in a way that they automatically drive your future actions.
To help you take that next step, I’d like to give you my short ebook: Unshakeable Foundations. It maps out 9 key mindsets that the top performers share.
And there’s a short series of accompanying emails that helps you actually put those mindsets into practice.
Don't worry – it’s totally free. And you can unsubscribe at any time if you don’t like the emails. I suspect you’ll stick around, though.