It’s all in your head.
Get out of your head.
You looked like you were miles away!
Someone’s playing a head game with you!
We've all heard or said one of those phrases at one time or another, and these statements are the best example of what it is like when our minds disconnect from our bodies. Research says that humans have anywhere from 50 to 70 THOUSAND thoughts, every day. No wonder our distractions may also disconnect us from what is going on in our physical bodies.
Of course in our practice routines we want to use our thinking minds. If we aren't processing and analyzing what comes out of our instruments, then we aren’t going to make much progress. But we tend to get so caught up in what we are hearing and seeing on the page in front of us, that we often forget to also stay in touch with how it FEELS in our bodies, whether it goes right or goes wrong. The physical tension we hold on to gets in the way of good performances. It gets in the way of good technique, and it can really wreck making beautiful sound.
We talk about how important it is to use repetition in the practice—playing a difficult passage over and over again (so long as we are doing it correctly) will give us the advantage when we perform that passage in context of the piece and for the performance. (If you keep practicing a passage with wrong notes—then you are only preparing to miss the same notes in the performance!) A good athlete (here I go again) also “drills” his moves, for the game. A basketball player must practice that free throw thousands of times—ace that throw—before he/she has the confidence to throw it for the tie-breaker in the last seconds of the game.
The athlete practices the move, but when it comes down to those last seconds—she can’t be thinking about how the throw goes; she just feels it in the body, when the throw is going to make it. As soon as the mind gets involved—there will be a split second hesitation that will likely cause the ball to miss its’ goal. The same goes for a difficult music passage that goes by at a fast tempo—if you think about whether you are going to miss a note--- whoops, there it goes.
This is one of the reasons it is so important to spend time in your practice routine getting in touch with tension, whether it is a bad habit you have (like grabbing the violin neck with your left thumb), or a tight bow shoulder, or simply having had a bad day at school and being tense or tired in the studio.
The more you become aware of what your muscles are doing, at any given move or technique, the more control you will gain when it comes time for a concert, when the adrenaline kicks in. Telling yourself to “just relax” usually has the opposite effect, but instructing yourself to “unlock the left thumb” is an instruction that your head—and your body can handle.
Remember, being a good musician is every bit learning how to be a good athlete. Getting in shape, knowing the techniques, knowing how our muscles work-- all part of what makes us successful on the stage-- and what makes our "games" fun to play.
“Don’t practice until you get it right, Practice until you can’t get it wrong.”
McKayla Maroney, Gymnastics Champion