By: Konner Scott
The act of making music- especially performing that music- can be incredibly nerve-racking. It’s easy to get up on a stage and feel that pit appear in your stomach as you stare out at the eager crowd before you. On many occasions, I’ve been in that situation and let my nerves consume me. In the words of a great poet (or something of the like), “my palms were sweaty, knees weak, arms were heavy”. I found that as someone on the more introverted side of the spectrum, I am not necessarily a natural performer and it’s far too easy for my nerves to derail my performances.
Over time, I’ve come to realize that performing music is a meditative act. I have to practice getting lost in what I’m playing. The more I can train my brain to focus on the flow of the music and not the situation as a whole, the more I’ll be able to capture the essence of the moment in my performance. This is something I’ve seen within myself time and time again: when I’m “in the zone” and single-mindedly focused on each note that’s coming out of my instrument, I can trust that the results will be something worthwhile. However, as soon as that concentration is broken, my nerves come back full force and I start missing notes (or adding too many notes).
I’ve found that this is something I can practice doing at home. For the musicians out there, how many times have you been practicing your instrument and found your mind wandering? I know that for me, I’ll be in the middle of my 15th run of a particular passage of a song, and I’ll catch myself thinking about what I’m having for dinner, or whether it’s going to rain, or even the next song I need to practice. Even at this point in my musical journey, I’ve found I only have about 20 minutes of focused practice within me before my mind starts venturing off in other directions.
In these moments of realization, I try to consciously redirect my attention to what I’m playing. The first step is an awareness that my thoughts have deviated, and then as soon as I notice this, I stop, take a breath, and pull my attention back to my instrument. I’ll start whatever song or section I’m practicing from the beginning again, and make a concentrated effort to keep my focus fully on the task in front of me.
This is the meditative part of playing music. Meditation experts will tell you that a great way to practice meditation is to train your attention on something (often the breath), and try to be aware of when you lose focus and redirect your attention. It’s much easier said than done, of course, but with consistent practice, you can improve your ability to fully immerse yourself in the moment. I’ve found practicing music to be, in many ways, an extension of this principle. The more I can train myself to keep my focus trained like a laser on the material I’m playing, the more I’ll be able to default to that state of mind during my performances. Over enough years, the work adds up, and it gets easier and easier to get on stage and lose yourself in the music!