By: Konner Scott
At one point in my life, I thought I could boil down music to its quantifiable components: tempo, chord structure, melody, volume, etc. I thought if I just found the proper balance of all these and micromanaged every note, I’d be the best musician I could possibly be.
What I’ve learned since then is that this is a GREAT approach for learning new material in the practice room. In particular, if you are new to playing with a focus on dynamics & expression, trying to control the volume and tone of every single note will help you develop a sense for these parameters. Having an awareness of these things can help train your ear to better recognize musical nuances.
My issue came when I hit the stage. I would try to do the same thing in front of a crowd during a performance, and when I listened back to a recording of my work, I would be frustrated by how stale and robotic my playing sounded. I wondered why other musicians could play so naturally while my playing sounded forced- and the harder I tried to play well, the more forced it sounded.
It took me years to realize that the principles I apply in the practice room won’t serve me as well on stage. In fact, the whole point of concentrated focus and deliberate playing in the practice room is so I don’t HAVE to think about it on stage. This realization was an epiphany for me. I found that (as long as I practiced hard) the LESS I thought about my playing during shows, the better I would sound. Trusting my preparation and losing myself in the music would, without fail, lead to the best possible outcome.
Ultimately music is an emotional – even spiritual – experience. I realized that for other people to extract emotional & spiritual value out of my music, I had to live in that headspace as I was producing it.
The only way this would work for me, though, was if I had prepared adequately! Over my life, I’ve played many shows where, for whatever reason, I hadn’t put in the requisite practice time. Whether this was a result of my own personal failings or the consequence of agreeing to play a show on short notice, the end result was that I had to bring a “practice room” level of focus to the stage. If I were to just get lost in the music the way I normally would, I would lose track of what I was playing. In those situations, it took deliberate concentration just to remember the proper notes and play them in time.
The best possible formula for me is: practice like an animal, focus on every fine detail when I practice, and then forget everything and just PLAY when I get on stage. If I don’t do any one of these things, my performance will undoubtedly fall short and I will fail to connect with the audience. If I do them all, there’s a high chance I will deliver.