This is a topic that I’ve been talking to a few of my students about in recent times (and something that I’ve found enormous benefit from myself in my own development as player). So in the spirit of this blog I thought it would be useful to share.
So what do I mean when I say composure?
Well, I suppose I mean your sense of poise, holding yourself together, maintaining a sense of calm and serenity. Keeping a poker face if you will. Classical guitar face. Hah hah!
Ultimately it really means, in this sense, maintaining control of self at all times to a certain level in order that you can let go (that sounds like a bit of a contradiction doesn’t it?) and let the music be the focus of your energy.
It’s not about being overly serious and earnest, absolutely not. This is about keeping a certain level of focus, regardless of what is occurring, so you can let all your hard work shine forth!
Why is it important to do this? It’s not like I’m playing Carnegie Hall or whatever!
Regardless of whether you’re playing to a packed out auditorium, a school hall, your family and friends, or even for your teacher in your lesson (in fact especially this situation and I’ll come back to that in a minute) as a performer you always want to demonstrate that you’re in control (even perhaps if you’re not quite – hah hah!).
On a certain level, if you’re playing to a larger audience, that audience is going to feel a lot more comfortable in their seats knowing that you’re in control (or at least look that way!). But I’m not going to go into too much depth there as I’m guessing that’s probably too much of a helpful focus for you guys at this point?
What I will focus on (and what is an important element or stepping stone to playing in front of a larger audience) is the maintaining composure in front of your teacher thing (or even your friends and family) I mentioned above.
If you’re not maintaining your composure whilst playing – pulling faces when you make a mistake is a classic example of this – then you’re kind of sending a message (albeit subconsciously perhaps) to your teacher or audience to say “yes, I made a mistake there, and I know it’s not suppose to sound like that and I’d really like you to know that I know that and it doesn’t always sound like that especially when I’m practicing at home and I want you to know that I know that and……”. And so on and so forth with some variation on that theme!
And what are you doing when you’re using enough energy to pull these faces? You’re taking that energy and focus away from your playing, from the music. You’d be far better off maintaining that composure, resisting that urge to screw up your face or stick your tongue out or squirm in your seat or huff and puff, and putting that energy and focus in to the music.
There is absolutely nothing you can do in the moment of playing about the notes that have already been played. They’ve been and gone like water under the proverbial bridge. Adjust your focus to what is occurring in the moment – make the notes you’re playing right now your focus.
And I can guarantee you that your teacher will already know if you’ve made a mistake! So you may as well just let it go. Come back to it once you’ve played the piece through. Take it as a lesson that you don’t know that part of the piece as well as you might and there’s some work to do there. Nothing more. Nothing less.
And, let me say this very loudly (well, I would if I weren’t typing) – there is absolutely no shame in making a mistake! Nor reason to be screwing up your face and sending yourself further out of kilter. It is what it is. Let’s not forget too people that’s it’s only music! No one ever died from playing a C# instead of a C!
And your audience if it’s not your teacher and you make a mistake? They probably won’t even realise if you’ve made a mistake. Even if they do they probably won’t care and they will care even less if you just carry on with the rest of the piece playing it in the best way you know how.
So maintain that composure, keep your focus on your sound or some other element of your playing and resist that urge to screw up your nose and stick out the tongue. It also pays to remember that what we do regularly becomes reinforced, becomes a habit, that becomes harder to undo each time you do it again.
So play with confidence, let go and trust the work you’ve done to date, take mistakes as a neutral thing. Most importantly next time you’re playing for your teacher, friends or family practice keeping that beautiful nose of yours unscrewed (you’ll get fewer wrinkles to boot!) and your tongue behind your serenely smiling lips. You may just be surprised at the effect that change of energy and focus will have on your playing.