Don’t think too much

Do you ever find your thoughts get in the way of playing?

Whether it’s a little voice in your brain saying ‘ooh there’s someone listening’ or ‘oh no, here comes that tricky bit!’ – or perhaps you are focusing so hard on trying to get a passage or bar right that you start overthinking it.

I think it’s quite fascinating how our mind gets involved in the learning and playing process – sometimes in a good way and sometimes in an unhelpful way. I’m no scientist but there are all kinds of articles and books out there about left and right brains and what’s going on below the surface.

In the Inner Game of Music Barry Green talks about childhood and how we had “endless curiosity”. There was “a time when nobody told us that playing was difficult, and we played music without feeling self-conscious about it”.

There’s a similar point from William Westney in his book The Perfect Wrong Note where he refers to the three year old child who has a natural inclination to move to the music and be spontaneous and creative. But when the child gets older they must “sit and think” and their overwhelmed brain “feels heavy because there seem to be so many ways to be wrong – wrong fingering, wrong note, wrong counting”.

This is certainly true from my perspective. Thoughts which lead to nerves when performing music in public definitely got worse as I got older.

Equally though there are times, as Barry Green puts it, where “we still catch glimpses of that youthful potential within us”. Times where that voice is silenced (or at least turned down) and everything comes together beautifully.

So do you have any strategies for shutting up your inner critic and playing like you perhaps did as a child? Perhaps you find that inner critic to be helpful. I would love to hear your approaches.

Books cited: The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self by William Westney and The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green with W.Timothy Gallwey.

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