Perform to Your Strengths How to keep the "to-do" list from dragging you down

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all we can’t do yet with our music. I remember that feeling of always having to “get this down” or “learn how to do this one thing” before I was “ready” for some superficial level of musicianship.
Ignoring Your To-Do List

If you have the goal of becoming a performer on any level, I think it’s important that we develop an internal switch that flips us between “I have so much to learn” mode and “this is who I am as an artist/musician” mode. I think between the way the material is presented and our natural desire to improve, we often perform without confidence because the list of things we can’t do is front-and-center in our minds.

This way of thinking serves no one and no purpose – especially the person thinking this way.

We have to spend equal if not more time reminding ourselves of what we can do well and who we are as musicians and artists. Can you imagine the void the world would have if Björk spent all of her late teens through most of her 20’s not allowing herself to step forward with her own art because she couldn’t do everything Billie Holiday had done? This sounds crazy if you put it in the context of Björk because she was/is so headstrong in her artistic vision. But it doesn’t sound so crazy if we put it in context of ourselves, or our students.

At some point we have to ask ourselves, am I practicing “me” or am I practicing some generic or superficial goal provided by my teacher, my program or here’s the big one – myself.

Are my fears of stepping out and becoming my own artist leading me down a path of distraction? To be honest, many of the distractions are very legitimate in helping us improve. So we get a little better each day – gradually feeling better about ourselves. But in a year, four years, ten years; is the progress going to feed our personal voice and artistry?

As students and teachers we get overly linear often times. We think, “Before I can do this, I have to be able to do this, this and this… Then I’ll be ‘ready’”.

We have to believe that we can sound good all the time. The switch should go off in our head to remind and transform us into the artists we are (without letting the “to-do” list slow us down). We need to practice hours and hours for years and years on things our teachers and heroes tell us to practice. But there is one thing that has helped myself and several students turn corners when they’re at this point in our development (which is pretty much constantly).

This question can keep us, our artistry and our motivations aligned:
How is this time in this practice room, in this lesson, with this teacher going to serve me and what I want to do with my music?

If you don’t know the answer, step away from the instrument. Take a walk and find an answer that feels good even if it’s vague. Then you’re ready to move and build on that thought.

  • Gordon Kennedy

    After a badly botched performance a couple of years ago, I started reading about how to recover from doing a terrible show. The most useful lesson for me was to adopt an attitude of Getting Better. If you fixate on Achievement as your measure of success, falling short of your goal can feel like unmitigated failure, and this sets you back artistically and technically. If you focus, instead, on simply continuing to improve, the emotional hit from a bad performance can be taken in stride. I think this fits with the theme of today’s post: stay true to what you DO have to offer without getting distracted by your shortcomings.

    • Thanks Gordon and it was good running into you yesterday. I agree! Performances are just events to build on – certainly not a finish line by any stretch.