Updated: Apr 19, 2020
Somehow it's already been three weeks since I started this project. Wild.
Last time I said I would spend the week working on managing performance anxiety through visualization. I do a lot of mental practice, not because I am lazy, but because I am very lazy, so integrating this into my practice routine was pretty easy. I imagined myself in anxiety-inducing situations during both my physical and mental practice sessions. I found it to be moderately helpful as it simulated a lot of the feelings I experience in auditions, but I am not sure if it has been of any real benefit yet. I also might have misunderstood the concept/practice of visualization, so I'll do some more research and report back in a few weeks.
On the topic of simulating anxiety-inducing situations, I noticed that when I record myself I have an identical response to when I play for people. Beginning this week I am going to make daily recordings part of my practice routine.
Consistency And Feeling In Control
I have spent a lot of time trying to develop a consistent level of day-to-day playing. I would say my efforts have been pretty successful- the number of off days I experience has gone down from 3-4 a week to 1-2 a month. I'm not claiming to be perfect, but learning how to practice more effectively has made me a more confident, consistent bassist.
Confident until I am on my own...
When I walk into an audition, solo performance, etc., I often feel fine before I start playing, but within a few measures, I stop feeling in control. My sense of time goes out the window and my shaking hands render me unable to play in tune. I also develop this sensation of being "detached" from my bass. It might as well be ten feet in front of me because I stop feeling as if my hands, mind, and bass are all working as one unit. It's seriously aggravating, especially when afterward you receive comments about how "you need to work on *insert thing you worked on for hours but were too nervous to do in the moment here*."
Weirdly, this rarely happens on gigs or during orchestra concerts, probably because during those times I don't feel like I have to "prove myself" as I do in an audition.
Two things have helped me overcome some of those feelings of detachment:
1. Taking a few moments to internalize the feeling of being "grounded" with my bass every time I play.
- the feeling of my feet on the ground
- the feeling of my bass resting comfortably against my body
- the feeling of my bow in the string, at the ideal contact point
2. Slowing down my thoughts and thinking ahead when performing. Usually involves focusing on one thing at a time until my focus stops drifting.
I guess those things would fall under the category of mindfulness or being in the moment. Regardless of their category, they have been helpful strategies and I certainly need to keep practicing them.
My Performances This Week
I only gave one performance this week. I played some Bottesini in studio and it wasn't terrible, but it also wasn't good. I regretted the performance because I didn't take all the steps to center myself properly before playing. Whoops.
One of the thorns in my side I also have to deal with involves battling my somewhat fragile ego. I'm not sure if ego is the right word, but I tend to get more bent of shape than I should if the performance I give doesn't go as planned. I know a lot of this stems from my unreasonably high self-standards, so this project has involved finding acceptance with whatever happens and reconciling the fact that I am still developing the skills needed to consistently perform at an optimal level.
Other Helpful Things
It took me ages to do this to learn this, but being well-rested and well-fed is essential to giving a good performance. I try not to practice or perform without eating something, and I also try to blow off steam by going on at least one walk a day. I get lost in my thoughts and do a lot of meditation and mental practice during that time, too.
I am going to take the next week to address my high standards and feelings of perfectionism. I did some introspection and determined that these are still holding me back from enjoying many things in my musical life, so I think it's time I address them.
And I keep saying it, but please consider subscribing to my email list! Another 5 parts are coming to this series, so if you subscribe you will never miss an update!