Practice vs. Performance

Some of the most amazing, effortless music I’ve played has been alone in the practice room. This is frustrating but inevitable. It’s also a place for gratitude as the experience of ease when playing music is great.

Somewhat related observation - it takes time to integrate things that might feel doable in the practice room into a performance setting. This is a head trip.

Performance Observations #1

1) Be yourself.

2) Being yourself, you have to decide how much or how little to let out.

3) The energy required to play music in front of people is different than the energy required to socialize/interact with those same people in a concert setting (remember this too when you meet musicians at one of their concerts).

4) A lot of what you’re obsessively focused on (in performance) no one else sees.

5) A lot of what you’re hearing (including room acoustics) in a performance, no one else hears. This can work for or against you depending on what you’re hearing and how you’re receiving it.

Weaknesses & Strengths (#97)

What you feel sure is your greatest weakness may be one of your greater strengths. This much has been said over and again. For musicians, practice and the pursuit of perfection (i.e. chops) presents a unique type of navigational challenge - do you direct your practice time according to what you think you should be able to do or instead according to what you’re curious about?

In my musical practice, more time than I’d like to admit has gone to pursuing skills I thought I “should” acquire even when the practice failed to pack any real meaningful punch. The issue here is that the “should” practice idea can easily fall prey to concepts of sound or creative voice that distort the strengths of your weaknesses.


Acoustics carry all the certainty and predictability we expect from proven science… we can predict how a room’s physical dimensions will impact its sound, what specific frequencies will be most problematic, etc. But despite the solidity of these facts, the challenge of trying to predict/construct a great sounding room still packs a hefty dose of mystery.

You should smile more

There is a difference between entertaining and performing. The two might overlap but not necessarily. Value judgments about the substance inherent in entertainment versus that in performance come with this distinction. The word ‘performing’ implies seriousness that ‘entertaining’ might not. That topic is for another day. What I’m interested in is this idea about necessary smiling and how it might limit or distort your experience as a performer.

In this culture, there is an often unquestioned idea that musicians should “smile more” and that the smiliest of players must be the most immersed in the musical experience, the most “passionate.” Of course there is some further context here - if you as a listener are attending a concert at a bar you might be more likely to expect smiley musicians than if you are at a library concert. If you are listening to a dance band you might expect smiley musicians more than if you are at a doom metal show. And if the musicians are not famous you may be less likely to grant their seemingly intense dispositions the benefit of the doubt than you might be if starstruck.

So many questions, too many variables. But back to you as a performer/artist - what do you do if you are in a performance and maybe that night you feel intense or heavy or simply non-smiley? Can you stay present with that emotion or is the weight of expectation too much? Can your performance meet that emotion even if that seems to run counter to the musical or social context you’re playing within? What is lost or gained if you roll with it? Is it easier to just smile more?