What thoughts come into your mind as you play or listen to a recording of your playing? Most people identify what they don’t like, and qualify the elements of their playing as good or bad. This is we were trained in music school, to be critical, to identify what isn’t working, hypothesize why, practice and find a solution. This is a harsh way to look at our work as performers, constantly reminding ourselves where we missed the mark. When we get to a performance, the things that didn’t meet our expectations tend to resonate in our head as we play. Have we learned anything? If this sounds familiar, it is time to shift from critic to observer.
Recently I was talking with a friend who teaches mindfulness, telling her the story of my dance class. When I began dance, I could barely look at myself in the mirror as I cha-cha-cha’d across the floor. The moments I would catch a glimpse looked awkward at best. Subconsciously I decided, ‘If I don’t look I don’t have to acknowledge my disappointment.‘ However, recently things shifted. This spring I began watching myself as I dance in a different way, by observing. I found myself looking at my whole self, noticing how my arm relates to my body, or how my torso moves when my feet are pointed in different directions. This type of observation allowed me to uncover a range of choices in how I move. This is a big shift from qualifying every aspect of my dancing as good or bad.
This parallels my experience performing, I recall having trouble staying focused on myself in the mirror as I practiced. I now realized I could employ the same observation technique in practice.
How often do you watch yourself play? I mean actually watch… When you stand in front of the mirror, can you honestly say you see yourself? see the movement of your embouchure? fingers? breathing? or notice when the instrument moves a little off center on your lips? Challenging myself and my students to observe the movements as they play has revealed solutions to many musical challenges.
Shifting the way we listen and watch to observing, along with acknowledging the things we like and identifying the things we could do differently, opens up a wide range of possibilities.
Try it out – practice in front of a mirror. Get really close so you can see subtle finger and
embouchure movements. Play and observe. For instance…
- Notice the changes in your embouchure as you play loud & soft or high then low.
- Notice the movement of your whole body – does it appear fluid or does there seem to be some place that appears disconnected.
- Notice how your fingers interact with the keys. Are they staying close? is there room for them to be closer? are they squeezing the instrument?
If you find watching yourself challenging, practice observing brushing your teeth or wiggling your fingers in the mirror. Observe without judgement, notice quality and movement. If you are surprised at what you see – you have choices! Find as many low stakes ways as you can to shift the way you watch yourself, observe instead of critique. This is a great opportunity to engage inclusive awareness too. You will not only see in a clearer way, you will hear sound with greater depth, experience movement sensations and feel your connection to the ground. Go forth, observe, have fun!