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Tasha Danvers, British Olympic athlete.
Tasha Danvers, British Olympic athlete ~ Image via Wikipedia

A recent New York Times article talks about the mindset athletes need to push through pain during competitions.

This post is not intended to suggest that musicians play through pain!  The mindset, though, can be very useful.

The following is a paraphrase of some of the article’s main points, stated slightly differently for musicians.

When you have a performance:

Try out the piano, acclimate yourself to the venue

• Concentrate intensely on the act of playing

It takes practice and experience to get it right.

So keep trying!

Some go into a trancelike state to focus ~ others maintain an awareness of possible derailments.

I love it when a trancelike state happens!  The second method has caused me to panic and make mistakes when a problematic section occurs in the music.

What I prefer is ensuring that the entire program is as foolproof as possible.  I practice difficult passages first.  And, when preparing a fast section or movement, I begin at the tempo of the passage that I play the slowest, with metronome.  Then I practice the entire movement at that tempo, increasing the tempo by one or two clicks at a time.

Haphazard attempts at speeding up an entire movement have uneven results, meaning that the potential for panic is still there.  More about speeding up with the help of a metronome appears in a previous post, “Increasing the tempo.”

Elite runner Kim Smith says, ​”You have to be talented, and you have to have the ability to push yourself through pain.”

Vis-a-vis performing music, I strongly agree with the “push yourself” part.​  “Through pain” ​may work for the large muscles involved in sports competition, but the small structures in our hands just can’t take it.  The presence of pain for a musician is a red flag indicating injury.  Pushing through will only exacerbate the problem.

As you have probably noticed from reading this blog, I enjoy watching professional tennis.  During the past two tournaments, I was struck by what the commentators said with regard to various players.  Whenever either Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer played, the conversation was about how they came out to win.  All other players were trying to win.

John Bradshaw, who has written several books about paying attention to the inner child in all of us, told of his therapy patients when I attended a Learning Annex lecture he gave in New York.  The patients would try to stand up from their chairs.  After several minutes of watching them “try,” he would say, “You either stand up from your chair or you don’t!”  Enough trying already.

So yes!  Go for it!  Nail the performance!  But don’t push through pain.

Do you have an athlete’s mindset when learning a program?  How do you focus going into a jury, audition, or concert?  Is there anything different that happens when you are performing?

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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