I’m never a brilliant harper, but I’ve found that when I try to play in front of other people I mess up far more than I do when it’s just me by myself. The obvious answer it that it’s nervousness that’s messing me up but the thing is I’m not sure that that’s all of what it is. I don’t always feel particularly nervous; it’s more like I’m distracted. And it’s not just people. I also find that I mess up more often when I try to record myself. I also mess up less often when playing in front of people when I’m just in the same room and they’re not really listening to me. I think my problem isn’t as much playing in front of people as playing for people. It’s like them being there (or the recorder being on) splits my focus and though I don’t intend to, I’m half focused on the person listening instead of completely on the harp. Does anyone else have this problem? (or used to have this problem and overcame it) I doubt it’s unique to me. I’m quite sure I’ve heard of people not being able to play in front of people (in movies anyway) but it was always put down to nervousness or stage fright and never split focus.
I handle state fright fairly well but find distractions during performances a challenge. Sometimes I feel like I go into a dream state, and while I hear myself playing I find my mind wandering to other topics. I often only pull myself back in when I hear a mistake I shouldn’t have made, such as repeating
Try to “own” the piece more completely. Know about the composer’s life, and when and where it was written. Know the general form (ABAA or whatever it seems to be). Know several things that describe the movement of notes – lots of a certain kind of interval; whether it is more in a chordal or a contrapuntal style; whether major or minor; chord symbols and where they go or modulate. You are the medium to express what this composer (perhaps no longer living) had in mind, so remember your playing it is not about you, but about the creativity of the composer. Have a family member or a very good friend sit and listen and watch you, then ask that person to quiz you with many questions about what you played and all about it and the composer. If you can say those answers and enjoy doing it because you researched that piece in depth, then you could say it is now something you’ll willingly share with others without being nervous about it.
If playing while recording seems to be causing a problem similar to playing in front of people, then practice for several hours (or longer!) while recording yourself to get used to it. That may help with the people.
When we perform or record, we often become very aware of our playing. It’s hard to say whether or not we’re actually making more mistakes, or if we’re just annoyed by mistakes that we make constantly but usually permit.
This may seem counter to what you’ve described, but your focus might be split just as much while you practice. Your first instinct will probably be to disagree with me, but try to really listen to yourself. Play something and record it – only once your recording sounds pretty much exactly as you heard it while playing can you say that you listen to yourself. That’s not to say that your recording should be perfect. It’s just that what you hear in your head while you’re playing (and what you remember of your playing after the fact) should be more or less in line (it will probably never be perfect) with what the recording sounds like. If you discover that you sound different on a recording, then your mind is tuning those mistakes or differences out when it really shouldn’t be.
The bottom line is, consider that your performing and recording might just cause you to become acutely aware of your mistakes and such (which will lead to larger, more serious mistakes), so if you become aware of those mistakes while you practice and fix them, your performance/recording session should go more smoothly.
Did that all make sense? It’s very late here on the east coast and I’m off to bed!
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