Stop the inner voice!!

Posted In: Performing

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    McKayla Sundberg on #187061

    You know that voice in your head that’s suppose to tell you when to do or not do something? Well that voice sometimes manifests itself when I am performing, and it is VERY loud. It is sometimes a voice of confidence, saying “You are doing great! Those starting thirds in Clair De Lune sounded magical!” But most of the time, it says things like “Crud-face, I don’t know the next pedal!!” Or “That guy in the front row is picking his nose…. Gross… And he’s… No, he is going to eat it!”
    So the question I am putting to my fellow Harp Column members is, do you find this voice helpful when you can direct it for good? If not, how do I get it to stop??
    Tell me your stories, opinions, and any helpful resources! Thanks!

    Janis Cortese on #187068

    I have NEVER IN MY LIFE found that voice to be useful, regarding music or just my life in general.

    The best way of talking about it that I’ve ever heard was in an address given to a bunch of Juilliard kids by Joyce DiDonato, which I’ve linked here:

    It’s a long talk, but watch THE WHOLE THING, especially a part of it where she talks about telling that stupid inner voice, “Look, I’ll listen to you later, but right now I’m sorry, I have work to do.”

    She did another one the following year that you can find here:

    Her YouTube channel is called Yankee Diva, and she addresses a lot of these sorts of concerns for singers, but it really goes for anyone who wants to accomplish anything at all, musical or not.

    You can also find information about how to make that nasty little voice STFU at and from a fellow named Don Greene who is a performance coach at Juilliard and who has written a few books. There’s another dude named Stephen Pressfield (I think) who has an interesting outlook on that voice, which he calls Resistance, and how he manages to get work done despite it.

    This is actually the best time I can recall to ask questions relating to stage fear and getting that ugly little inner critic to pipe down; after suffering from these sorts of things for centuries, it seems like musicians are finally opening up and being honest about them.

    Sylvia on #187070

    Get into the Zone and listen to your harp while you play. Don’t look at the audience….that’s not your job.

    Janis Cortese on #187071

    Another thing you’ll want to look into is what Greene calls “centering.” Focusing, shutting out unneeded distractions, is as much a performance skill as a good trill — which means it needs to be practiced in order to be mastered. If you wait until you are on stage to say, “I have to focus,” it’s too late. Try some of the centering techniques and exercises that Greene talks about, and do so before you need them.

    If you waited until you were actually on stage to play your harp in order to learn how to play the harp, you’d never learn how. You will never master something if you only try to get a grip on it while you’re on stage.

    carl-swanson on #187072

    As many of you know, I am one of those people who reacted very badly to “stage nerves.” I wrote an article about it in the Harp Column, and I’ve been very open about it. The amount of adrenaline I crank out for a performance is enough to kill a horse. One of the manifestations of the adrenaline rush is that nasty inner voice. It made it impossible to focus on what I was doing, which was playing the harp before an audience. When I started using beta blockers for performing, that inner voice completely disappeared. I can focus completely on playing, and I kind of enter a zone where I’m aware of nothing but what I’m doing. I’ve played recitals where someone would come up to me afterwards and apologize for someone who was making noise, or a child who was misbehaving. I was totally unaware.

    If you can find a mind set that will help you to control that inner voice while you play, good for you. I can’t. Beta blockers are the only way for me(and many MANY other musicians, particularly in symphony orchestras).

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #187698

    That’s odd to me. My inner voice talks about totally unrelated things, or goes on tangents. It is not critical. I think that comes out of anxiety and insecurity, which can be dealt with. A nattering voice that won’t stop may not be controllable. Itzhak Perlman said he has it, even now, and just doesn’t let it disrupt his playing. I suggest three methods. One is to write down the distracting thoughts, which are often things to do. That voice comes from my mother, who might have interrupted my practice saying things like, “you haven’t done the dishes,” and so on. (I never realized that before!) For daydreams, stop for a moment and say to yourself, “wow, I hear you, wouldn’t that be nice,” and take the good feeling and apply it to your music. Acknowledging your feelings as they arise is probably a good way to quiet them. The third method is to see how long you can practice without having a distracting thought, measure in seconds at first, then by minutes. Think of concentration as a muscle you must build up. Gradually, you can build up the length of time you can work without distraction. It is most important to build your ability to concentrate. According to Bette Davis, it is the one skill the great movie stars had, for without it, regardless of their talent, they could not get their work done in the studio. And that is how they could work all day, and then just leave and have a life in the evening. Concentration. This is the hardest of the three, and it doesn’t always work, but it is the most important. However, if it proves impossible, you can function without it. There may be many other sources for inner distractions. I have yet to find a resource to explain it all.
    The book “Flow” by Czikczsentmihalyi (sic.) is very helpful. Restoring flow can be accomplished by playing with a ball, stretching a bit, or balancing on one foot or the other, because it engages the part of the brain that connects left and right brain function, or something like that. I also feel like distractions come from unused parts of the brain or self, like the inner child, or perhaps unused executive powers, etc. I never found the Inner Tennis type of books to be helpful. I do not like to compare music to athletics, ever. I do not like to listen to musicians who play athletically. Esthetics, yes, athletics, no.

    lorraine-carey on #187796

    The chatter inside your own head can be distracting beyond belief! I think the trick is to acknowledge the disquietude within your mind, and then bring it into alignment with what you’re actually trying to focus on. My solution is to make that inner voice go to work FOR me, instead of against me by making my inner voice count out loud in my head or singing lyrics (real or my own) to the piece I’m playing. I keep that voice so busy helping me play that it doesn’t have time to whine about how a cookie would be really good right now, or how this passage is really scary. Hope this helps!

    Emily Granger on #187866

    McKayla, a book that changed my life and helped me quiet my inner voice is Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. Enjoy!

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