When my students are getting ready for a performance, I teach them this quality-control method. If you can play your piece (or your passage) three times correctly, then it’s probably ready for performance. If you can play it three times correctly in a row, it’s definitely ready for performance.
The third time is very hard because you stop thinking about what you’re doing and start thinking about being done. This is remarkably what it’s like (for me, anyway) when I perform. I start to dissociate and dream about having completed my performance well, rather than keep my attention where it needs to be and enjoy the process.
It can be absolutely maddening to work on a five-minute, or a thirty-minute piece, get through it two times perfectly, and then fail in the last few seconds of the third time. I’m usually tempted to throw myself out a window in those moments. But if you stop and think about it, what does that kind of failure mean?
You just played through the piece two times perfectly.
In focusing on your goal, you achieved all the benefits of the work you did prior to failure. That work doesn’t just disappear.
Goal setting is important. Having a goal gives you a direction and a way to gauge your current level of ability. If you don’t make the goal too easy or too hard, it’s a marvelous tool.
But the goal isn’t the point of your work. It’s just a tool. The blueprint isn’t the point of the house it shows you how to build.
So it’s necessary to keep two things in mind when goal-setting. 1) What will it take to meet your goal? 2) Is meeting the goal a good use of your time?
We can set goals as ego-boosters for ourselves. Then if we fail our ego crumbles. Or we get mad and start to mistake the goal for the reason we play.
That isn’t a good use of our time. If you want to play the piece in a practice session without a goal, then just play it. Enjoy it and have fun.
On the other hand, if you think a goal will keep you moving forward, that’s a great use of your time. If you think you’ll be practicing better if you’re working towards a goal, that’s an excellent use of your time.
The same thing is true of a life. If I fail in my goal to someday win an award for my writing, I will still be glad I wrote all those books. I don’t do it for the prize.
But the goal does keep me thinking about the quality of my work. It does motivate me to get better. It’s a good use of my life.
What’s your goal? Do you think you have your goal under control? Or is it time to let the goals be?
Check out my Press tab this week: I've been featured in two more stories. There are several clips of our concert at the Dogwood Festival. You can find them at https://youtu.be/lAmo1PqexMU
Adam Cole is an author, educator and performer who blogs weekly on the subject of listening, creativity and artistry. He is the director of Innovative Approaches to Music, a comprehensive look at the benefits of music learning. To take a quiz on what kind of music warrior you are, please visit www.mymusicfriend.net