About memorizing and playing concerts

Because of my good ability to sight-read music, I have often begun too late to memorize the music in a deliberate way. Instead, I have continuously automated it, so that after a while I will start playing from memory, but without being aware of it. I have then actually already come far in a wholeness-understanding of the piece. But the moment when I then become consciously aware of my automated movements, I suddenly can’t remember the music.

In connection with the intensification of my process with the camera, it became clear that a more effective strategy for me was to memorize smaller sections, already the first time I work with them. It is fundamentally another way of using the mind, and it actually furthers the focus on the final result. This is also reflected in the statements of many pianists that “I can’t play the piece properly, if I can’t perform it from memory”. One thing, however, is to be able to play a piece of music from memory in your practice room, another thing is to be able to do it in a stressful situation. Once we have shaken off the safe environment of the conservatory, where we have the opportunity to play for our teacher or fellow students several times a week, it is a challenge to practice our performance. This can be done effectively by often putting yourself in situations where it becomes important to play the work correctly the first time around. There is a profound difference between these situations, and on being able to “loop” the piece in your practice room until you are satisfied.

The experience with the camera situation has also increased my ability to “hold on” and to force myself continuously to perform sections as if it was a concert. It was not new to me to play a “concert” for myself in the practice room and even record it with a camera. But I have always done this very late in a learning process. What I have become better at during this project is to make a lot of “micro-processes”, where I very quickly after practising a passage can switch to “concert mode” and try out the place with the correct mental setting.

Because what happens when we get nervous? In addition to the fact that there are a number of physiological things (our hearts beat faster, we get more tense, we get cold hands, etc.), there is also the fundamental thing, that we get an increased level of awareness about ourselves. You can compare it to going to work on the first day at a new workplace: Suddenly you become aware of aspects of yourself- voice, style, radiance, vocabulary – which you have not given any thoughts previously. In most cases, you move on quickly from this, but at the concert we only have one chance of succeeding. Therefore, it is important that this natural, higher degree of self-awareness is not allowed to have a decisive influence on one’s performance.

So it makes sense that a continuous focus on introducing your own self-conscious “performance attention” in your practice can help handle this situation. What is important is that the performance situation becomes: 1. recognizable and 2. harmless. A continuous focus on the phenomenon might help promote this. I really believe that there is a potential for many musicians here – for example, I am now able to find a way into the self-monitoring mode, even though I have not set up the camera at all. It helps me build a bridge between my work processes and the concert attitude. And as a bonus, it makes it easier for me to tickle myself.

I have also seen another connection between the coupling between my mental ideas and my bodily awareness:

When I focus on memorizing a passage, the consequence is often, that my bodily posture and overall bodily sensations are worsening. In the practice situation, I therefore have to remind myself to regain a good feeling in my body.

It has come to my attention that this phenomenon may also lead to a form of negative self-fulfilling prophecy that has often happened to me in concerts:

I’m unsure if I can remember a passage.

I lose my good feeling of my body.

My motor control and with that my muscular memory are impaired.

I’m making mistakes/playing wrong notes

In working with this project, however, I have become aware that cause and effect in this context can go both ways. Therefore, now I have a new way to go if I’m struck by uncertainty during a concert:

I focus on a good feeling in my body.

My muscular control is getting better.

I’m playing fewer mistakes.

I get a greater sense of security.

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