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Peter Brook

Performance Problems

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... true Allan........I console myself by saying if people such as Lawrence Olivier,Barbara Steisand.......if any number of great performers of inordinate talent can almost lose their careers by nerves; then some butterflies in my stomach are OK.

A problem I have sometimes ,under stress of performance , is that a tune I can play solidly.......played it a million times etc.....while I'm playing it , I suddenly start to THINK about how it goes and I struggle to play it. I.E........I can play it as long as I don't think HOW to play it ! I think it's being caught between playing intuitivley and from music, but I'm not sure and these are always situations where playing from music is not acceptable or desirable.

I also realize that I am most comfortable playing for dancers (Morris,English Country) and not for listening ( as it were )......when I think people are listening to me instead of getting on with the job of dancing,that's when I get nervous.

Robin

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THEO: re: the memory problem

 

Allan, I was commenting on the relaxation/nerves aspect rather than the thorny issue of playing from notation or from memory, though I have to agree the two are pretty closely linked. If you want a music stand on stage then I have no problem with that. So much depends on your individual learning style. I happen to be poor at reading, so for me I have to know a piece well enough to play from memory in order to feel relaxed about playing in public, thats just me! My reading is just about good enough to enable me to learn tunes from notation, but not good enough to be much help in a performance. On the other hand I seem to have a pretty good memory for tunes, possibly from years of singing in choirs!

 

We are all different - you have to find a process that works for you.

 

Keep on playing!

 

theo

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One thing that has helped me perform in public is going to fiddler's conventions of the sort they have everywhere you look in and around the Blue Ridge area of Appalachia (U.S.) A common feature of these conventions, where you camp out and jam with your friends all weekend, is that you get your entry fee, and sometimes some of your camping fee back if you get up on stage and compete in one of the contests. Thus everyone is encouraged to at least be able to play _something_ in front of an audience. Even if you know you aren't great, if you can find a tune and an instrument that you can make it "all the way through a recognizable tune once" then, hey, you get your money back and maybe a participant's ribbon. Too bad they don't have categories for squeezeboxes.

I find it helps also to be an ear player. To an ear player, playing is more like singing a song you know well, not reading one you sort-of know. For years I was mostly a reader, and without sheet music could only play things that I had memorized by repeated drilling. I had to depend on my fingers knowing what they were doing because the auditory image I had in my head of the tune was vague. Last fall I took up the fiddle and decided that I would _not_ look at the printed page. There were a few times that I had to look at a page to disambiguate something I was trying to learn off of a recording. I switched to the concertina to get it in my ear, then put the book away and picked the fiddle back up.

There are some skills that ear-players have that were very underdeveloped in me as an upper-intermediate reader. One is the ability to pare a tune down to its basic theme notes in order to keep the timing and energy up, if playing it in its notiest version would cause you to sound weak and unclear. Readers often play a tune notier than they can do a good job of. It's harder to tell when you're reading, which notes are important, and which ones are just passing notes, but when you are listening, the important ones stand out much clearer. I've still a long way to go on this one, but under a year of strict adherence to "ear only" has made a huge improvement. In the mean time, the audio image in my head of tunes is much clearer, I pick up tunes a lot faster, and I am much better able to jump in on a tune I don't really know, and play a creditable secondary role, and this applies to all my instruments, not just the fiddle.

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I do remember reading that Sir Charles Wheatstone was often so nervous at giving talks before hs fellow scientists that he often had to get a colleague to give a speech on his behalf. So we are in good company.

 

- John Wild

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I do remember reading that Sir Charles Wheatstone was often so nervous at giving talks before hs fellow scientists that he often had to get a colleague to give a speech on his behalf. So we are in good company.

 

- John Wild

From Adam Hart-Davis's website

 

"Another fierce dispute arose in 1841 over the electric clock, first invented by a shepherd from Caithness, Alexander Bain, who took his idea to Professor Sir Charles Wheatstone, hoping for influential and financial support. Wheatstone dismissed Bain’s clock as a waste of time, but three weeks later went to the Royal Society to demonstrate 'his' new invention, the electric clock.

 

He got his comeuppance, however. Invited to give a Friday Evening Discourse at the Royal Institution, Wheatstone became so nervous that he ran away. Ever since then, the speakers have been locked up for an hour beforehand, to prevent them from 'doing a Wheatstone"

Edited by Lester Bailey

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I had three problems yesterday which were really annoying and I'd like your advice on how to tackle them.

.. The first issue is speeding up and not keeping to a consistent pace throughout a tune.

.. The second one was that I would get half way through a tune and would think about what note was next and my mind would go blank.

.. The third problem was when people were clapping or tapping their feet or humming the tune.

Many great suggestions, and I hope several of them may help you, Peter. But I notice a tendency of some people to assume (or so it appears to me) that the world contains only one problem, i.e., that what you are experiencing as a problem must be the same thing that they experience(d) as a problem. And similarly with "solutions". It just ain't so. People differ, and not just superficially, but in fundamental ways.

 

An example is equating distraction with stage fright. Now I can well believe that people suffering from stage fright or other nervousness may find themselves easily distracted, but I know that for me the two are quite independent. I am rarely nervous either before or during a performance, and even if I am, it doesn't seem to affect my concentration one way or another. But I often find my attention wandering -- or discover that it has already wandered, -- in spite of my best efforts to "concentrate" or otherwise prevent being distracted. It just seems to be the way I am; I've been that way since I was a child, and it pervades my life, not just performance situations. I've tried many "cures", without success. So the solution for me is not to "concentrate", not to reduce "nervousness", not to prevent being distracted, but to learn to keep my lapses of attention from disrupting what I'm doing, to be able to continue in spite of and even while my attention is elsewhere, and to recover from actual performance lapses without stopping, turning "mistakes" into "variations".

 

So look through the suggestions, pick some that you think might help you, and try them out. I think you're already doing that. Then look them over again after a month, and after 6 months, etc. If you have made progress, you may find yourself with a whole new set of "difficulties", so you can check the advice for help in dealing with those. As I've noted, you've gotten a lot of good advice. Still, I'll add a few more comments of my own:

 

Speeding up: I find that there are two situations where many people have a tendency to speed up. The first is the easy parts, where the fingers seem to speed up simply because they can. The second, oddly enough, is the parts that are causing difficulty. It's as if one is trying to avoid the difficulties by racing past them before they can occur. Unfortunately, that rarely works. :( You've presented a third, where relaxing the tension from tackling the difficult part seems to relax the constraints on speed at the same time. Wherever it happens, and whatever the cause, a number of exercises have been suggested which might help you learn to better control the beat.

 

I would add one variation that I think was missed, at least explicity: If you practice with a metronome, against recordings, or the like, try varying the tempo from one time to the next. You need to learn to control the tempo, not just to keep it. It's like a car or bicycle: it's not enough to be able to keep it going straight; you need to be able to steer it. If you practice with dancers or other musicians, of course, you should get the necessary variety in tempo by practicing with a variety of different people.

 

Morgana said: "Keeping a constant tempo - could you try tapping your foot in time?" The trouble with that is that people who have trouble keeping a steady beat with the music often have the same trouble keeping a steady beat with their feet. More than likely, their foot follows their playing, rather than the other way around. So you can try it, but also check it against a metronome to see if the foot is actually keeping steady. (The pros and cons of foot-tapping during a performance is a separate subject, which was taken up in an earlier Topic.) For myself, the beat is something I feel internally and is something that can continue on its own without my direct attention, allowing me to pick up a tune where it would have been if I had continued playing, sometimes even when I've been speaking to someone through the "pause". Unfortunately, I don't remember how I developed that ability. Fortunately, I believe that it can come naturally with experience.

 

Going blank and distractions: Two aspects of the same problem? Maybe, maybe not. Probably yes for some people and no for others. In any case...

 

Paul Hurst said: "Firstly practice until everything becomes automatic, so that you know you won't get it wrong, rather than you can get it right." This excellent advice is the basis of a favorite quote (anonymous, as far as I know): "An amateur is someone who practices until he can get it right. A professional is someone who practices until he can't get it wrong." Taking "professional" to be a standard of quality, rather than the fact of getting paid, I think that's what we all strive for.

 

More than one has suggested practicing with deliberate distractions. A fine idea. Another practice technique I would recommend is to practice in segments and fragments, rather than straight through. This should help you become familiar with numerous "landmarks" within the tune, so that if you miss one, you'll still know where to find the next one. Here are some variations on that technique:

.. 1) Start playing somewhere other than the beginning, but then continue through to the end. After you're comfortable doing that starting at some "easy" or "reasonable" points, try starting at a measure where it feels awkward, or even in the middle of a measure.

.. 2) While playing the tune through, stop playing -- but don't stop "counting" -- for a measure or two, then resume playing when and where the tune would have been if you had continued to play. Do it in more than one place. Do it for longer or shorter sequences. Do it for a set of measures that only partly overlaps a "gap" you've already tried. Then try it with gaps that start somewhere in the middle of a bar and end somewhere in the middle of another bar.

.. 3) If you play with someone else, try playing the tune through, but taking turns on alternate measures. (If you can narrow that down to alternating individual notes, you may have an interesting novelty number. ;))

.. 4) Develop a few small variations or ornaments at different points in the tune, and practice deciding on the fly which one to use on each repetition of the tune.

 

Tina mentioned a candy bar, so I took a brief pause in writing this, to nibble a piece of chocolate. :)

 

Jim Besser asked: "how do people focus attention when they're playing?" I would say that in performance I focus my attention on how I'm playing, not on what I'm playing, i.e., on the expression, not on the notes. I think that concentrating on the notes should be done during practice time, not performance time, and I will make last-second changes to a planned program if I feel underconfident about a particular number. (Of course, I never give out a detailed program in advance.) But it's more than a simple dichotomy. If I think about how I'm going to make a particular phrase sound, then I will have brought that phrase into my memory without thinking explicitly about doing so. And of course, expression is also something that one should practice.

 

Alan Day said: "...if I am doing a stage type performance, then I must not look at anybody,as I start looking for their reaction." Interesting, since for me it's just the opposite. I actively look for a face (or more than one) that seems interested in what I'm doing, and I play to that person, doing my best to get a (positive) reaction, even trying to catch their attention, to let them know that I'm watching them and that I specifically want to please them. It's this 2-way communication that helps me make the best of my performing (and maybe even helps me to concentrate). Those who aren't interested -- e.g., the guy with the newspaper -- don't interest me. Maybe if I tried really hard, I could interest them, but for all I know the only way to please them is by being something completely different (a hip-hop band? Bruce Springsteen covers?). No, I'll play to those who show evidence of sharing my tastes, and hope that I'll not only see them again, but that they'll bring others who also enjoy what I do. (Another way of putting this is to say that I feel I should be more concerned about pleasing my friends than my "enemies".)

 

Allan Atlas raised the issue of taking music on stage. I think that deserves a separate Topic, which I intend to start soon.

 

Peter, your own responses suggest that you have a pretty good handle on things. The only other thing to say -- or rather to repeat -- is that it all depends on practice and experience, which take time, no matter how diligent you are.

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Keeping tempo - either use one foot - always useful for signalling the tempo to the rest of the band, or mentally sing along with the tune.

 

Mind going blank - practise playing sets of a dozen tunes in the same tempo so when the mind goes blank, keep on playing in the same tempo and go into another jig or whatever - it can be done seamlessly - it is also needed for when you lose your place in the dots as well.

 

Dont hide behind a music stand (this seems to happen all the time - swaledale etc) - you need to be able to see the dancers and people want to see the concertina played as well.

 

Once you have got the audience watching you - smile - get them on your side.

In fact, before you start playing, get comfy, look around the audience and smile - they will smile back and they are on your side then. From there its easy.

 

Practise practise practise - sit on the back row of as many different bands and sessions as you can - best way to learn the repertoire so the mind doesn't go blank.

 

See you at Witney Peter

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if the best string quartets in the world can have music and music stands on stage. . . . . . . .if the truly spectacular second quartet directed by Astor Piazzolla never went out on stage without music. . . . . . .if the metropolitan opera (and most other first-class opera houses) can have a prompter beneath a canopy at the front of the stage. . . . . . . . .

 

WHY SHOULD'NOT YOU HAVE MUSIC IN FRONT OF YOU................WHY SHOULDN'T ANYONE HAVE MUSIC IN FRONT OF THEM

Finally able to put some time into the computer after returning from the Squeeze-In. I feel I must respond to all this about music stands.

 

There is no comparison between what I, as a classical musician use a music stand for and what I, as a folkie see others use one for at a session or even a dance. When I sit down behind my cello to play a string quartet, I'm looking at playing about 15 minutes of music only some of which is repeated. Often, music I am playing in one key now will come back later in a different key. The printed cello part is likely to be six or eight pages long. It is full of dynamics and phrasing marks that must be obeyed. My part often differs considerably from what the others are playing at any given time. No matter how much time I've put into practicing the piece, I need the music not only to tell me what notes to play when, but how loud to play them and how to phrase them. Spontaneity is accomplished not from playing notes that aren't in the music but from interacting with the other musicians, supporting each other, and bouncing ideas off each other within the framework of the printed score.

 

Compare this to what I do when I'm playing my concertina at a session. Thirty-two bars of music repeating over and over, everybody playing the same thing, no written dynamics or phrasing. Improvisation is encouraged. Embellishments and countermelodies flow from the imagination. Each time through the tune sounds at least a little different from the time before.

 

I really believe that a player who does not know a 32-bar tune well enough to play it without printed music is unlikely to be able to play it in a way that audiences or dancers will find valuable.

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The printed cello part is likely to be six or eight pages long.

How do you turn the pages without interrupting the flow?

 

- John Wild

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How do you turn the pages without interrupting the flow?

Good question, and it sometimes calls for a soupcon of finesse and/or creativity.

 

Usually, a decent publisher will arrange for each right-hand page to end with a bar or two of rests (or the end of a movement). If that can't be done, then you might have to make a photocopy of a page or slice a page horizontally so you can turn the top part at a convenient rest in the bottom part and turn the bottom part at a convenient rest in the top part of the next page. Sometimes you have to ask someone to turn it for you. One of the other musicians may be able to, or if there's a page turner for the pianist (if there's a pianist) they might be able to. Sometimes it helps to dog-ear the bottom right corner of a page to make it easy to turn quickly, and sometimmes it helps to leave a pencil or a block of bow rosin (or whatever else is handy) on the music stand between two pages to hold them apart.

 

And sometimes you just have to >shudder!< memorize a few measures of music. :o

 

Another good question, of course, is how do you keep pages from turning when you don't want them to. That's a topic for another thread (and another forum, I would think).

Edited by David Barnert

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David ... this reminds me of my father who played cello in a small festival orchestra one season a year and sharing the music stand there came a point when it was his to turn the page while his fellow cellist continued to play quite a difficult part.

 

And my father - being a little bored - pretended to not be able to accurately turn the page then and being close to late or even did drop the music and with shivering hands put it back on the stand while he watched the reactions. And each time they played again he was so looking forward to perform what was his little secret.

 

This went for decades. He said the day he would leave he would tell him, as they were friends anyway. So one day the time came to leave, and he told him. And his friend smiled and said, he had known all the time.

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[snip] ...

What are you thinking about as you play? How do you keep focused in a way that is useful, and doesn't lead to getting too tangled up in thought to actually PLAY?

 

Is it something more primal -- listening, feeling the music in your bones, etc? ...[snip]

For me it is something more primal - the only way to describe it is that I lose myself in the music. The most alarming thing for me is to "come out of the music" in the middle of playing and find all these people looking at me/listening to me!

 

As far as music stands go, I fully understand what Dave Barnett says about his cello playing vs. playing a tune in a session, but I sometimes need a quick visual reminder of how a tune goes, so dots are helpful with that. And as an "ensemble" musician who regularly plays from music on a stand it is essential not to bury yourself in the music stand, it should hold the music where you can see both it and any conductor/group of musicians/dancers or other performers with whom you relate while performing.

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