Play Music – Be Relaxed. Easier said than done, especially when you are under pressure. There are lots of articles on the net telling you what to do including exercises, stretches, breathing techniques, and many more. In this blog post I’ll give you some strategies to implement these without having to think about it or try too hard. Some musicians are very relaxed when they play – and you can be too.
There are two systems to consider:
- The Body and
- The Mind.
First let’s look at bodily relaxation when we perform. You only have to look at a few youtube clips of musical masters to see that speed, power and control can be achieved whilst still being relaxed. Their movements are so efficient and there is not a single wasted calorie. It seems effortless. Instead of making you want to burn your instrument, you can look on this as being incredibly inspiring. It proves what is possible.
As we grow, develop and strengthen as musicians, we may develop posture problems. Posture issues often stem from the fact that when you were seven years old, the instrument you’d just started learning was relatively enormous.
I see many drummers who sit far too close to the kit because they HAD to when they were only four foot tall. They continue to sit too close because that’s what it was like when they started and either they didn’t have a teacher to correct the issue or the habit was just too strong to break. The same is true for many instruments – yours too?
All sorts of tensions in our muscles, tendons and skeletal structure can become ingrained just by standing or sitting ‘incorrectly’ when we play. We develop back pain, tendonitis and frozen shoulders all because of our technique, posture or habits.
There are many ways to undo the damage without resorting to cortisone injections. Many musicians use the Alexander Technique, Yoga, the Egoscue Method – and a great many more. These disciplines will help you to keep your body in such a condition that it is possible to play your instrument whilst being physically relaxed and working efficiently.
Now let’s look at the other issue: what part does our degree of mental relaxation play in our ability to perform? For some, it is actually this quality they need – they just don’t know this yet.
Some people, after a hard day at the office, will sit at the piano and play The Moonlight Sonata specifically to relax them. Somehow it seems to dissolve all the stresses of the day away. I can relate to that. Alternatively, for that same person, playing The Moonlight Sonata at The Wigmore Hall might induce extreme stage fright resulting in those tightened muscles.
So what makes a musician’s muscles tighten up? The actual notes we play in a performance are the same as when you play in your front room for a bit of fun, yet depending upon the environment and the way we frame the experience in our minds, the effect on our bodies can be very different. The act of playing music has the power to wind us up, or wind us down.
So to answer that question of what makes a musicians muscles tighten up, the answer has to be the brain. One’s mental state seems to automatically dictate one’s physical state. Often this happens in a negative way, but it needn’t. Hypnosis can help with that 🙂
If you’ll excuse the over-simplified and overused analogy, the brain is the hardware, the mind is the software. If we can make some changes in our mental software, we can get the brain to divert and diminish the unwanted signals it sends to our muscles and amplify the ones that give us control, speed and musical mastery.
As a hypnotherapist working with musicians, I keep getting asked for help with ‘relaxing when I play’. My first question is usually ‘How relaxed do you want to be?’ Another question would be “Which muscles specifically need to be relaxed?’. Then the big question: “What will it feel like when those muscles are relaxed when you perform?”
One of the fastest drummers was the great Buddy Rich. He seldom talked about the technique of playing the drums, but he is quoted as saying that the more he relaxed physically, the faster he could play. However, to play fast and intense music your mind needs to be suitably focussed and firing on all cylinders. It is a question of balance. The mind needs to be sharp, but the body needs to be in the optimum state physically.
A musician’s degree of mental relaxedness needs to be appropriate. If your stress levels are inappropriately high you’ll be in danger of losing control of your instrument. If your level of mental relaxation is inappropriately deep, you’ll put on a very lack-lustre performance. The good news is that it is possible to learn to control both mental and physical relaxation.
An effective way to start developing control is to imagine your degree of relaxation (either physical or mental) on a scale. Zero is so relaxed you are virtually asleep and almost dropping your instrument and one hundred is extreme stage-fright, very tense, sweaty palms, racing heartbeat etc.
During a gig you’ll probably be happiest operating in a range from thirty to sixty and you can pace yourself accordingly. If you are about to play ‘My Funny Valentine’, you’ll probably put on your best performance if you are physically relaxed in the thirties or forties. If you are about to play Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto you’ll probably need a bit more adrenaline running through your bloodstream and pitch yourself in the fifties or sixties.
If you are confident that you know you can play the music perfectly every time your mental relaxation will be low. On the other hand, if you are sight-reading on live TV, you might be considerably more stressed and you’d be a lot higher on that relaxation scale.
I’m hoping that you are already imagining some kind of numerical scale. Perhaps you have an arrow pointing to your relaxation level already… if not, simply add one. It could just be an intangible feeling, but from now on realise that these feelings are on a scale. They could be higher, they could be lower.
There will probably be a reason why you are not getting into the optimum state when you perform. Usually my clients complain that they ‘always tighten up’ when they play. To this I usually reply “Always?” and raise a questioning eyebrow, then start digging a little deeper. Nonetheless, they have a deeply ingrained habit. Habits are notoriously hard to change using the conscious mind (ie ‘trying’) but they can be elegantly and easily changed when the changes are made at the unconscious level. Visualisation, mindfulness, meditation and even devout prayer all tap into the brain’s hypnotic ability to get ‘under the hood’ and make changes at the unconscious level.
To get you started, and to get you thinking along the right lines, here is one of the most powerful sentences I know:
Imagine what it would feel like to feel different.
That amazing sentence can be the key to change.
There is a free downloadable hypnosis MP3 using this technique to help you to relax more when you play. Click the button at the bottom of the post.
If you are interested in learning more about the Musicians Hypnosis material, simply watch the short video at www.musicianshypnosis.com
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