Set the bar low for your next performance. What?!
We are taught to aim for the best possible performance. We are accustomed to setting the bar high and going for the gold. And that’s a good thing, right?
Sometimes setting the bar high can create more pressure, more self-induced pressure. We practice harder and longer as the performance gets closer, and we sweat the details, wanting every nuance to be just right.
That’s where we lose our way.
We begin to put the performance ahead of the music. We unconsciously rate ourselves and our efforts as more important than the composers’ creation or the listeners’ experience. We lose sight of the reason for our performance.
Not only is that the wrong outlook, but it’s a self-defeating one. Our focus shifts from the big picture, the musical mood or picture we want to create, to the nitty-gritty – the notes we want to fix, the noises we want to avoid, or the errors we want to eliminate.
And the narrower our focus gets, the more uptight and anxious we can become. It’s no longer about playing the music; it’s about playing it all just right. That attitude can cause the pressure to build and our stomach to develop butterflies.
Here’s the irony: setting the bar too high can actually cause the very problems you’re practicing hard to eliminate.
I’d like to suggest that you try setting the bar lower for your next performance.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not giving you permission to not practice. Keep working hard and aiming high, but in addition, let’s create a plan, a sort of pressure-release valve, that will help you keep your perspective and your sanity.
The plan I’m recommending is something I call the MPR, or Minimum Positive Result.
It’s simple, but it’s not as silly as it sounds. On the contrary, it’s extremely effective. It works like this:
Get a piece of paper, a pen and imagine your upcoming performance.
This is the question you need to answer: What would be the worst you could play and still feel ok about it? Remember, the words “Minimum” and “Positive.” You have to determine a performance outcome that you would feel is acceptable, even if you wouldn’t feel really proud of it. This isn’t your ideal performance; it’s your “not what I would have wanted, but I did it” performance.
The basic MPR is just getting to the end of the piece without stopping. This is a perfectably acceptable MPR, especially if you’re feeling a little under-prepared or extra nervous. It’s also helpful if you’re not an experienced performer. Sometimes surviving the experience is enough of a goal.
An important part of determining your MPR is making yourself a promise that if you MPR is ALL that you achieve in your performance, you will still pat yourself of the back for having gotten that far. It’s not the best you might have done, but you told yourself it would be good enough, and there’s no going back on your word.
Once you have established your MPR, you can add on some extras. What it, in addition to your MPR, you could manage one more thing? Maybe you could play a really beautiful last chord, or keep a steady tempo? You can pick four or five other small goals to achieve beyond your MPR.
Now write your original MPR and all of the extras on that piece of paper and put it on your magic stand, where it can remind you daily that you don’t have to be perfect to be good enough.