Do Your Goals Limit Your Playing?


in Learning Music

As I begin reading chapter 4 of Effortless Mastery, Kenny began talking about limited goals and getting beyond them. Really I see two sets of goals. The first of which is the ultimate goal of why you play. The second is that of practice.


Objectives of Playing

In playing, our limited goals deal with objectives around sounding good, impressing others, playing styles of music. Kenny expresses these objectives and how our goals obstruct or ability to achieve the trance state of playing.

The trace state is something I find myself achieving from time to time. Mostly when I'm just experimenting with chord progressions or working in a harmonic system of chords in a key signature I have chosen to explore that day. This is a feeling of bliss, where no one is around, and I'm completely free to do whatever comes to mind at the time.

This trance state is always broken when there is an audience and the need to sound good or perform well is now an objective which is front and center. In my years of learning the piano, I purposely requested to participate in concerts (a.k.a. recitals, I prefer the term concert or performance as a mindset) because of the issue with anxiety of having others in the room.

It took a few years of working on pieces for performance standard before I became proficient enough to play for an audience without the worry of sounding good. The best performances were always when the focus became about the music and not the audience.

I still recall the time that I played the Beethoven's Sonata Pathetique where there was a huge audience and it turned out to be my best performance ever. Simply, this 30 minute performance I moved from audience to music focus and that feeling of trance state emerged. Even while I was still sight reading.

This is the objective of experience of playing.

Objectives in Practice

Goals of practice have a different aspect. Practice is about learning and achieving mastery of technique. Playing is more about the experience. I've discussed practice methods at length in the past.

As you may have recalled my practice is made up of 5 minute increments of accomplishment. It is not uncommon for me to string 12 of these together to get 60 minutes of practice time in. However, my focus is never on the time it is on the specific goal.

Spending 5 minutes on playing a F minor scale with contrarian motion at a metronome speed of 72 is a specific target to try and accomplish. If I don't make it in 5 minutes, I may move on to something else and then revisit the goal later that day or the next day until I have achieved the goal and can set a new goal for that scale or others.

What I find more interesting is that for me the practice time is not a focus about those around you it is a focus that is very internal and narrow. There is no anxiety of performance only a frustration that may surface if you are stuck in moving forward with results you haven't been able to achieve.

The thing about that is that with some instruction or slowing down the approach or taking a break that frustration can be overcome and you continue on your journey to mastery. These goals are specific and easily measurable as compared to the playing objectives.

Setting Your Own Objectives

Being a great musician may be your ultimate goal, but for most of us just playing well, enjoying creating music, and performing for friends or a few others is enough.

Rather than focus on the sounding good and making that all important impression refocus your effort to practical practice goals and objectives and then when playing to achieving the trance state.

Achieving the trance state may not be an easy objective. A first step may be in forcing yourself to play for others to simple get the exposure of the audience and then taking stock of the feelings and emotions. If you have been playing with others around see how you can get your focus into the music and away from the audience.

You may invite a small group with the express intention of performing a few pieces that you know very well and informing them of your desire to overcome the nerves of performing and how you need there support to do this.

Really the objective and goal I'm promoting is take it head on and reestablish your connection to the music and away from the crowd. Now, go experiment!

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