Wanting to Sound Good


in Performance

Let's start with the most profound statement I've read lately. A quote from Kenny Werner in Effortless Mastery – “When you approach your instrument, no matter what lofty goals you say you have, wanting to sound good will predominate and render you impotent.”

This statement is obvious in it's intent to convey how a mindset may be self destructive. I have personally experienced this so many times that when I reread this, it was like being smacked upside the head.


This whole concept that is talked about is the hesitation and the fear that holds you back from committing and following through.

Catch a Ball

I've like the analogy of learning catch a baseball. At first many children flinch and close there eyes. This is a sure way to getting hurt as you grope for the ball. Then you slowly get more confident and learn to catch the ball, but you lean way out of the way afraid that you might miss. Of course many times you drop it because of the poor technique or half hearted attempt to catch it.

Now compare that with the professional ball player, he engages and gets squarely in front of the ball and aggressively goes after it with confidence that he will catch it without question. Of course, if he should miss that ball is going to leave a nice big bruise on his chest.

Playing Your Instrument

Being unsure, stiff, out of sorts in playing our instrument, or overly concentrating on the score the sound comes out weak or soft or overly loud, anything but what we were hoping to play.

Playing a wrong note puts many a musician on edge and they stop and try to reconnect, thus destroying what would have been a simple bobble should they continue. If this musician had only committed to playing through the segment and continuing on down the journey the experience may have been so much better.

Personal Experience

It has not been unusual for me to hesitate and I can recall several embarrassing moments because of the fear.

It took me a while to learn to play through the mistakes and continue on. It was a much more satisfying experience. One thing you must recognized is all musicians including the pros make mistakes. The difference is they are committed to playing and don't concern themselves with a few errant notes. They commit to staying in the continuum and playing with convection.

How Improvisation May Help

Previously I have talked of improvising and starting with something and working it into something new. This is one form of practicing commitment. You can let yourself engage fully and let go when you play.

This may sound counter intuitive at first. Isn't it the uncertainty of sounding bad that causes the tension and defeats the purpose? Yes it is, but working slowly with comfort, starting gradually, and experimenting with additions and changes, you become more and more familiar, thus not having to concentrate and worry, you enjoy the moment from a state of commitment.

Action Item

So during practice, correct the mistakes work to make your transition smooth and then commit to what you know when you play. Don't worry about sounding good, but play with ease and simplicity without intense concentration.

Don't fret the sounding good, simply relax and play what you know, if you make a bobble, continue on without hesitation. If you completely foul up regroup and rejoin the tune with renewed confidence.

I know, easier said than done. But if you find yourself in this state of needing to sound good refocus to relax and enjoy.

One thing that helps me to get over this is to purposely learn several songs well. Then perform them with family, then close friends, then expand to co-workers, etc. Taking steps to play for others will definitely help you overcome the state of fear and the need to sound good. It's a journey and you must participate.

Go forth, commit, and engage.

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