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Old 01-17-2022, 07:58 AM
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SprintBob SprintBob is offline
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Default Playing in the moment (releasing from tension and improving focus and awareness)

Hi there,

As I improve as a solo fingerstyle player, I have begun to record and share my performances with others. I also enjoy the tool of recording for self-critique.

One of the challenges I have had as solo fingerstyle player is releasing tension in my playing (both left hand technique and right hand expression) and flowing more into the song as I play it. Much of what I try to do now when I play is to focus in a way that I have a mindset of practicing/playing before an audience (credit to Chet Atkins for this advice). It’s easier said than done to keep mental distractions in check whether related to the technical requirements of playing or normal distractions that are part of our daily lives.

I recently recorded a lovely arrrangement of The Beatle’s I Will in a DADGAD arrangement by AGF’er Doug Young. The performance starts well and flows well for nearly the entire length but the last 25%-30% it’s like I’m running out of steam and you can feel the tension creeping in primarily with my breathing as it gets more prominent and there are a couple of not so happy grunts thrown in. Compared to artists I try to to emulate, their performances all look so relaxed. A big check for me is I find it hard to smile when I play. Some people might say I need to “let go” more.

I’m not really looking for specific advice. I know the problem and have to work more to solve it. But I thought it might make for stimulating conversation with my fellow AGF’ers here.


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Old 01-17-2022, 08:08 AM
jklotz jklotz is offline
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Bob, I think these things sort themselves out with practice and time. I also practice meditation and I am certain that helps me to be better able to play with focus and intent. I think my problem comes the second I hit the record button. I work these things up and can play them in my sleep practically, but as soon as I put those mics up in front of me.....
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Old 01-17-2022, 11:20 AM
Alex&r Alex&r is offline
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Hey Bob, that's a good post for for discussion imo. Just to add an issue in the same region which I face is that it can take a while to 'play myself in' which is fine when on my own or leading up to trying to record something but not so good if I want to play cold to someone else. Of course it helps having 100 hours in the fingers/vocals beforehand and to have a good half hour 'warm-up' before playing but in practice this isn't often possible. I suspect the solution is to practise playing in front of people to prove to oneself it's possible and becokme more confident but poor people lol!
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Old 01-17-2022, 02:36 PM
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If I'm getting stressed out while recording, I'll do one of two things:

1. Record the piece in two sections, doing multiple "takes" of each section and then pasting the best sections together in my editing DAW. I'm much more relaxed when I know I get a pit stop halfway through or right before a difficult section.

2. Walk away and do it another day. A rare event, but I have said "Not today" a few times. When that happens I feel it's really because the tune isn't ready to be recorded.

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Old 01-17-2022, 04:06 PM
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islandguitar islandguitar is offline
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Great topic, Bob! A few weeks ago, I recorded two new pieces and both, to my delight, came together fairly quickly.....which I attribute to playing them exclusively through the summer months which is a time I'm too busy to concentrate on recording. So, in part, I lived with these tunes a lot longer than usual ( by several months) and that helped.
Two techniques:
Before the "red button" I usually take a relaxed long inhale and slow exhale and then go into that shallow breathing during the recording and I think that helps.
The other....when I'm going to record, I usually prep for two songs rather than one. If the first isn't going well, I change it up to the second to see how things go.....if that's not going well, coming back the first can work for success.
Finally, I "promise" not to record any longer than about an hour to an hour and a half. If things bottom out, I'm back at it a few days later rather than pushing it. No question that it takes both energy and concentration especially when you know things are going great and you want to finish strong in that final section!
All my stuff is one single "best take" start to finish.....I almost never 'punch in" or paste things together. For me, this challenges to practice in a "performance ready" manner and I enjoy that challenge which is just me and how I approach the whole thing.
Best of luck....your recordings are very the way!!
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Old 01-17-2022, 04:29 PM
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Yes, interesting topic. Like many I suffer from red light syndrome no matter how long I have been playing out and recording.

The point Fred makes about becoming very familiar with a piece over time works well for me, otherwise I can feel myself tensing up when I get to the less familier bits.

Also we tend to learn pieces from the beginning, so are less familiar with things, the further we get into the piece. So another suggestion is to learn in sections not starting each time from the first bar (if on course this applies to you).

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Old 01-17-2022, 05:47 PM
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you've been playing along really feeling the song, fingers dancing, voice reverberating, everything flowing and then you become aware like: 'hey, this is going well, what a good take this is! What a shame if I were to make a mistake right no-oooo aaargh. @**%'.
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Old 01-18-2022, 10:26 AM
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Here are some old notes of thoughts that have helped me. Not that I have it all figured out.

Performances are unique occasions where we live in, and for, the moment.

Performing is a very special form of self-expression and fulfillment, creating experiences that only exist ďin the momentĒ of the performance and then resonate in our individual and collective memories. A performance offers the audience, and performer, a single, one-off interpretation of or ďvariationĒ on the piece, remembered and/or preserved only as that interpretation.

Play freely. Donít play to ďnot play badlyĒ - Musicians who play freely have struck a vital balance: they love an inspired and expressive phrase more than they fear mistakes. Remind yourself that your reward for being open to the possibility of the odd mistake has the very real effect of you performing at a higher level.

Hear what you want to play clearly before you play it
Imagine it distinctly in your mind a split second before you actually play it.
Be decisive, and commit fully to every phrase

Focus on process, not outcome
Stay in the present.
Do not judge or analyze what youíve already played.
Focus only on what youíre playing at the moment or about to.
Trust your instincts and be decisive and committed.
Play to play great, not to avoid mistakes

Itís not about proving anything. Itís about sharing a vibe or feeling.
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Old 01-18-2022, 11:09 AM
Deliberate1 Deliberate1 is offline
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Originally Posted by Mr. Jelly View Post
Here are some old notes of thoughts that have helped me. Not that I have it all figured out.

I took up the guitar at 62 as penance for a youth well-spent.
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Old 01-18-2022, 11:38 AM
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Hey Bob,
Interesting topic. Thanks for sharing your experience.
Iím having the same issues. I recognized my anxieties concerning performance ( even at the most minimal level- like for family and friends) was completely psychological and entirely self induced.

For me, if I can find the mental space where I play the song solely for my own enjoyment ( like I do everyday ) I play the piece at my best. Itís as if itís where concentration is optimized coupled with a certain level of detachment- reducing anxiety and maximizing the potential for joy- if all that makes sense?

Itís certainly a work in progress for me. Iíll stick with it.

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Old 01-18-2022, 11:26 PM
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Default What helped me immenselyÖ

Hi Bob…

I cut my teeth on classical training and musical competitions and contests all the way from Jr. High through college (with tons of pressure to perform perfectly/flawlessly).

My mentor/vocal instructor was listening to me sing a recital piece one day in front of my peers, and I started running out of breath half-way through and struggled all the way to the end.

At my lesson later that day, he taught me one of the most significant lessons I've ever learned…

He told me as the soloist, I was always to be in control of when a song starts. He instructed me to never signal the accompanist to start until I'd taken at least three deep breaths (mouth closed and silently through my nose) and exhaled them slowly to signal my body to relax.

I've done it for over 50 years, and still do it when I'm playing in front of people. At first it felt like I was standing there for minutes taking the breaths, but I timed it out and it's under 20 seconds for me.

And my mind takes it's cue and relaxes when I remember to breathe.

I've even caught myself holding my breath during an instrumental guitar piece…especially during difficult sections…and start to panic/struggle. I keep playing and take those deep breaths till I relax into the piece.


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Old 01-19-2022, 06:22 AM
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Methos1979 Methos1979 is offline
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Interesting discussion. Like many, I seem to have the most difficulty remaining focused when I'm trying to record something that I want to be really good so it can be used later for posting to our Facebook Group duo page or YouTube for the express purpose of being a demo for future bookings. It can be very frustrating to record something over and over again trying to get a perfect.

Conversely, when we're recording something for fun and posting to the same places or even just posting a live FB show as it's happening, I'm much more relaxed (often with the help of some adult libations) and tend to make less mistakes. Or maybe I make the same amount of mistakes and just really don't care as much since I know that live performances will have mistakes. That's what makes it live. It also helps since it's a free show and not something I'm getting paid to do, unlike a paying gig.

What we've done more recently is instead of trying to get perfect recordings for demo's is to just use those live recording - warts and all - as our duo demos. Just recently we recorded ourselves playing a bunch of new songs for our assisted living seniors setlist. We made it through about 8 songs before I totally crashed and burned on a song I knew like the back of my hand. So I stopped recording and trimmed that last song off and then posted it as is. It wasn't as long as we'd hoped but people looking at it for booking are most like going to just jump around anyway.

Another, similar, issue I often encounter is keeping my focus while playing actual live shows. Oddly enough, I find the biggest issue I encounter is with songs that I know cold. Because I know them so well, my mind is prone to wandering and the littlest thing can cause it to completely disengage from the performance - a car going by a window, a waitress dropping a credit card - things like that. All the sudden I have no idea where I am. Sometimes I'm saved by muscle memory, sometimes not!

Guitar playing, and specifically performing, is as much about the mental game and staying focused on what you're doing and remaining relaxed at the same time. Maintaining that connection with the crowd your playing to. It can be a challenge. At least for me. While the pro's are better at it I'm sure just from all those hours, I'm also sure they suffer the same challenges in remaining focused as well. They just make it look easy which is why they are professional entertainers!

Last edited by Methos1979; 01-19-2022 at 06:35 AM.
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Old 01-19-2022, 01:36 PM
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This is a great topic, that would likely take a book to explore. Just a couple of quick thoughts here:

As far as recording, one issue that crops up is expectations of perfection. Recording is like putting something under a magnifying glass. You can play it "perfectly", then you start recording, and you hear every little squeak, every little failure to phrase things exactly as you wanted, and so on. I've seen lots of people record, and they all have the same issues, from false starts to good takes that fall apart right at the end. It might help to know that it took Paul McCartney 65 takes to record the original I Will! In addition, they apparently did 67 takes in all, so I assume that means he wasn't totally happy with take 65, but takes 66 and 67 didn't go better, so they decided #65 was as good as it was going to get!

But speaking of books, there's a whole psychology of performance that applies to guitar as well as other things. The "Inner Game of Tennis" book may be the best known. Lately I've been hearing ads for an app that helps you improve your golf by learning to focus, and so on - the problem you're describing relates to anything that involves "performance". A couple of interesting music books that I've enjoyed, and that have perhaps helped somewhat are "Effortless Mastery" (read, and re-read, and re-read...), "Zen Guitar" (I liked this one less, but it's worth a read), and Vic Wooten's "The Music Lesson" (a bit out there, but the ideas have a way to working themselves inside you)
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Old 01-19-2022, 02:55 PM
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Lot's of good stuff here, thanks for the thread, Bob.

Here's a concept I stumbled upon, I'm pretty sure in the context of sports--it's not mindfulness you are after during a performance, it is mindlessness.

Meaning you get your conscious mind to focus on something else besides your performance, so your unconscious mind can do its thing without interference from your inner critic who is just waiting to judge you for making a mistake. The Inner Game books Doug mentioned touch on this.

So when playing golf, for example, step up to the ball humming or singing the words to an easily remembered song, rather than thinking about how you are going to hit the ball. The best golf shot I ever hit was in the middle of a heated argument--I know was not thinking about my golf swing when I hit that ball.

I've tried to carry this over to guitar, and sometimes it works. So I will try to put all of my focus on paying attention to the tapping of my foot, or on my breathing, or on the lyrics to the song playing in my head--anything other than how I'm going to move my hands.

It's a battle, for sure.
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Old 01-21-2022, 07:31 AM
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Great feedback and discussion and let me clarify, itís not just about playing in the moment and releasing yourself when recording or playing in front of others, but every time you pick up the guitar to play.
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