The 2 kinds of stressed musicians on stage

Have you ever performed and screwed up where you normally never screw up? Or started thinking so much ahead of time that you forgot what to play at the moment? Or froze and couldn't remember what as coming next?

In the book What the Dog Saw, Malcolm Gladwell (the author of Blink, Outliers and The Tipping Point, and writer for the New Yorker) explains how nervousness shows up in one of two different ways: chocking or panicking. Here is the difference, and how it translates into performance.
  • Panicking

    That's when you stop thinking. For example when you forget where you are in the music and you can't think of options to get back into it, or when you do a rhythmic mistake and you can't think of what beat you're on or what makes a beat (quarter note, half note, eight note?).
  • Chocking

    That's when you think too much, the same way you did when you first learned how to play your instrument or the piece; when the technique of a piece had become a habit, that happened mechanically, and that in performance you start thinking of every single note and gesture and rhythm and emotional content and phrasing, etc.
    You lose your instincts.
By thinking back on stressful past performances, we can see what the pattern is, and if we tend to chock or panic. Once we know that, we are better able to anticipate a response for the next time that happens, and we are more prone to understand what is happening as it is happening, helping us to fix it rather than letting it control us.

More power to us!


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