I learned it in acting school: for optimum performance, a performer needs to have a balance between being RELAXED and ENERGIZED. The concept is simple; the skill it takes to get that balance just right takes practice.
RELAXATION in making music and then performing it is often much easier than it sounds. When one is concerned about getting everything just right, obviously it’s going to be a challenge to stay relaxed. But with proper exercises and regular practice, a singer can learn to relax his throat, for example, with consistency. An instrumentalist can learn to relax her fingers and arms. Only after this relaxation is achieved can one be flexible, spontaneous, and grounded.
ENERGY often comes quickly to a performer in the form of adrenaline, also known as nerves. Coping with nerves is one of the great subjects and studies in the art of performing, so I won’t go into detail here, but I will say this: nerves are an essential element in a performance, because nerves are adrenaline, and if we don’t have adrenaline, we are TOO RELAXED. And that’s no good, either. Energy is the spark, the excitement, and life force behind music and character. Energy can make the difference between a capable, so-so performance and a magical one. I think all of us, performers and audience members, prefer the magical experience.
So, how do you achieve that perfect balance, that “zone?” Practice, practice, practice! Sorry, there’s no pill you can take or hypnotic trance you can put yourself in; it is a combination of technical tools and a determined but creative mental state. If you are singing but you are pushing from the throat, you are not relaxed enough. If you are playing piano and your pinky keeps hitting the wrong note in a chord, your pinky may be too tense, or maybe it’s not stretching enough. If you are struggling with a bar chord on the guitar, you need to build that muscle in your hand so that it can stretch in a relaxed way and land on the right fret every time. Once you achieve coordination with your particular instrument, you can be relaxed and excited about it, and then you can tell that story you were meant to tell!
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