Choking: Let it Go and Let it Happen
by, Sep-03-2013 at 9:16am (1275 Views)
I don’t know about you, but when I really try to do something well or when something is especially important to me I “choke”. I know that choking is the result of over-thinking. Apparently the brain can’t process the act of thinking about excellence and executing excellence simultaneously. The brain-to-fingers connection just breaks down. For me, the importance of how well I play is directly related to who might be hearing me (an obvious lack of confidence on my part). If I think my husband is listening in on my practice, I choke; if I am trying to play with my daughter (an excellent guitarist), I choke; if after hours and hours of practice I want to play really well at my lesson, I choke. I also choke as I approach a difficult measure or series of measures where I have to be conscious of my pick direction (as in multiple triplets and playing Down-Up-Down, Down-Up-Down, etc.) Understanding the dynamics of “choking” is one thing…getting past it is quite another.
I had an interesting experience the other day. This experience showed me how an interruption in the thought process allowed me to play at a level I had never experienced before. I was in my craft room where I scrapbook, quilt and practice music. I have a television in there as I love listening to old movies while I am being creative. On this particular day I was rather engrossed in a movie and stopped what I was doing to watch. When the movie paused for a commercial break I picked up my mandolin and started practicing scales and chords. Now, I NEVER practice with distractions around me. Practice is just that…practice. And while I love practicing, it can get a little frustrating when, after hours of it, I continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. So anyway, following the commercial break, I continued watching the movie and after about twenty minutes I noticed that I was playing (by memory) a piece I had been practicing that had been causing me to choke at a particularly difficult series of triplets. I was playing perfectly. I continued to “practice” as the movie progressed and I have to say I had one of the best practice sessions ever.
I learned two things from this experience: first, that my habit of choking was taking a big toll on my confidence. Second, I came away with the knowledge that yes, I can play…and I can play well. I just have to get over myself.
So here comes the dilemma: aside from practicing with my television on and taking it along with me when I go for my lessons (just kidding), how can I learn the habit of shutting off my brain. How do I just let it go, tune out who is around me and let my fingers do what they are capable of doing? Where do I find the “Zen” of mandolin? These are big questions in my mandolin universe!