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Emotional State & Performance


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Funny how you can rise to the occasion sometimes, and have your performances enhanced by your emotional state of mind...


We played our last gig with our AMAZINGLY talented sax player last night at the G-Spot, and I think it may have been one of our better performances. And I think it may have had a lot to do with the fact we knew it was the last time we would have him on stage with the band, since he's moving away in early June. I think there may have been a secondary influence at play last night too, as we were also welcoming a brand new addition to the band on second guitar.


Anyone else have an anecdote about experiencing this kind of rising to really give it 110% to make the performance feel like the special one it really is/was?

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Very interesting topic....I delve into this quite extensively with my more advanced students. Part of our job as musicians is to rise to a unique emotional level and deliver that intangible, mysterious, "je nai se quoi" which might be described as "the goods". So how do you that night after night?


I have done tours with some fairly major artists where the set is identical show to show, yet each player had his/her own responsibility to rise to a higher (and deeper) emotional level, and make each tune, which by now had been played countless times, sound fresh and exciting.

Everyone has different methods of doing this; breathing excercises, "visualizations", creating nervousness, calestentics, yoga et al.


With my students I make the analogies to actors preaparing for a scene/character in which they truely become that character complete with whatever circumstances that scene entails....

...or that of an athelete getting "up" for the game; getting in "the zone".


More than anything it has to do with confidence in one's abilities as a musicians; confidence to rise to an occaision, to enter that rarefied "zone" where all that matters is the music.


As a kid, I was a bit of a trumpet prodigy. Without conceit I can say I was pretty good (got to play with Dizzy at Newport one year!). One day at Jazz Band practice, I pretty much "phoned in" my parts; played without emotion, thought or the deeper quality of being "in" the music: my mind was elsewhere.

After class the band Director had me stay and explained to me that I played very bad that day.Not so much the notes, but the emotional quality of project life into the notes was absent. He asked how much I loved music and the trumpet..to which I replied "alot". He went on to mention that on this day that did not sound like that was a very true statement, but also that I could leave school today, be run over by a bus, and the last time I would have done the thing I loved so much would have been a weak, shallow and barely defined excuse for playing music. This changed my attitude about playing.


Now,in fact since that fateful day, even when practicing alone, I play with even ounce of my being; I physically and emotionally put myself "inside" the music. I never "phone in " my parts..I push myself, and even exhaust myself. In bands, where I am quite usually "hired" in the role of MD, I am sometimes known as a slave-driver, as I expect the same from all involved( and even fine or fire those who cannot meet this measure). Yes it is hard, yet in those projects no one can ever accuse the members of being complacent. We play like our lives depend on it.


There is a quote form Herman Hesse's "Steppenwolf", which I will paraphrase:

Music does not depend on playing the right notes or the right technique, but rater it depends only on the playing of music; playing with all the spritual, physical and emotional intensity one can conjure, with every ounce of one's being.


I stress this to students and bandmates alike.



...it's not the arrow, it's the Indian.
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Max, I might have to move to Cali and take lessons from you, great post.


Personally I used to need to get nervous before a show in order to play well. As I get older and more experienced (or should that be less inexperienced?) I find that I am more able to "turn it on" without the need for adrenalin. Clearly there are times when the stars and planets are aligned just so and you play a great show. The thing that I am finding is that my best performances are getting better, but my worst are getting less bad and the most common is closer to my best than before.


Also that "je ne sais quoi" can be found in front of a good audience. I recently gigged with a friend's blues band in a non-blues venue. Both I and the drummer were deps (neither I nor my friend had met the drummer before the gig). Out of these unpromising circumstances a responsive crowd managed to tease a good performance out of us.

Free your mind and your ass will follow.
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Interesting post.

I find it at times to be a rather intangible quality. There have been nights when a band I'm in records the show. On some nights you feel really on and the band seems to be smoking then you hear the recording and you end up sounding flat. Then of course the exact opposite happens where you felt like it was an average night; hear the recording later and find you and/or the band was on fire. I have never been able to explain that.

It is very true the longer I do this the better the average nights are and the easier it is to reach that certain something.

"I never would have seen it, if I didn't already believe it" Unknown


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My band (at the time) recorded a CD of 9 originals and two covers. The originals were track by track inna studio, no probs. The covers, 'Got Love if you Want it', and 'Spoonful', were recorded live with a couple extra guitarists. These guys were a few steps up the food chain from us, and the excitement of having them, the fear of wasting their time and the frontman's money, and the love of the songs in general pushed us to do some friggin' pissah stuff...we won't talk about the Vitamin G we partook in... ;)

Then, at our CD release gig, we were even better...the excitement of the moment, coupled with our anger at the club for treating us like we were unclean (we weren't), made us play our collective gonads off, and the audience dug us.

That's my little anecdote... :)

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Very insightful post, Max! Well-said.


I think the 'zone' can certainly be reached within the studio environment, too.


Case in point...


I was speaking with our lead guitarist about the sessions he had on our project on Saturday. He was very displeased with himself, because he only played a couple of tracks that he was pleased with, during the whole day. But yesterday we were laying the horn section and sax solos, and our lead guy was so inspired by the playing of our saxman, that he rose to the occasion in a big way, and churned out another four or five VERY expressive blues guitar solos DURING the horn tracking sessions. One of which was done in ONE TAKE by both the sax player and guitarist, as they played off each other in the same room, without any isolation between the tracks.


Amazing how that works.


Music is the language of emotion, afterall. Guess that's the 'crux of the biscuit', as Frank Zappa once said.



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