Good habits are the Holy Grail of musicianship. Legendary in benefit; frustrating in attainability. If your posture is perfect, your technique immaculate, and your preparation thorough, you are sure to succeed. We spend hours, days, and years in the practice room reinforcing good habits (and inevitably some bad ones), but there’s another kind of habit that’s more destructive than the bad ones we can gain in the practice room and it often comes from our best intentions.
It’s easy to be drawn into unfamiliar behaviors and routines, especially on performance days. Our ensembles have special warm ups; we wear special clothes; we perform in unfamiliar rooms. There’s an awful lot that’s different about a performance considering all we have to do is recite the same old music we’ve already been rehearsing. Yet still, performances are the hardest part of being a musician. Why then do we insist on engaging in elaborate routines, preparations, and rituals? Why make a day like any other into even more of a massive psych-out than it already is? Why not build a routine around making sure you have a consistent approach from day to day? Now that sounds like a good habit to me.
Do you have a special pre-concert warm up? Plenty of musicians do, but not all have the same success. If you’re still not feeling good at show time you might want to ask yourself why your pre performance routine is any different from your warm up any other day of the week. Consistency is every day.
Do you drink a lot of water at performance time? Staying hydrated is a great idea, but if you’ve been drinking sodas the rest of the week, the benefit will likely be lost on you. Consistency is full time.
Or maybe you can’t function without coffee. Are you worried that being a caffeine junky is affecting your playing? Well just don’t stop drinking coffee a week before an audition or you’re likely to screw up your body’s chemistry and undo all of your diligent preparation. Consistency is gradual.
If relaxation is the key to great playing then surely unwanted physical stress is the enemy. Do you ever find you are exerting yourself beyond the norm moments before performing? Arrive early so you don’t wind up in a rush and turn your phone off to avoid distractions. Consistency can be boring.
Are you in the middle of changing your embouchure or learning some advanced technique? By all means, spend all the practice time in the world working on it, but when the pressure’s on in a concert it’s important to go with what you know rather than attempt a half-baked technique. Consistency is playing to your strengths.
I’ve crashed and burned way too many times at concerts and auditions trying to over extend myself by trying out a new “good habit" at the last second. As we established, no matter our intentions, good habits don’t stick unless we’ve practiced them so much that we don’t even know they are habits any more. They’re not a one-time cure-all. So this is my invitation to take a look and see whether or not your routines are actually consistent with your goals, your abilities, or even your lifestyle.