In his web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Jerry Seinfeld says of performing: “I don’t accept the judging of process. It doesn’t matter [how you prepare]. We’re all trying to get to the same island. Whether you, swim, fly, surf, or skydive in, it doesn’t matter. What matters is when the red light comes on.” This is a great attitude to adopt as a musician especially if you are self conscious of how you sound in the practice room. We’ve all been there, sounding our worst while our friends, colleagues, teachers, well-wishers, and personal idols all mill about outside, eagerly pressing their ears to the door in hopes of catching a moment of weakness.
At least that’s what it feels like when you let you imagination run wild. Truth be told, the people outside your practice room are probably more engrossed in their current game of Candy Crush than your practice room struggles. Practice time is your time, so blocking out distractions is key to getting the most out of your efforts. That means silencing all of the critics, real and imagined, except for the one critic that really matters: your brain.
Seinfeld’s bit of wisdom acknowledges that everyone has a different path to performance success. You should never fear reprisal or criticism for your efforts in the practice room, or for trying something outside of your comfort zone. And anyway, if your practice sessions are consistently flawless, it probably means you aren’t challenging yourself to improve.
I have found that my unfocused practice sessions are usually a result of a lack of purpose. If you find that your practice sessions are easily derailed by minor distractions, you may want to try having a written “to do” list to hold your focus and to keep your mind from wandering. The more specific your goals, the better (e.g. “Fix articulations in measure 123”). And if your practice is constrained by time, designating a certain amount of time to your activities can further keep you on task when the critics conspire to distract you.
Keep your head down, keep your goals clear and concise, and don’t give those imaginary critics even a moment of your valuable time. Happy practicing!