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Sudden piano performance related problems (need solution) (Read 1652 times)

Offline piano6888

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Sudden piano performance related problems (need solution)
« on: January 10, 2020, 02:54:13 AM »
Hey, it's been a long time since I have posted here, let alone visited here. Over the years, I have always tried to keep up with my piano skills the best I can, despite not being a music major or doing music professionally. However, in the last few years, I have reached a point where I have problems that I never had when I was younger. Mainly these problems are related to whenever I'm trying to do a recording and/or perform in front of any audience. I feel as though I am a shadow of my former abilities.

So anyways, this is the problem at hand. When I sat down to record some piano covers, I realized that I didn't feel like I'm there completely. I know the piece backwards and forwards, note by note, and can play it flawlessly a few times. However, just as I sit down to record, everything feels different. I feel as though as things are just unfamiliar and then when I start to play, my brain just shuts down and kind of takes a vacation. At the time of the recording, it was a chore just to play through a segment, let alone the whole piece. It's like my brain is only using 40-60% of it's capacity rather than 100% and my focus is shot too.  :'( I suppose it's performance anxiety and/or other stuff, but I have never had that problem in the past, only in the last few years (fairly recently). In fact, when I was younger, I could perform and record without much of a sweat and didn't really affect my focus/concentration or nerves that much. Nowadays, I just couldn't do it. I must find a way to subconsciously trick my brain into thinking that I'm practicing, but that's easier said than done.

Before anyone suggests getting therapy or professional help, I don't find them useful. I been there and done that, I am not wasting more time and money for nothing. (In before, you didn't find the right therapist/professional/counselor/meds/etc.) Also, as far as pills and medicine are concerned, I don't want to use them as there are ramifications with them, such as becoming addicted, becoming dependent on them, and of course, it would wreck my musicality, thus leading me to have a boring interpretation of music. But I digress and don't want to go off on too much of a tangent as that's another topic altogether.

Due to my current issues in music, at the forefront, I can forget even about learning to play by ear, forget even trying to learn improve, or other stuff. I got more than enough on my plate to handle for now. I would be lucky if I would even be able to get my focus, confidence, and my nerves under control and be able to perform very comfortably in front of people (LIVE) and/or record myself.

As for the people who say to practice MORE, well I prepared as well as I can with the pieces that I am recording. During practice, I am 100% focused and calm, and can run through the piece like it's nothing at all. I also know the piece really well and can play at different segments and what not. It's just that when I start recording that everything just goes to hell in a handbasket.  :'( >:( :( :'( It sounds like if I didn't even know the piece, nor practiced before (which is not true). My focus and concentration just tanks (like to 40-60% capacity) and everything falls apart. I know the solution lies in tricking my brain into thinking that I'm practicing (even if I'm performing or recording), but again that's easier said than done. I am just unable to reach that state of calmness that I had when I was younger. :'( :-X >:(

I'm just so distraught right now, that I even question about my abilities. I know that I am capable of playing difficult repertoire and playing it well. I am at my wits end. Sometimes, I even get so upset that I've considered quitting or starting all over with level 1 music and doing some really, really basic exercises (which is sad). Please help.
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Offline brogers70

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Re: Sudden piano performance related problems (need solution)
«Reply #1 on: January 10, 2020, 12:54:25 PM »
I don't know if this will be helpful, but here goes. When I was young, teens and early twenties, I performed a lot on classical guitar. I'd get lots of stage fright just before beginning, sweaty hands, racing pulse, etc. But once I'd start it would go away, and my performances were generally as good or better than my run throughs at home.

Then I switched to piano at 40. By 55 I was good enough, I thought, to do little performances, concerts for my teachers student groups, or in churches, at nursing homes, or the like. But even though these were much lower pressure than the solo recitals and competitions I'd played in on the guitar, my playing collapsed when I played in front of an audience. And it was strange - I did not feel the intense anxiety I had before performances when I was young. Instead, my brain, like yours, I guess, just seemed to turn off. There was nothing much at stake, and nobody thought the worse of me for it, but it was really frustrating, because I had gotten to a level where I could play well enough that that people's attention would be on the music and not on me, and I wanted to be able to play for people.

My first thought was that I had not gotten used to feeling at ease and fluent on the piano. So I spent a year doing really very easy pieces, something you've thought of, too, it seems. That helped me simply feel more relaxed at the keyboard, but it didn't really solve the performance problem. So I looked (and still look) for more opportunities to play in front of people to practice dealing with the stress. One thing I noticed was that eventually I again became aware of the feeling of anxiety, tight chest, pulse rate up, etc. I think that's helpful. I think that my brain had been doing something to block me from feeling that, and all the subconscious energy necessary to hold the negative feelings at bay messed up my focus. So now I try to let myself feel that "fight or flight response" and breathe through it while I'm playing. I managed a hour long house recital by memory without any distracting flubs. And I keep looking for opportunities to practice dealing with the stress response in public playing.

I wouldn't draw any big conclusions from how things are going now. I expect you can find a way through it. Lord knows there are lots of people writing about how to deal with performance anxiety. One last thing I found helpful is to remember that you are showing the music to other people. The music is great; music makes life worth living. So it's not important how you feel about yourself as a performer; all you want to do is get the audience to hear the music. The less important your opinion of yourself as a performer becomes to you, the better.

Offline piano6888

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Re: Sudden piano performance related problems (need solution)
«Reply #2 on: January 10, 2020, 04:50:08 PM »
Hey thanks for your long and thoughtful response as well as interesting story of your performance experiences as well. It looks like we have some similarities (minus the part about playing guitar). I have considered playing in front of people more oftenly and hoping it would desensitize me to performing in front of an audience. However, I don't know of many venues or opportunities that will allow me to do that. As far as letting the feeling of flight or fight response come through, I suppose if there is a way to control/channel it, then it would certainly help (not sure though as I haven't been successful yet in that regard).

On the last point about playing music for the enjoyment of other people, yes while non-musicians and even some musicians may accept my level of playing, I cannot. Coming from someone who has played in a few music festivals when he was younger (in teenage years), took lessons for over 9 years, and played music for 20+ years, as well as having gone to a conservatory to study for 2 years (during my high school years before college), and under one of the great pianists as well as many master classes and studio classes with the greats, my current level of performance is just grossly under my expectations. My performance anxiety has made my level of playing sound as though I am only a level 1-2 player rather than a level 7-8 player.

In regards to getting the audience to enjoy the music, sure that bar is not high to reach (hell, I could probably play so horribly (notes wrong, dynamics, rhythm, and interpretation all garbage)) and most non-musicians or unsuspecting listeners will be happy to hear it, but for me, it's an travesty because I know that I have fall far from anywhere near what I used to be able to do (near) flawlessly and comfortably. If I am unhappy with my performance, then it doesn't matter if everyone in the world enjoyed it. Likewise, if I done a damn good job, and I'm happy but some of the greats think it's garbage, I am unaffected by it since I'm not playing for the greats. (the judges, the juries, etc.)
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Offline brogers70

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Re: Sudden piano performance related problems (need solution)
«Reply #3 on: January 11, 2020, 12:32:48 AM »
Of course you feel what you feel and if you can't be satisfied with your own playing, then that's that.

I would only suggest that you try to have a more generous attitude to non-musicians listening to you. Anybody who's lived a normally emotional life will have known sadness, anxiety, love, ebullience, wistfulness, tenderness, etc. A thoughtful performance of something not technically ultra demanding, say some late Brahms or Schubert, a Bach Sarabande, or a Haydn sonata, can give people ways to re-experience and process all those emotions and to remember that life is beautiful. There's nothing "low bar" about doing that well, and you can do it well without being able to rip through La Campanella or Ondine or all the Chopin Etudes. In a small, intimate setting, you can make a genuine connection with an audience not already tuned into classical music, and not because they're too ignorant to see that you're not one of the "greats," but just because music is so wonderful and to be in the presence of someone who truly loves it is powerful.

I suspect if I went back to the guitar now, after leaving it alone for 30 years, I'd be terribly frustrated by the memory of what I used to be able to do with it. It's not that I cannot imagine your frustration. I just think that if you want to get past the block, you may have to give up the image of yourself as a certain kind of musician and just love the music, and maybe that will help you get some of the technical stuff back and diminish the performance anxiety.

I know this sounds like I'm really getting in your business without knowing very much at all about your situation, so I apologize if this all comes off as really presumptuous. Take it all with a grain of salt.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Sudden piano performance related problems (need solution)
«Reply #4 on: January 11, 2020, 12:24:21 PM »
So you mean you can play 100% how you like when practicing but when trying to record or perform it goes right down? Just leave a recorder on every time you practice and see if you can capture yourself while you are practicing at 100% then relisten to that result. You need to desensitize yourself from the fact that you are being recorded, then start putting pressure on yourself to get a good run through a whole piece on demand while the recorder is on.
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Offline piano6888

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Re: Sudden piano performance related problems (need solution)
«Reply #5 on: January 12, 2020, 03:44:35 AM »
@brogers70

No, I don't think you are being too presumptuous at all. I suppose I could look at myself as not one of the 'greats', but that would be more difficult than easy because I viewed myself as someone with a lot of talent and ability. However, all the talent, ability, and amount of work put into learning and perfecting something to a very high level would mean nothing if I am unable to execute it (perform it, or record it for myself or show others).

@lostinidlewonder

Yes, I actually played much better when I was practicing it and my concentration, focus is there, very solidly. In fact, I think should have been more specific by what I mean by "recording". I am in the process of recording some covers for myself and also to someday show the world (in other words, a piano project), so I want to get the best possible result that I can. I have hired an audio/recording engineer and booked the recording studio to do so, thus money (out of my own pocket) is involved as well as time (the engineer charges per hour). The problem is that when I start to record (and I know that I can do as many takes as I need until I get it right) is that subconsciously my brain decides to shut off and also my focus goes to sh*t, thus affecting my performance. I had to struggle like hell just to get through an entire piece, almost little or no room for interpretation.

I get what you mean by putting a recorder/recording and somehow train/trick my brain into thinking that I'm practicing and not recording. That is the idea, but the only problem is being able to find a way to do that. In other words, disassociating myself from the current reality and somehow go into a 'trance' like state when I perform (like being under some controlled, hypnotic spell), or a groove. If I am able to do that and only feel the music naturally, then I wouldn't be fraught with the anxiety and pressure as well as loss of focus.
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Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: Sudden piano performance related problems (need solution)
«Reply #6 on: January 12, 2020, 04:16:58 PM »
In fact, I think should have been more specific by what I mean by "recording".....
I see what you mean here now. That is more like a performance situation rather than a relaxed recording session you can set up yourself.

I get what you mean by putting a recorder/recording and somehow train/trick my brain into thinking that I'm practicing and not recording. That is the idea, but the only problem is being able to find a way to do that.
Start recording yourself and then see how many attempts it takes for you to capture something you think is worthy. Often you will find in doing this you are almost never satisfied, we can be perfectionists sometimes which can easily be to our disadvantage sometimes, especially with its effect on performance anxiety. The action of simply practicing to record yourself in private should help I reckon. You can even start performing online for random people via midi eg: http://www.multiplayerpiano.com/   or https://www.pianorhythm.me/ or join some piano discord groups etc.
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Offline associatex

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Re: Sudden piano performance related problems (need solution)
«Reply #7 on: January 13, 2020, 02:00:50 AM »
What helps me with recording and performance anxiety is to approach the actual performance as if I can just erase it and do it again as soon as I finish playing or performing. In other words, I erase the sense of “finality” to the piece. For me, it is a lot about the mental psychology of playing which affects how you play. One way that helps me is to physically take a pencil and write something new or different on the score itself (usually the same score which I used to initially learn the piece). For example- I play informally at many local piano meet up groups and if I play 4 pieces, I will start out with a Bach Prelude or Mendelssohn Song w/out Words piece and look at the score and circle a phrase snd write ‘accent on D’ or ‘softer here’ or ‘legato here’ or. ANYTHING that forces my brain to look at the music in a new way so that when I sit down, all I care about is focusing on musicality, interpretation and executing all the extra stuff I wrote in just earlier w my pencil. This forces me to play as if its a good practice session and forces my brain to look at every note and then my fingers just follow that train of thought..
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Offline mrcreosote

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Re: Sudden piano performance related problems (need solution)
«Reply #8 on: January 25, 2020, 06:18:57 PM »
I am 67 years old and can saw without question that I've been dealing with declining brain function.

I believe that if someone has a highly developed mind-body skill set, they will detect nuances in brain function.

Have you ever had a groggy poor night's sleep only to find that your memorized rep is now Swiss cheese with many small forgotten bits in pieces you knew pretty good?

Keep in mind the descent into dementia and Altz (and POCD) starts before it is realized, but I believe a decent pianist/musician/dancer/surgeon/etc. will be aware much sooner than the average lay person.

NOTE:  When in grad school, we played table tennis and were totally shocked that a couple ounces of beer would dramatically take the razor's edge off our game.

It doesn't take much of anything to interfere with brain function.

Might try avoiding caffeine and sugar...

Offline aclaussen

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Re: Sudden piano performance related problems (need solution)
«Reply #9 on: January 26, 2020, 02:10:47 PM »
Speculation:

Perhaps you are used to performing more, and practicing with the intent to perform. I see from your YouTube channel that you were involved in some kind of live performance on what appears to be a university recital hall over a decade ago. I haven't performed a classical piece live in a couple of years now, but when I did there was always this kind of added pressure to memorize and do things well that if I'm playing for myself now is not there. Perhaps you need to set a goal to perform live and get that extra boost of pressure that will push you. It's hard when we are no longer students, but depending on where you live there may be meetup groups or nursing homes that have a piano available. Maybe target the Amateur Van Cliburn competition.

Also there were periods when I neglected my physical health and that carried over into my mental ability to perform. Once I started introducing some daily cardio into my lifestyle it did wonders for cognition and clarity of mind. Maybe you were more active when you were younger. Even the walking I did as a university student from class to class was very helpful compared to the sedentary lifestyle of when I worked in corporate.
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Offline piano6888

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Re: Sudden piano performance related problems (need solution)
«Reply #10 on: January 27, 2020, 03:52:55 PM »
@associatex Sorry for the late reply, but yes I will take your suggestions into consideration. Also, I have ordered a book called the "Inner Game of Music" by Barry Green and Timothy Gallwey. I'm not sure how much it will help, but it's at least worth reading because there might be (at least) ONE thing that may help me and it might be the solution I need. I am currently reading through it.

@mrcreosote Good points, I'm not sure if I had some physical or neurological damage and I'm 29 years of age. It might be that, but not fully sure though.

@aclaussen Yes, over a decade ago, I was playing in front of my peers, professors, and teachers in a conversatory/music school. I felt like I was on top of the world at the time. As far as having access to a piano, I attend some churches and go there to practice time to time, and also I will consider the nursing home as well (just need a functional piano). In regards to the added pressure and environment, I think that plays a significant role as well. Finally, in regards to health yes, I believe you may be correct too in the physical health aspect. I definitely had more stamina over a decade ago than now. I wasn't particularly active during that time either, but did walk almost everyday for at least a good 30-40 minutes and my hands were generally warmer, didn't have as much circulation problems. I find it hard to believe that I'm already having health problems at a young age, and I am looking towards taking better care of my health.
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