What is killing your performance consistency?

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After the first two minutes of playing in your day, how many times have you smiled and said, “I feel great today” or slumped and said “I feel awful today.”?  “I Feel” is a very personal statement that carries a lot of emotion with it.  Too often we put all our emotional energy into the first 10 minutes of our performance preparation, and as a result experience very inconsistent  results and no emotional energy left for the musical practice portion of our practice.

I call this the “Feel Good” warmup. It’s easy. Only play things that make you feel good to start the day off on a good foot. After that one may feel good, or feel awful 5 minutes later and then  feel angry, depressed, nervous, etc. In essence, you've handed the control over your practice session or performance to your emotions. 

If you consider yourself part of a sound producing machine when you approach your daily practice, your warm-up approach would be a little different. The Machine is made up of your body and instrument. In order to ensure proper function for the day, a series of diagnostic tests will be performed before use. If any diagnostic test is failed, X will be used to resume proper function. Once diagnostic tests are completed and fixes performed, daily function can resume. In this scenario, you, the technician, are in control over the performance of the machine

The process is simple. Create a warm up that mirrors your performance responsibilities for the day. The core elements to your playing become the subject for each diagnostic test. What is working and what isn't? If you are not happy with the result of a certain diagnostic, how are you going to fix it and move on?

This is my current daily diagnostic for most of my practice and performance responsibilities. I may add a few diagnostics if my current gig is focusing more intensely on certain aspects of my playing.

The Diagnostic: 5 – 15minutes depending success of all tests

1. Air/Response
-Diagnostic: mpc buzzing in stepwise motion, testing air/response/ear coordination
-What is/isn’t working? Is the buzzing resonant, and pitch clear? If not, I need to address my do  better job at leading with my ear (ear coordination) and immediacy of air.

2. Focus(Sound)
-Diagnostic: Long tones using scales and intervals
What is/isn’t working? A spread tone usually means my tongue position is off or I’m allowing tension into my playing. Note-bending exercises tend to fix this for me.

3. Focus (Articulation)
-Diagnostic: Double 8ve scales in 16th notes articulations
-What is/isn’t working Is there tension in any portion of that scale? Is the articulation clear in all ranges? If so, readdress the tonal focus of the note in the  questionable range, and repeat.

4. Focus (Mental)
-Diagnostic: H.L. Clarke Studies – Etude 3
-What is/isn’t working? Can I get to the end without my mind wandering and with all of the previous diagnostics working together? This takes me 2 or 3 tries sometime!

It's important to note that you will not hit 100% on your diagnostic every day. You might find that due to heavy playing the day before, your response is only going to be 80% today. No need to worry. You can adjust your playing to support 80% response, and by doing so you protect yourself from forcing yourself to 100% (and injuring yourself further) because you feel bad about your performance.

While you will experience some mild inconsistencies each day, you are practicing preparation consistency and, like a good technician, you are taking control by becoming an expert at finetuning those inconsistencies that result in consistent performance. Your diagnostic completed, you are set to start your musical preparation with energy and sensitivity for all your emotions and expression. You are no longer stifling your musical performance with misplaced emotions in your preparation. 


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