What do you do when you realize you’re struggling? Do you keep pounding away at that challenging thing? Or do you change your approach? In this post, I suggest a practice called “Play it casual” which will help you to let go of mental obstacles so you can focus on the task at hand: learning and playing music.
Oftentimes people build up a concept of where they should be as a musician, what they should sound like. Sometimes this inspires them to practice. But most of the time it defeats people in the present moment of actually practicing music. The idea with “play it casual” is that you just downplay the importance of what you’re doing so that you can let go of judgment. Instead of obsessing about how it should sound, you just play it.
A simple practice to help you let go of a struggling mindset
- If you’re struggling with something, set down your fiddle, pause for a moment and take a few breaths. Then pick up your bow and fiddle and take a few more breaths.
- Next, play a few throw-away bows. At first, make it dramatic. This releases tension. Then, practice something super-simple, like quarter notes on an open string. Adopt a casual attitude.
- Lighten your touch. Use less bow. Try to make your playing sound like everyday conversation. Say to yourself, “This is no big deal. I’m just hanging out, playing a little music, enjoying my day.” Or say, “This is not that important in the grand scheme. It’s just a part of my daily life, like making breakfast.”
- Then try to keep that casual attitude as you play something a little more challenging, like a scale.
- Then try to keep that attitude as you return to practicing the original thing you were struggling with. If at some point you find you’re falling apart and frustrated, try to repeat the simple process.
There may be other times when you will naturally take an attitude of strong effort. You’ll be engaged with something challenging. You’ll be naturally interested and motivated to practice that challenging thing.
But other times, it will almost feel like you’re fighting yourself. You don’t have to give up, just change your approach. It might be counter-productive to keep grinding away at the same problem.
Over and over again, I see students defeat themselves in the following ways:
- They try too hard.
- They are unkind to themselves for not being better at their instrument.
Part of the play it casual practice involves being kinder to yourself. You are what you are. You are where you are. That’s ok! Try to enjoy this time. Get excited about being in such a huge learning phase. I’ve been playing for forty years and I’m still learning and enjoying music. But I’m not learning at the rate you are learning. To do that, I have to learn something totally different (like how to build a website).
To sum up, this practice of casualness is a way to let go of thoughts and attitudes that may be holding you back. You reconnect with your body, breath and to the simple basic sound of bowing an open string. You enjoy that sound. You adopt a casual attitude and imagine your playing to be like a simple conversation. And then you carry this attitude over to progressively more challenging things like scales, bowings, and tunes.
Please give this a try, and then leave a comment, letting me know how it went.