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Ideas on Learning

Recreational vs. Performance Etiquette

Some students get very frustrated and upset when they make mistakes. If they make an error while playing they grimace. When they get to the end of the song, they have a scowl on their face.

The etiquette for performing has such a different set of rules and skills from playing recreationally (jamming) that I continually need to remind students of the difference.

When we perform, we are giving a gift to our audience. We are not only presenting our music, we are communicating our feelings about the music. If we grimace, or we apologize for our mistakes or somehow convey our personal disappointment in the music we played, we are attaching strings to the gift we are giving. We are asking the audience to accommodate us or reassure us. But that is not a responsibility that the audience signed up for.

I recall a performance of a very skilled violinist. Every so often he would grimace and convey frustration with any imperfection. As a result, I put up an emotional force field. The same boundary I put up when I meet a person that divulges too much personal information or asks for too much too soon. It was a shame because that boundary got in the way of my enjoying the music.

One of the reasons I love playing music with friends is I am free to be totally honest. Yell out when I keep making the same mistake. Pat myself on the back when I get through a challenging piece that always trips me up. Or simply say, that was really bad, good, fun, arduous, boring, energizing…

That freedom and honesty doesn’t work when performing. Just as there is an etiquette in how we talk with strangers versus how we talk with friends, there is an etiquette in how we perform music for an audience versus how we play with friends.

The deeper work for musicians is learning to accept mistakes as natural by-products of being human. Even mistakes that happen after preparing assiduously for a performance.

But, in the meantime, learning to present our music generously and knowing how and when to convey our disappointments is an important skill for performers.


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