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In part 1 you learnt how visualisatuion can help develop greater technical mastery of the guitar but how does visualisation help us to deal with common problems like stage fright, nerves and the fears that often experienced by performing musicians? To answer this question we need to realise:
Words are a great way to explain the power of association. I believe that the meanings and labels we apply to events often actually shape our experience of the event. Our words and labels form the lens through which we see the world – like tinted sunglasses! Some people choose dark glasses, some rosy spectacles! Bear with me I’ll show you what I mean.
I also believe there is a fine line between “nerves” and “excitement”. Two performers can experience the same physical symptoms eg faster breathing, a sense of energy, greater alertness, sweaty palms etc before going onstage yet one will label them “Fear” and one “Excitement”. Both have same physical experience but with completely different applied meanings – It is a word game!
Try this out for your self: Consider the words “Stage Fright”. Say it out loud, focus on it. How does your body react? Do you feel yourself tightening, the breath becoming shallower, the shoulders rising etc? What pictures does it portray on your inner screen? Now consider Stage Terror! A slight change of words creates a more intense emotional experience doesn’t it? Whats on your inner screen now?
We have the inate ability to choose. I like to encourage pupils to choose STAGE JOY! A new concept for most! How does that feel when you focus on it? For many it opens a new vista of delight with communication and the sharing of beauty being the core values of the performance. I don’t know about you but I find that my mind conjors up much more positive images for STAGE JOY! and I feel uplifted at the thought of connecting with people and sharing the music I love a much more useful and enjoyable mindset.
This is a massive subject, more than I can cover here for more details you could explore the writings of Anthony Robbins and his concept of Transformational Language and the work of Dr Richard Bandler.
Whether it is words or images it all comes down to association. The more we associate positive words and experiences to our musical performance the more we will look forward to it and enjoy the process. The technique of Event Rehearsal helps us to achieve this by creating powerful positive associations, greater familiarity and comfort with the performing situation.
Much of our fear is fear of the unknown. Through Event Rehearsal we can experience the performance situation repeatedly in our minds and purposely create joyful, positive associations with it projecting a happy outcome. When we finally get to perform it is already a familiar, friendly situation and we have conditioned ourselves to succeed. On stage such positivity becomes contagious. You only need to watch a rock performer like Bruce Springsteen in action to see how subtle shifts in body language can affect massive crowds in positive, uplifting ways.
A story that really brought this home to me is featured in The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. It tells the tale of Peter Vidmar and Tim Dagged two American atheletes preparing preparing for the 1984 Olympics. Peter and Tim used Event Rehearsal by visualising their event in advance after every training session. After each training session their trainer would announce them to a pretend stadium, they would walk out in front of an imaginary crowd of 13 thousand people with another 200 million watching at home and then proceed and run though their routine. By the time they did their real event they had already completed it thousands of times in their imagination. The situation had become very familiar and they had built lots of positive associations. They went on to win the Gold Medal that year!
Most guitarists that I have met try to imagine that they are in their front room alone while on stage in order to reduce nervousness. I feel this is backwards, it is better to repeatedly imagine our selves on stage. Imagining you are alone is not going to help you connect with your audience and surely communication and the deep musical connection is what performing is all about?
1) When preparing for a concert get a good idea of how the hall will look from the performers perspective. You could seek out pictures on the internet or even visit and play in the venue. If you can’t do this just imagine your favorite hall from past concerts.
2) Now holding the guitar ready to play imagine the hall. Imagine the people in the audience. The colours, sounds and fragrances. Mentally thank them for being there. Visualize yourself smiling at them and them smiling back………. As you raise your hands to the guitar now feel the hall fall silent……. All eyes are on you and out of the silence grows the most beautiful music……..from your guitar…….look down at your fingers and watch them moving smoothly, effortlessly with the precision of a highly trained master musician……….. Mentally run through the piece enjoying the sounds and the flow of the music…… When the piece is finished stand and take your applause. Smile at the audience acknowledging their support and bow to thank them for listening.
3) Condition It. Repeat this many times until it becomes habitual, until the positive associations are well ingrained. You can have fun enhancing the visualisation by adding details that help you to achieve more of a joyful association. Remeber STAGE JOY? For example you can make the pictures bigger and brighter, enhance the colours, involve other senses etc. As you create more joyful positive associations you condition yourself to enjoy and succeed more and more and to look forward to the performance experience. Whatever we repeatedly give to our brain and nervous system becomes like a programme that can click into place when it is most needed. This sort of practice helps us to control our focus and our emotions and ultimately to really enjoy our work as musicians.
I hope that this has been of use to you. By combining the Visual Motor Rehearsal technique in Part 1 with Event Rehearsal you can get the best of both worlds, developing competance and confidence in ways that will greatly enhance your performance. I hope you enjoy these techniques and would love to know how you get on.
James Rippingale is an international classical guitar recitalist and specialist classical guitar tutor at Wells Cathedral School. He enjoys a busy schedule performing, composing and teaching and is based in the beautiful town of Glastonbury in Somerset. For more details, sound samples and videos please visit:
In my years of teaching and helping classical guitarists I have found the technique of visualisation or visual motor rehearsal to be of great benefit to developing players. I believe that in order to learn deeply we must approach our subject from many different angles and visualisation gives us one such angle. It is a powerful tool to aid our technical and musical development, cultivate greater security and overcome any stage fright. This article will focus on the technique as brain training revealing how to use visualisation as a powerful way to train the brain and nervous system and achieve better results in our guitar playing.
Part 1 will describe the technique of Visual Motor Rehearsal.
Dr Denis Waitly author of The Pyschology of Winning describes how he used this technique to help Olympic athletes:
I took the visualisation process from the Apollo Propgram, and instituted it during the 1980’s and ’90’s into the Olympic program. It was called Visual Motor Rehearsal. When you visualise you materialise. Here’s an interesting thing about the mind: we took olympic atheletes and had them run their event in their mind, and then hooked them up to sophisticated biofeedback equiptment. Incredibly, the same muscles fired in the same sequence when they were running the race in their mind as when they were running on the track. How could this be? Because the mind can’t distinguish wheather you’re really doing it or wheather it’s just a practice. If you’ve been there in the mind you’ll go there in the body – Denis Waitley
I find it fascinating that athletes use this and in many ways musicians are athletes of the hands so how can we apply this to guitar playing? Many famous guitarists use the technique in one way or another. My own teacher taught students to rehearse the finger movements of each hand away from the guitar and I have heard many great guitarists including Manuel Barrueco, David Russell, Simon Dinnigan and Benjamin Verdery all talk about visualisation in one way or another. The great guitarist Sharon Isbin has been known to learn pieces in her mind whilst traveling and I can speak from my own direct experience that I always play better in concert when I have used visualisation as part of my practice. With so much to suggest its effectiveness let us put it into practice. Here is a simple method:
Most people find that when they come to play the passage on a live instrument it is now much easier and much more secure. One of my own teachers encouraged us to go through the visualisation process before going to sleep at night believing that the mind continues to work on whatever we feed into it before we sleep – leading to more efficient results.
The above technique can help you to develop greater compitance on the instrument but we can also boost confidence and gain greater enjoyment with another application of visualisation; Event Rehearsal. To find out more follow the link below: