I have noticed that people in general, and musicians and music students in particular, do not know how to present themselves in way that would promote them in the most positive way. I encourage you to experiment with this idea for yourself. Take a moment to look around you and focus on the individuals you see. I am willing to bet that you will find very few that strike you as exuding confidence and purpose. Why is that?
Like any skill and ability, promoting ourselves in a positive, self-confident way, is something that we must practice in order to do well. There are several components of this particular ability, which I refer to as GAP: Gesture, Attitude, and Posture.
A stage actor learns how to project his- or herself in a grand way with larger gestures in order to make connections with persons throughout the performance venue. The actor cannot make hand gestures so that only the front row of spectators can see and recognize nuance and subtlety. No, the gestures must be purposeful and far-reaching in order to be effective. The actor or musician must command the audience’s attention: “Here I am! Look at me! I have something to play for you, and you will want to listen!” The performer does not put the instrument up as quickly as possible. Instead, the performer draws the attention of the listeners by taking up the instrument up in a wide arc with elaborate set up steps that catch the listener’s focus and curiosity. The performer does not end the piece by putting the instrument back into rest position as quickly as possible. No, the performer freezes movement for a few seconds as the last note fades away and holds the listeners in the performer’s musical spell for a few seconds more. I recall performing Mozart’s Adagio in A Major, and I had to practice putting my bow down into rest position very slowly, because the orchestra ended the piece several measures later than I did. I practiced this grand gesture in front of a mirror so that I would be most effective in keeping the audience’s attention drawn to the music and not to my movement.
I have spent much of my adult life learning how to control and benefit from my use of my thoughts. Not only do I continually train my mind to ignore unproductive thoughts, I also practice to strengthen my ability to focus on productive thoughts. I discovered that this act alone will accomplish much in terms of creating the right attitude for everything. A bad attitude usually stems from particular thoughts that drag us down the wrong attitude path. Good thoughts steer us in the right direction.
I work to eliminate thoughts that are negative, unproductive, and unpleasant. I have many devices to use to accomplish this purpose. I need an arsenal of strategies to rely on to make it possible for me to create a good attitude. I have also learned how to create a good attitude by planting good thoughts in my head, by focusing on the positive attributes of a situation or person, and by learning how to consider different possibilities and to shift the direction of my perspective. Sometimes I have to plant positive affirmations in my subconscious. Sometimes I just have to ask myself, “what else could this be about?”
Most of all, I have had to learn how to widen the time I have to react. Stephen Covey said: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness.” I work continuously to widen my space so that I react in the best possible manner to things. Attitude may be the most important ingredient to the best life we can have, so I think it is one of the most important things we should focus on in our lives.
Posture is one of my most favorite topics. Most every student and person I meet does not seem to understand the power of good posture. Learning how to stand up straight will strengthen our ability to project ourselves in a self-confident manner. People will respond to us in a positive, respectful manner if our shoulders are back and our head held high. When we slouch, we are sending out the signal that we do not value ourselves very highly, and why should you? When we stand up as forthrightly as we are able, we send out the opposite message. We should be taken seriously and are entitled to respect and due consideration. It amazes me how a little posture adjustment will help a student to feel confident and perform in a confident manner.
I wrote a series of blog posts about posture issues a while back. Here are some links to those articles if you would like to read more about the posture issue as it related to building self-confidence in my students. One of the posts discussed how I sometimes use my dogs to teach students how to build leadership skills and how I used one particular dog to identify posture problems.
It is recital time, and we are practicing our GAPs [Gesture, Attitude, and Posture]. How do my students improve his or her recital GAP?
We practice walking onto the stage for the performance. We talk about how to walk with the right posture and attitude. We walk onto the stage or into the room, “like we own the place.” We are not asking permission to perform for you, we are offering our gift outright. My students and I practice our walk, our gestures to get ready to play, and how to test the energy in the air to be sure that the listeners (and the accompanist – ME!) are ready. We talk about our attitude and the importance of reaching out to share our gift of music making and making a connection with our listener. This one step alone really helps most students to turn their focus outward rather than inward, and it is useful to eliminate nervousness in general. We perform all of these tasks in our practice for the recital performance, and we spend a great deal of time discussing and tweaking or improving our posture.
My students will practice walking on and off stage numerous times. We laugh and have fun while we practice our moves, but that is okay. The studio is a safe place for my student, his or her parents, and me to talk about those issues that impact on a performance. I find that students often act a bit dorky about the stage issue thing, and I know I certainly did not understand the value of the entrance and exit when I was a young student.
Most of all, my students perform better because we have practiced our GAPs for the recital. Because we have practiced our GAPs, we have developed the ability and skill to perform better.
Happy GAP-ing this week!