Practice anxiety: tool #8

Juna (trombone), myself and Miyama (koto) improvising together at the Impuls festival in Graz, Austria back in February this year.

Juna (trombone), myself and Miyama (koto) improvising together at the Impuls festival in Graz, Austria back in February this year.

Playing with others

Why? This one depends a bit on how you experience anxiety, but for me self-discipline (enter superego!) is the biggest driver of my problems. Organising rehearsals or even just fun “duet dates” with musical peers who you respect and admire – but also trust and are comfortable with – can give you a huge boost, as well as set external deadlines that don’t involve you having to “prove yourself” (in this way it’s different to a lesson, masterclass, audition/competition or other important musical engagement with an external deadline). Finding people you feel good about playing with in a non-competitive environment and repertoire you’re excited about can give you something tangible to work towards and help you find joy in your practice.

What? The level of commitment you throw into this activity is totally up to you. Sight reading simple duets with someone is a great way to practice intonation, rhythm, chamber music skills, and also to have a good laugh. Consider teaming up with a peer-level pianist to learn repertoire with “accompaniment” – in this instance I suggest the non-pianist stops thinking of themselves as the “soloist” and works closely with the pianist as a duo, investigating more deeply how the parts interrelate. Choose repertoire that’s a similar difficulty for both of you, and by the same token, work with peers who are at a similar level.

You might also choose to prepare a piece along with several others to play for assessment or (even better) organise your own concert. This is the way that many of the world’s great chamber ensembles have formed! In addition to creating more enjoyable performance opportunities, you’ll learn important skills about organising and working well with others. Repertoire choice is really the crucial element here – seeings as you’ll be driving this yourselves, you need to find pieces that you are passionate about.

Maybe another option for working with others that you may not have considered much is working with composers. Even is new music isn’t so much your schtick, you’d be surprised how rewarding this is from an early level. If you’re undergraduate-level study, seek out the composers around your age. Listen to their music, and if someone’s writing something along the lines of what you think you could do then offer to workshop a small piece with them. Help them to explore your instrument (and maybe explore it a bit yourself!) and give sound to the notes they’re putting down on paper. Once again, this takes the pressure off you, while also improving your playing and musicianship.

A final idea for playing with others is improvising. This is great because you’re not limited by instruments that composers think should go together (see the image above for what was a surprisingly effective trio), and you can really explore the sounds you like and the interactions with your collaborators without the pressure of measuring yourself up against a score. If you’re unfamiliar with improvising, try starting with some long tones/sounds and building up some harmonies to practice using your ears to direct the sounds. Be creative! I’ll write more on improvising next post…

For some really great tips on musical collaboration, read this article on the Musician’s Way blog.