I recently was at a rehearsal, and one of the charts had the tempo marked as “not too fast.” When recording some piano parts, I was thinking “don’t rush.” These moments got me thinking about how trying not to do things is less successful than trying to do things.
- When we practice, we try not to make mistakes.
- When we are playing rhythms, we try not to rush or drag.
- When composing, we try not to be derivative, cliched or unoriginal.
- In general, we try not to fail…
When you drink through a straw, you create suction, right? In a way, you do. But without the substantial air pressure around us, it wouldn’t work. All you really did was lower the pressure in the straw, allowing the air to push the drink up. It is the pressure difference that brought you your refreshment. So far, nobody has created “negative energy” as in Star Trek’s time travel. As scientists say, “The universe doesn’t suck, it blows.”
In general, the presence of something, in this case the atmosphere, is more powerful than the absence of something.
Avoid a Void
When we want something to go well, we often anticipate all the possible problems and failures that might happen, and how we might prevent them. On the surface, this seems like a good idea; we don’t want to get caught unprepared. The problem is that we end up with a giant list of “don’ts.” Like the fabled negative energy, a non-mistake doesn’t really exist, nor does a non-failure make a success.
Worse yet, all these imagined problems and pitfalls are now in the top of our mind, and because of that, they are even more likely to happen. As we discussed in another post, it is difficult to try not to think of something. Nobody makes “not to do” lists!
What we really need is something to aim at, rather than something to avoid.
To make things happen, let’s try to turn things not to do into things to do:
- Not to do: make mistakes. Do: play accurately and confidently.
- Not to do: rush. Do: play with a relaxed feel.
- Not to do: drag. Do: Play with drive and energy.
- Not to do: get lost in a chart. Do: Look ahead, count and observe phrases.
- Not to do: get nervous. Do: enjoy, relax and lock into the music.
- Not to do: overplay. Do: tastefully place your part in the ensemble, and listen to others.
- Not to do: Play or write the same old things. Do: reach for new ideas. Take chances and be bold.
- Not to do: waste time and be unproductive. Do: find things to work on and become enthusiastic.
Do you find yourself trying “not” to do things? How can you turn them into forward, positive ideas?